The world has already gone through hell and back, but somehow the pit reveals itself to be deeper. The heroes of Back 4 Blood have been isolated, left for dead, will they survive the ordeal?
T’is the year to be…undead? The gaming world will have been rocked by several post-apocalyptic zombie games this year: World War Z: Aftermath, Dying Light 2, and a spin-off from the Left 4 Dead series coming our way to PlayStation and Xbox consoles on October 12th, Back 4 Blood. Developed by Turtle Rock Studios and published by Warner Bros IE, the Back 4 Blood Beta has been out for a few weeks now, and fans are already revelling in the action-horror co-op gore fest.
What context underpins Back 4 Blood?
A parasitical infection has already taken hold of the entire planet, sending civilisation into disarray and exterminating the majority. Earth is now crawling with aggressive packs of once human creatures known as the Ridden; the few remaining survivors, who call themselves Cleaners, bring the fight back to the hordes of Ridden as they begin to reclaim the world rightfully theirs zone by zone, city by city. Back 4 Blood drags users through a hair-raising episodic experience, each chapter subjecting the gamer to an hour of bloody and sweaty survival combat – but merely holding out is insufficient, rebuilding and fighting is paramount for the Cleaners, but precluding them from doing so is a fierce war between the few survivors and an entire civilisation turned undead. To call such a war rather one-sided would be selling it short.
What sort of zombies do we have to fight?
Making matters worse, it is not as though we have to contend with and learn the patterns of just one zombie type. No, prepare to battle a myriad of ghoul variations, some your standard mutated human, some with four arms and others with Demogorgon-esque eel-like bodies. Some are the size of four-storey buildings. Good luck taking that down. Though the Cleaners have polished and honed their skills since we last caught up with them, this war is still akin to a David and Goliath match-up – only with guns – Back 4 Blood is not for the faint of heart. That said, in our refined confidence and insouciance we are arrogant in the face of death rather than quaking in our boots, and flurries of bullets no longer phase us. In fact, there is something sadistically fun about frantically firing into a crowd of scurrying ghouls. That said, all undead are not made equal, some are completely unpredictable, and some will scare the living daylights out of you: the Hag will stop at nothing until it tears into us, the Snitcher will direct hordes of biters our way, the Ogre will imperil us by chucking projectiles from seemingly miles away, and the behemoth Breaker will quite casually smash us to bits – Back 4 Blood coerces us to alter our offensive approach depending on the enemy, making for a stimulating gaming experience where you must strategise combat.
'That said, all undead are not made equal, some are completely unpredictable, and some will scare the living daylights out of you.'
Do we fight alone?
Each team of cleaners is made of 4 people, each position we can fill with AI-teammates or our friends. There exists 8 classes and characters we can choose from to fill our team, all with their respective flairs and talents. Attaining a successful run begins on the adequate selection of our team; we will need medics, for example, in order to survive against the undead. We found that online co-op mode was the most entertaining gaming mode as we got stuck into the Back 4 Blood Beta, but we are also in hot anticipation of cross-platform Swarm Mode, a gaming option completely separate from campaign mode, pitting players against other player-controlled Ridden as we defend a safehouse – you can exact revenge on your mates by taking control of a Breaker and obliterating them. Pretty neat. Anyway, let’s delve into exactly what survival entails.
What is the combat in Back 4 Blood like?
The gunplay in Back 4 Blood in many ways is not dissimilar to Left 4 Dead, though it has of course received a florid revamp to bring it up to the quality desired from the generation nine consoles – first-person shooter mechanics have been refined even since the release of the Beta. Headshots, for example, we found to be immeasurably enjoyable, even more so in the final week of the pre-release. Scattered around the map lay a slew of ammo and supply resources in boxes, or if you have the right ability you can scavenge from the dead. It seems grace and decorum were virtues of the old world! Back 4 Blood gives players several levels of difficulty each with distinctive properties, with cons becoming more prevalent as you move up the ranks of challenge. A wide portfolio of weapons reveal themselves in Back 4 Blood; spiked baseball bats (bad memories of Lucille), scoped assault rifles, snipers, wide-spread shotguns – Back 4 Blood gives us many an inventive way to slaughter some zombie baddies. More, upgrades we make to our trusty guns in the safe rooms we occupy between levels can make a huge difference to how effective they are at saving our skin. As the phrase goes: spend some copper, save some lives. More inventively, Back 4 Blood introduces the principle of cards able to positively affect our potency in front of the undead; a total deck of 15 cards can be assembled to endow us with specific bonuses; faster reload times, less damage susceptibility, more stamina. You know the drill – get a leg up by forging a skilled hand. It seems a bit too good to be true, doesn’t it? So, what’s the bad news? The game’s AI Director also has access to a deck of modifiers known as corruption cards, and he can be a bit tough to bargain with – he will monitor how you like to play and exploit your weakness, bringing elements into the mix so as to exacerbate your already harrowing existence. The AI director ensures that each and every run through has its distinctive qualities and challenges; certain enemy types and weather conditions are sure to place a fork in the road; dealing with an Ogre chucking objects at you whilst stranded in viscous fog is no fun – you can’t see them coming. I love this concept of randomised run-through determinants, but you may not, and the guys at Turtle Rock have guaranteed in Classic Mode you can do away with the card features should you wish to. It seems that the apocalypse didn’t annihilate inclusivity!
'More inventively, Back 4 Blood introduces the principle of cards able to positively affect our potency in front of the undead; a total deck of 15 cards can be assembled to endow us with specific bonuses.'
What a sweaty-controller Back 4 Blood can be; when you hear the high-pitch screams and zombified roars of the horde approach, you can’t help but tremble a touch as you lay in waiting with Molotov and Minigun to hand. In the same way as the many Call of Duty Zombie modes, Back 4 Blood preys on its users by employing many a baleful atmospheric factor – even the Beta had me gritting my teeth in tension at times. Perhaps the most torturous part of the game is where, like Alan Wake, only a flashlight illuminates the danger ahead, and only a gun lay between you and the undead. Turtle Rock employ years’ worth of know how in order incite terror in Back 4 Blood, giving us respite only in saferooms after an area is cleared – a sigh of relief that lasts only a minute or so. We didn’t want to spend too long in the Beta of the game as we didn’t want to spoil our pudding, but we are now itching for October 12th to come around so we can get back into the massacre, and we hope you join us!
Get involved in the action and find Back 4 Blood here.
Images sourced from Steam.