The zombie genre in gaming has been done a lot. Sometimes well, sometimes not so well, and then there are times when it sits in the middle; this is precisely where Back 4 Blood sits. The game offers a single-player mode, but a heavy focus on multiplayer and a card-based upgrade system elevate this experience into one you will want to come back to time and time again.
Back 4 Blood is being helmed as a spiritual successor to the popular Left 4 Dead series from the same developer, Turtle Rock. Each campaign you embark on features different scenarios and areas of the map. Your player must rush through to get to the safe room and ensure your three companions make it in unscathed (well, relatively) as well. Along the way, you blast zombies (or ‘Ridden’, as they are so lovingly referred to) along with a whole host of other mutant monsters that want to rip you apart. The varying set pieces allow the world to appear large in scale while not all the levels necessarily land well; the unexpected ogres smashing down houses and appearing to overwhelm your team keep things feeling fresh.
When you choose your player from the menu, each has their own special abilities, and the cards you pick can give you an advantage in a specific area. This can be chosen at the start of each mission, so you can change it in the next round if you don’t find it effective. You can play through the missions in single player mode with the three others in your party as bots or three random online players (mostly children if you dare try this). You can also wrangle your friends in to play with you, a feat made a lot easier if you all have Xbox Game Pass, as the game is included in the catalogue. It is no question that the most fun I had with this game was with three friends, all on mics blasting and laughing our way through the clunky dialogue and blood explosions. This was the easiest way to understand the abilities and it encouraged me to keep replaying the missions and try different things out to see if I could beat my time.
The card system is really what sets this game apart. Players begin the game with a starter deck, and you unlock more cards by spending supply points. These are accumulated by finishing rounds and from dropped bodies and loot during your sessions. You can really start customising your deck when you play with more friends online and your character levels up quicker. Once you have the right cards and members on your team, you can increase the difficulty and really open up the game, allowing for you to experience the hordes. There is also a PVP mode called ‘Swarm’. In a match, it is Cleaners versus Ridden (controlled by other players) to see who can last the longest. I only played a few rounds in this mode and found the maps to be relatively small compared to other versions of this game mechanic and not enough here for me to stick around and play some more. I’m sure there is an audience for this, but it clearly is not me.
Graphically, the game targets a 1980s slasher vibe and really sticks with it. There are cut scenes that attempt to interlock a story together, yet are not cohesive enough to work, and you will end up skipping them as, really, who is here for a story? The blood splatters are worth mentioning as they are in ample supply. As you gleefully mow down the Ridden, their screams and splatters are incredibly satisfying to witness, as they are beautifully designed. While most of them run and charge at you, a great addition is the ones playing chicken with you on the floor. They appear to be dead and only jump on you at the last minute, scaring the pants off you (well, me at least) and only adding to the creepy atmosphere in each scenario. I played on both PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X and found that the added features of the Dual Sense controller gave the PlayStation 5 the advantage this time around. Just keep in mind that you would need to purchase the game as it is not available on a subscription service.
Back 4 Blood just feels like a big of a mixed experience for me. If you are looking for a fully fleshed-out single-player experience, you won’t find any of it here. The narrative is unable to hold itself together or offer any reason to stick around. The cut scenes give insight into The Cleaners, but it isn’t enough for you to care. The multiplayer gameplay, however, is where Back 4 Blood excels, particularly if you have friends that you can play online with. Time will tell if more content will be released and what the game’s longevity is. For now, if you enjoy horror slashers, then this is definitely the game for you.
Back 4 Blood is available now on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and PC.