‘Back 4 Blood’ Brings Players Back to Basics of Zombie Slashers

The highly anticipated spiritual sequel to the “Left 4 Dead” series is finally here, and — for better or for worse — it’s extremely similar to its predecessors. 

On the bright side, “Back 4 Blood” plays just like the first two installations but with some much-needed upgrades. 

The linear levels are smoother, mostly due to the addition of mantling. Weapon upgrades and the ability to aim down sights also make gameplay more dynamic, creating an incentive to stick with a single weapon for longer periods of time. 

Part of the campaign tasks players with holding a strongpoint while Ram Jam’s “Black Betty” (or any other song from a select list of licensed tracks) plays in the background. It’s a scene pulled straight from a movie and the player is put right in the middle of the action. 

With nearly unlimited ammo but surprisingly sparse health items, players can truly blast and slash their way through this section. However, the fact that players aren’t often able to heal is part of what sets this game apart from other “shoot ’em up” games like “Doom.”

This lack of healing items is just one aspect of the game that forces the use of specific playstyles — arguably the game’s biggest improvement. 

Long gone are the days of picking up whatever weapon is available (not really, you still can). Instead of this, the developers have tied passive abilities to certain characters and added the card system. 

While only time will tell if the card system ups the replayability, at the very least they make for interesting hazards and allow for players to really dig into the unique way they slaughter zombies. 

Unfortunately, on the other side of all this is a game that needs some serious patchwork.

Getting through the missions solo was tough because of the AI companions. Surprisingly, it wasn’t because of their ability to shoot — they actually make for an impressive support team — but rather their tendency to clip through and get stuck in the environment.

It’s very difficult to complete challenges requiring the survival of every player when half of the squad is literally stuck halfway back the level track. 

Even the loading screens have a tendency to bug out and change sizes between levels. While it’s hopeful that these sorts of things will be patched soon enough, they’re elements that should’ve been fixed before shipping the game out. 

The much less serious but much more egregious issues to the eye are found in the cutscenes. The audio often doesn’t match the character’s mouth — not that the dialogue is worth hearing to begin with. While the humorous, comic book-style quips of previous games remain, they’re few and far between. 

Unsurprisingly, those looking for something in the vein of “The Last of Us” will likely find the game disappointing. 

Some more neutral components of the game are the purchase system and menu area. 

If players want to get a real edge with their weapon, they can purchase attachments in safehouses and at the menu. These are bought with currency found while playing through the levels, which can bog down the trek toward the end, but not so much that it becomes a serious issue.

The menu area also seems like a hassle, forcing the player to go to different parts of an (albeit small) area to access different aspects of the menu. This is annoying, but well worth the firing range that’s attached to it. 

Being able to test weapons before heading into the game helps players get a sense of what they’re carrying into battle — specifically the recoil and damage dropoff. This is invaluable and often overlooked with games like this.

“Back 4 Blood” is a success as a spiritual predecessor. With some TLC (and hopefully the addition of split-screen), the game could live up to the name of the “Left 4 Dead” series minus the nostalgia. It succeeds in most areas it was expected to fail, and for that it deserves kudos.

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