With the gaming world leaning heavily into battle royale shooters, it’s incredibly refreshing to see a focus shifting back to co-op centric experiences in recent months, and one such game that fully embraces that ideal is that of Back 4 Blood. Essentially a spiritual successor to Valve’s beloved zombie shooter, Left 4 Dead, Back 4 Blood is a four-player co-op survival game where you move with three friends from level to level, overcoming obstacles and trying to survive all types of undead nasties on your way to safety. It’s familiar, doesn’t try and do too much, and is a blast to play; however, it’s not without its shortcomings.
While Back 4 Blood is trying to showcase its own identity, it’s hard not to relate it back to the fan-favourite Left 4 Dead series, and the game is obviously proud of its inspirations. From the naming convention to the squad dynamics, the game is somewhat of an homage to Valve’s first two entries, but manages to evolve the formula with a few new additions and curveballs, truly making this feel like Left 4 Dead 3.
Instead of simply dashing from safehouse to safehouse blasting anything that runs at you, you’re given objectives along the way. From repairing machinery to getting bridges to work, there are obstacles that will catch you off guard in the height of the action, which is where some of Back 4 Blood‘s best moments crawl out from the dark. These tasks require you to switch up strategies and prioritise teamwork, as one player might have to fend off an incoming horde while you access a terminal in order to proceed. Coordinating with our team members is important, as there are always multiple points of attack for zombies to roll in, and you’re often left in intentional kill zones to throw you into the deep end.
While the game does have a recognisable and easily learnable gameplay loop, the balance of the missions and variety in level design is great, as you’ll go from open-ended arena type scenarios, to choke-points, where you and your teammates can hunker down and mow down a wall of incoming enemies. Throw in the fact that there are some pretty tricky enemies and various ‘heavies’ to take down (including a colossal ogre enemy) and you’re in for quite the fight.
This is another area where Back 4 Blood can get frustrating. While the challenge is appreciated, Back 4 Blood is punishingly difficult with some enemies being bullet-sponges and some always catching you off-guard with long-range melee attacks, no matter what you do. The biggest hindrance, though, is the incompetent AI. In it’s current state, the game is fun and playable with the AI bots by your side, but, as expected, don’t have the wit or urgency of real-life counterparts. They’ll often take their time to heal you if you’ve been downed, need additional commands in order to do something, and sometimes get stuck on the environment. The result can be a hilarious or infuriating session, depending on what mood you’re in.
Thankfully, even with the AI hiccups, the moment to moment gameplay of Back 4 Blood is just so damn good. The zombies are incredibly fun to shoot, the bigger enemies really test your skill, and the gunplay is stellar. Shooting feels really punchy, and each weapon, from the assault rifles to the handguns, have that virtual ‘kick’ that many games these days seem to forget about. Furthermore, you’ll unlock ‘cards’ which are essentially buffs or perks for your player, allowing you to boost your melee damage or increase your speed, for example. These combinations of buffs will leave you tweaking your character again and again for each challenge, making it a fun meta-game of sorts each time you venture out into the chaos.
On top of the main campaign, there is also an 8-player PvP multiplayer mode to give the game extra legs, which is a nice touch. You can play as a squad of humans versus a crew of the infected, and while it might not become the new hot multiplayer mode out there, it’s a fun distraction if you want a break from the primary campaign.
Back 4 Blood is what we expected, which is not a bad thing, because it’s what we’ve been hoping for. The levels are incredibly diverse and the action is dynamic; throw in some great gunplay, and you’ve got one of the best zombie shooters around. Some tweaks to the AI will do the experience wonders, but if you can rally three other friends together, you’re in for a bloody good time with Back 4 Blood.
Back 4 Blood is available on Xbox Series X/S, PS5, Xbox One, PS4, and PC.