Review: Back 4 Blood
Back 4 Blood should be the new multiplayer zombie shooter that should keep you and your friends sweet throughout the Halloween month. But, is this game actually interesting enough to throw your other horror games aside?
Back 4 Blood is a game with a strong downside. One minute I'm in the intense action with friends and we're yelling at each other, thinking that's a good tactic. The next moment I'm completely annoyed by stupid bots, clunky animations and stiff gameplay. But, how do those two sides weigh up? Let's dive in!
Back 4 Blood uses multiple modes, where the co-op story is actually the most fun to play. In fact, you can ignore the other modes. With solo you unlock almost nothing and the experience is 'meh' at its best and the PvP multiplayer is really an unbalanced shit show. So, this review will mainly focus on the co-op storyline that you can play through with friends or strangers, or bots.
Story, or not?
Back 4 Blood uses the standard 'there are zombies, shoot them dead' storyline and is therefore also a story that you quickly forget. In fact, I often didn't even get the story, or found it difficult to follow. There was also little to no structure, where a lot of cinematics, especially in the beginning, mainly consist of you and your team driving off in a Hummer.
The characters all have their quirky characteristics, but are not immediately memorable. They are especially enjoyable to play because of unique weapons/gadgets, not because of a good writing style. But, you probably don't play Back 4 Blood for the story, it's not Days Gone. You play the game for the minute-to-minute action and gameplay, or to have a night out with your friends and yell at each other.
How does it play then?
In Back 4 Blood you play through acts, who then have different missions in multiple areas. After each act you are sprinting to the safe room, together with your team. Once safe, you can spend your currency for better weapons and upgrades and proceed to the next level. This structure works very nicely and the linear progression comes into its own here.
The game only really starts to get fun when you play with people. You have to hang the garlands yourself with your friends, so your experience with the game most likely really depends on the people you play with. I did notice that after a few hours I could get bored with the aimless horde of zombies that come at you from all sides. There simply aren't enough enemy types to keep it interesting and some zombies are just really annoying.
So essentially it's just a zombie shooter, where you run through areas to kill everything, play your objective and run to an endpoint. Unfortunately, I miss the fluid gameplay here by large measures. The controls often feel outdated and aren't as smooth as you'd hope, and the gunplay isn't amazingly fantastic either. Weapons all play uniquely from each other and the recoil on each weapon makes you think a bit more about your timing and how many bullets you successively pump out. But, I personally often just didn't really feel the gunplay. The weapons all look pretty standard too, just like the rest of the game by the way. I have to say that the overall gunplay is excellent and that many people enjoy it.
Snipers are worthless by the way, because of the enormous amount of zombies it really makes no sense to pick up this weapon.
Build your deck
What is a very well developed element and something that you can really use to your advantage is the deck system. This way you can use your chosen character more with a good deck than without. The correlation between your chosen character and the decks you create is really important for good team play and a strong run.
Think of the cards as a kind of bonuses, or perks. At first, the cards you are dealt seem to be random, but you soon discover that you have more control than you think. So you can really make builds for yourself and for your team. This is arguably one of the best, if not the best, feature in Back 4 Blood. So cards can give you overall bonuses in healing, reload speed and ammo capacity. However, they can also turn your regular hit into a knife stab, so you don't need a meelee weapon as a secondary.
Your arsenal, isn't it?
The guns in total are very nicely worked out. They all play very differently and you notice that sometimes it is better to choose a shotgun or AR. A small sidenote is that for even a revolver you can carry a lot of bullets, making you more inclined to also use a weapon that in other games might have with 16 bullets. Melee weapons also become significant, because you can give them strong bonuses by using a good card from your deck, such as heal on impact. The attachments that you can buy or find in your safe room also make a real difference. So you can find a weapon that you prefer and upgrade it with different attachments. In addition, scopes with a high zoom are not always useful, since the zombies are more often in your face than at a distance.
So it's really cool to pick out a weapon you prefer, expand it with attachments that you find, or buy at the beginning of each level, to play through the game, right? Unfortunately not, because the huge downside of this coin is that there is no loadout system in the game. You always start with a standard weapon, with no attachments and the weapons you can find or buy are always random. So you can't set up a predefined path of weapons and attachments that you want to buy. This makes the whole system not feel engaging at all, because as soon as the chapter is over, and you start a new one, you start over with your starter weapon.
There's simply no point in chasing your build, because it's too random. And this also applies to the deck system. Without the weapons on which you base your deck, it all makes no sense, of course. Everything is laid out way too randomly to keep the replayability fresh, but this way the first playthrough gives little hope of going through it a second or third time.
bots be bots
If you can't get a team of 4 people together and can't find people online, you will soon end up with a team of computer-controlled players; crash. However, these bots are dumber than a blind goldfish. Bots will hardly ever pick you up when you're down, they don't pick up items well, they often only shoot when the zombie is already ramming against them. They are often more of a concern than a nice extra. This was sometimes so bad that I stopped in the middle of a run to see if I couldn't find players online. Also, this sometimes gave me the feeling that the game either had quite a few players already, or that they just aren't thrown together well by the in-game match systems.
Multiplayer & Solo
This also applies to solo play. You unlock little to nothing when you play the solo mode, so it simply makes no sense and also not a fun experience. As far as I'm concerned, they should have left this fashion out, or worked it out much better.
Graphics & performance
The game generally plays more than fine on the Playstation 5, with dips in performance only when it's really herres and full of Ridden. For the rest, the game maintained a stable 60 frames per second. Graphically, the game is quite fine, but it does look like a kind of standard Unreal Engine title.
Back 4 Blood is a game that improves on Left 4 Dead in a number of areas, but which also picks up many things less well. It's a frustrating experience that only becomes fun when you play it with friends, and even then there are plenty of negatives to be found. The weapon system is great, but becomes redundant and insignificant due to missing weapon progression. The deck system is cool and well developed, but because you have little choice in the weapons beforehand, you can't properly match your deck with your weapons. The game often just doesn't feel unique enough in its entirety. Likewise, the general gameplay isn't very engaging, unless you're entertaining yourself with some friends. There is only 1 mode interesting enough to actually play, everything around it is negligible. And yet, I (along with my mates) really enjoyed myself on many occasions.
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