Back 4 Blood is a thrilling cooperative first-person shooter from the creators of the critically acclaimed Left 4 Dead franchise. Experience the intense 4 player co-op narrative campaign, competitive multiplayer as human or Ridden, and frenetic gameplay that keeps you in the action.

Publisher: Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment
Reviewed on: PS5
Also available for:
Xbox Series X|S, PC, PS4, Xbox One

Cast: Abby Trott, Alan Ayala, Andre Sogliuzzo, Barbara Crampton, Becky Boxer,Danielle Judovits, Darin De Paul, Elias Toufexis, Michelle Wong, William Salyers

Developer: Turtle Rock Studios
Director: Phil Robb
Writer: Simon Mackenzie
Gameplay Director: Brandon Yanez
Senior Game Designer: Matt Festa

When I was in High School, one friend loved playing Left 4 Dead, and I was more than happy to oblige whenever I visited his place. The game was all the rage, and even though the rating board in Australia completely screwed over the sequel, the franchise was red-hot. Even with a handful of similar games coming in the years since, no one’s stepped in to claim the throne that Turtle Rock had with Left 4 Dead. So, they’ve returned to claim the throne themselves with Back 4 Blood, a game that is every bit Left 4 Dead and will have fans quickly falling back into a state of co-op action, but the game also adds some much-needed changes to the formula. 

There’s little-to-no narrative in Back 4 Blood, which is perfectly fine in my book as I’m here to kill zombies and nothing more. However, there are eight ‘Cleaners’ you can play as, and they do each have unique personalities and traits. The group has banded together following an apocalyptic event that’s turned most of Earth’s population into Ridden and now head out of a military base to perform missions in helping clean up the infection. 

Even your gun builds up blood splatter as you progress through levels - image captured by the author.

Even your gun builds up blood splatter as you progress through levels – image captured by the author.

If you’ve played Left 4 Dead or something like Warhammer: Vermintide 2, you’ll know what you’re in for with Back 4 Blood. You move through levels, kill many things, and attempt to stay alive, often having to stop to loot for ammo and healing items. The game is very much the sequel to Left 4 Dead, but there is a new system in place that makes it stand out from Turtle Rock’s previous games, and that’s a card system, as well as an AI director that can make your life a living hell.

At the start of each level, the game’s director deals a couple of cards that can change the type of enemies you’ll run into, their strength, and bonus objectives that can give you better rewards. As a player, you’ll select a deck at the beginning of the match and draw from it, selecting one card at the beginning of each level. It does sound complicated at first, and I was thinking, why the hell do I need a card game in this zombie shooter, but it’s not that kind of deck building. Instead, think of the cards as passive and triggered abilities you can lean on depending on what cards the AI directors deal and key cards you create your character around.

There’s moments of peace right before you venture out into the Ridden-filled city - image captured by the author.

There’s moments of peace right before you venture out into the Ridden-filled city – image captured by the author.

I spent most of my time playing as Holly. She began the game with a bat as her secondary weapon, so she screamed melee build. Her character traits state that she recovers ten stamina when killing a Ridden, has a 10% damage resistance, and gives the team +25 stamina. As I unlocked more cards — through supply lines, you unlock using the currency you earn by beating levels — I built a deck that allows Holly to gain even more stamina, deal more melee damage and heal health when killing with melee. Once I started getting the right cards for a Holly build, this whole system started making a lot more sense. However, I wish there was an easier way to know where and how to unlock cards that might be better suited for your favourite Cleaner. 

It’ll take you a while to beat your first full playthrough of Back 4 Blood. There are over thirty levels broken up into four acts, and although there are varying lengths to these levels, a couple of them can be quite long. All of this does mean the campaign can drag, and the pacing isn’t great. The highs are exhilarating in the campaign, while the lows are often frustrating sections you’ll end up dying over and over again on. 

Gross - image captured by the author.

Gross – image captured by the author.

One level has you causing chaos in a restaurant while civilians escape. Pressing play on the jukebox and hearing Ace of Spades blare through your speakers makes for an exciting and intense set-piece that is obviously inspired by a famous scene in Shaun of the Dead. Later in the campaign, you must find items in an old mansion while hordes of never-ending Ridden and a massive Troll that’s nearly as tall as the building itself wreak havoc upon your Cleaner crew. Amongst these moments are levels that begin to feel very samey. After finishing the game, I wished it’d been a bit tighter and shorter, and even better, throwing in another couple of unique and exciting moments like the ones I just mentioned. 

The difficulty levels in Back 4 Blood requires a lot of tweaking if Turtle Rock wishes to keep players around. Playing on Recruit difficulty, I failed countless missions in a pre-made squad of three and even joining random groups through the game’s quickplay option. Often it just takes one player to disrupt something like birds in certain levels to send down a horde of Ridden upon your squad and end the game. 

Even more gross -  image captured by the author.

Even more gross – image captured by the author.

Back 4 Blood is a lot easier to play when you’re able to communicate with your squad, and playing with friends will be the best way to enjoy the game. However, if you want to stand any chance at beating levels on Veteran or Nightmare difficulty, communicating is critical. In both modes, friendly fire is enabled, enemies hit harder, and the spawns are much more intense. I think both of these difficulties are entirely borked and need immediate attention. That said, some have managed to beat them and enjoyed the challenge. But it seems that Turtle Rock wants to funnel players through the difficulties like Blizzard have done with the Diablo games. With that franchise, however, you do one run, get better gear, and suddenly the challenge of the higher difficulty doesn’t seem impossible anymore. Even with all of the cards I’d unlocked by beating the campaign once, it doesn’t make the higher difficulties challenge acceptable. I’ve beaten a handful of levels on Veteran, and it’s not fun; it’s frustrating.

Back 4 Blood is an excellent looking game, there’s a lived-in feel to each significant location, and the intense amounts of gore and exploding creatures is most impressive. The bodies of your enemies will cover the streets, and in the indoor levels, the amount of gory blood and bodily splatter that sprays in every direction is rather delicious as a horror movie fan. That said, this isn’t a scary game, and even with the gory details, you can safely enjoy this with your more timid friends.