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Back 4 Blood Review – Left 4 Dead 3 But Not Really

By: Leonid Melikhov

PLATFORMS: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One X, Xbox One, PC

RELEASE DATE: October 12th, 2021

DEVELOPER:  Turtle Rock Studios

PUBLISHER: Warner Bros

MSRP: $59.99

ESRB: M For Mature

*Disclaimer - This product is being reviewed on the Xbox Series X on various difficulty settings with the code provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review. Gaming Instincts is an Amazon affiliate and does gain financial benefits if you choose to purchase this product on this page.*

Looks like Left 4 Dead 3 is finally here! Well, kind of... but... not really. Sort of maybe? Back 4 Blood is finally here, the next big game from Turtle Rock Studios, the developers of Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 and of course, their last infamous game - Evolve. As the name implies, Back 4 Blood is essentially Left 4 Dead 3 but with a few twists, a completely new cast of characters and ways to progress throughout the game with your friends. How is this game fresh and new compared to the previous titles, what should you expect and is it worth the purchase or your precious time (it's available on Game Pass)? Welcome to our in-depth review of Back 4 Blood.

The Cleaners and Fort Hope

There is not much going on with the plotline of Back 4 Blood other than the fact that you take control of characters in a group called Cleaners. Cleaners are a group that is responsible for fighting the Ridden, the monstrosities that you face throughout the game. This is an online co-op zombie horde shooter and it doesn't really need an insanely interesting storyline for it to be entertaining. The game is filled with a bunch of tropes that you'd expect to see in other zombie films or video games, so you should feel right at home as it is not trying to invent anything unique when it comes to the overall zombie theme. There are a total of eight different Cleaners to choose from including Walker, Evangelo, Mom, Holly, Karlee, Jim, Doc and Hoffman. Each of these characters possess different bonuses for the team, so team composition is essential. For example, Mom can instantly revive a downed teammate once per level, has an extra inventory slot for support items and also grants an extra life for the entire team. Meanwhile, Hoffman has a chance to receive ammo when he kills Ridden, has an extra inventory slot for an offensive item and grants 10% ammo capacity to the entire team. It's also worth noting that you can only play as Walker, Holly, Mom and Evangelo at the beginning. The other four characters are automatically unlocked after you beat the first stage of the first act. The gameplay and progression heavily rely on a Deck/Card system that Turtle Rock Studios has specifically built for Back 4 Blood. I'll get to the card system in greater depth in a few moments but first, let's talk about Fort Hope. Welcome to Fort Hope, this is where you'll be spending the majority of your time outside of the campaign. Instead of going with a traditional main menu like in most games, Turtle Rock Studios decided to create a much more immersive and interactive experience. In this little town, players can gather their party and test every gun with a combination of attachments in the dummy-filled shooting range. You can hit up the sleeping tent to check on your characters which include their unlocks and cosmetics. Garner who is sitting on a chair next to the tent allows you to edit and create your deck of cards. You can modify Solo, Team and Swarm decks. Speaking to Chenda allows you to look at your supply lines and use the supply points that you earn for completing levels or challenges during your campaign run or PvP antics in Swarm Mode. Acquiring all the supply lines allows you to unlock a bulk of rewards, these can include gameplay-changing cards for your character builds and cosmetics for your profile, characters outfits and weapons. Then there is Dusty, who is your Armory guy which is obviously where you can check out all your weapons and their cosmetics. Back 4 Blood has a variety of weapons that you'd expect to see from a zombie shooter game. Everything is included from shotguns, pistols, assault rifles, Uzis, snipers and even bolt action rifles. During a campaign run, it is important that you tell your team which gun type you are sticking with because you are able to custom build a deck that synergies with shotguns or assaults rifles, but that also depends on which character you decide to play and what characters and decks your friends are using. It is a smart idea to create a deck and build that works with the rest of your team. Speaking of creating decks, let's discuss the card system.

Check Out My Big Deck

Perhaps the most complex and hard to understand gameplay mechanic of Back 4 Blood is the card system. At first, it's quite overwhelming, there is a tutorial video that explains quite a bit of it in greater detail and is an absolute must if you are to play this game at a decent level from the get-go. However, it will take numerous campaign runs and perhaps at least ten or so hours to really understand and see how effective this system is. At first, I thought it was nothing more than a lazy gimmick, but after playing for a while, I started to understand the designed intention of the card system and how it really works. The card system is really interesting, you are able to build a deck of up to 15 cards total. The cards are divided into four different categories including fortune (yellow), brawn (green), reflex (blue) and disciple (red). Disciple cards tend to be more on the offensive side of modifiers and buffs for your characters such as 25% more ammo capacity or 45% extra healing efficiency with five extra health points. Reflex cards, however, can provide mobility buffs such as 30% reload speed for weapons or 25% use Speed on items with the additional bonus of heal points on a downed teammate. The order of your cards matters. The very first card that is on top of your deck is going to be a guaranteed starting card. That is called a loadout card, then the player is also given 3 cards from the top of his/her deck and will be forced to choose one of them for the upcoming campaign level. As you progress through levels you will eventually start getting a whole deck as you are given more and more cards to choose from the custom deck that you've built. Then there are corruption cards, which are randomly generated by the AI Director every time a brand new level starts in your campaign run. Corruption cards are exactly what they sound like, they are de-buffs and negative modifiers that are making the runs more and more difficult as you progress through. Two corruption cards are always generated at the start of every new level. Players have no control of what corruption cards they will be getting, this is all up to the AI director. These cards can range from a Ridden modification, a challenge with a reward, or a negative map effect. One of the worst cards you can get is the "Mist" card, which generates a deep fog, making it near impossible to see what is in front of you. In this happenstance,  you and your team have to be patient when traversing the level or you'll scare a flock of birds, alerting the horde, or bump into a special ridden that will grab you and possibly choke you to death. Completing challenge cards on the other hand rewards players with Copper which is the currency spent during the run to buy weapons, supplies, ammo and so on at every safehouse.

Blood, Gore, Colors and Sound

Back 4 Blood is a vibrant-looking game that's running and utilizing the power of Unreal Engine 4. If you are looking for some jump scares or some sort of a horror survival experience with a bunch of zombies then you won't find it here. While the Ridden do sound creepy off in the distance and around corners there is not much here to get scared by and that's fine because the game is not trying to be scary, to begin with. I like the colorful look of the game, it makes things easy to stand out, darker levels do not actually look so dark and it's easy to see where you are going and what you are shooting unless of course, you got unlucky with the Mist corruption card. Shooting Ridden is satisfying, there is a ton of colorful blood and gore to look at as you shoot their heads off with your shotgun or even a pistol. The weapons do feel like they pack a punch and that's a good thing in my book. Melee is also fun, playing as Holly is a blast because you get to run around like a maniac bashing heads in with your baseball bat. But you know what's even better? When you utilize the card system and build a deck that is centered around melee bonuses such as getting 2 health points per melee kill combined with a card that has a movement speed increase and stamina for more consistent and faster sprinting around the area. The soundtrack of Back 4 Blood however is a lot left to be desired. It's not bad or horrible, it's just there and that's it. There is nothing memorable about it, nor does it get your blood pumping. Maybe I am too spoiled with video game soundtracks, but to be quite fair the Halo Infinite multiplayer theme soundtrack sounded way better than anything this game has to offer. It is far far more memorable already and that was back in the technical preview of Halo Infinite multiplayer. In a nutshell, the soundtrack serves its purposes and that's it, nothing more and nothing less.

What's PvP? Have an Issue? Here is a Tissue

The Swarm mode in Back 4 Blood is arguably the worst and most disappointing thing about this game. What made Left 4 Dead so popular was the simple fact that we're able to play the entire campaign against enemy player zombies. Turtle Rock Studios took that out completely and created a separate PvP mode called Swarm and it is absolutely lazy, boring and horrible all at the same time. In Swarm Mode, the survivors have to get ready for an attack from the special Ridden (enemy players), so before the Ridden spawn in, the survivors have limited time to get into a defensive position. The player Ridden has to eliminate the survivors before the timer runs out, once the timer runs out then the roles are switched between both of the teams. Whoever kills the survivors the fastest or survives the longest wins. This mode also has its own separate, special cards that are dedicated to it and can only be used in Swarm mode. While it sounds great on paper, the reason why it's so bad is that both of the teams are confined to a very small area of the map, which is absolutely ridiculous and makes no sense. Instead of creating a map that's designed for survivors to get to a safe house, they put you in a tiny circle that gradually gets smaller as the timer goes. This mechanic makes it almost feel like you are a rat trapped in a cage and you are forced to run around in circles defending yourself against 4 special Ridden and the AI Ridden. It's very easy to win as the Ridden in this mode because the majority of survivor players I've encountered rage quit due to bad play and not understanding how to kite zombies properly. Instead, people just choose to play like they are packed in like sardines, and it's not really fun for either party. back 4 blood I have no clue why Turtle Rock Studios thought it was a good idea to take away versus campaign and replace it with a crappy excuse of a PvP mode. I see what they tried to do, but it's just godawful, fun for a little bit and then gets super stale after a while. The only fun part of Swarm mode is the fact that you get to play as the special infected, you play as the Tallboy, Crusher, Bruiser, and many others. Each of these special Ridden have their own bonuses and negatives. Some are suicide bombers, others are more like harassers. But again, with how tiny the maps are, it's really hard to truly take advantage of their abilities and make it fun for yourself, because after you get killed, you just have to wait about 15 seconds to re-spawn and harass the enemy survivors until you eventually choke them out. This is not fun at all and doesn't feel skillful. It's sad because the special Ridden are fun to play but they are underutilized because of some bad design decisions. Besides the lackluster PvP mode, Back 4 Blood also has some strange design choices that do not make a lot of sense. If you want to play the game solo the developers have decided that it's a good idea to completely strip solo players from progressing in their own game for god knows whatever dumb reason it might be. If you play solo, you are basically greeted with a warning that tells you that the developer loves to waste your time. Earning supply points are disabled, stat tracking is disabled and earning progress towards accomplishments is also disabled. So what is the point of even playing it solo? Why not reward solo players? A better design decision would have been to create separate solo content, or solo only cosmetics that can only be earned in the solo mode under specific difficulties or conditions, but hey let's completely waste the player's time cause we do not respect our audience whatsoever. Absolutely a blasphemy and unacceptable in today's day and age.

Final Verdict

Back 4 Blood has good potential to be something really special and the Left 4 Dead 3 game people wanted. Sadly, however, it is not the Left 4 Dead 3 I wanted due to the fact that Turtle Rock Studios decided to make some good ideas but implement them in rather bizarre design choices and limitations. The card system is interesting and fun to play around with as you unlock better and higher-quality cards down the line. There is a good variety of characters to choose from with their own perks and bonuses. There is a total of 33 campaign levels to go through across the 4 acts, which is plenty of content for you and your friends. However, the lack of a true versus campaign mode that is similar to Left 4 Dead is an insult and a spit to the face of the fans. I do not understand who at the studio thought this was a good idea. Then some genius decided to green-light the Swarm mode. As I said previously, Swarm mode sounds good on paper, but it was poorly executed. Instead of just making survivors sit in one area throughout the entire round, it would have been a lot better to section off a part of the campaign map and force them to make a run to the safe house if they did not want to go the full versus campaign route. As a fan, this is very upsetting because the PvP in this game could have been so much more fun than what it is right now with Swarm mode. I hope that they will do something for the future and make it more interesting, but I have my doubts. back 4 blood back 4 blood Another salt to the wound is how the Solo mode is being handled. They are basically saying, do not play this because we will make sure to waste your time by disabling every possible reward if you play by yourself. I really do not understand how this is okay in any shape or form. Overall, Back 4 Blood is not a horrible game, it's just riddled with some stuck-up decisions that make no sense and boasts a prideful development team that believes it knows better than the community. Evolve was another game that ended up dying off due to poor decisions that the developer ran with even after the community didn't want them to. I fear that the same thing will happen to Back 4 Blood if Turtle Rock Studios doesn't change their outlook on the game and how they take criticism and feedback. With that being said, Back 4 Blood will be getting a 6 out of 10. I had high hopes for this game. Stay tuned at Gaming Instincts via TwitterYouTube and Facebook for more gaming news.
A ton of fun with the right group of friends, but rather limiting and frustrating when played solo. Swarm Mode is boring and severely unbalanced.
Runs really well on the Xbox Series X and looks good. It's not a drop dead gorgeous game, but not ugly either.
Audio is serviceable, soundtrack is just there, guns sound fine but nothing amazing
33 Campaign missions to go through and farm for cards, cosmetics and so on with a good group of friends.