I played a fair amount of the Back 4 Blood beta the past few days, and there’s a lot there I really had fun with. It definitely evokes the original Left 4 Dead in a lot of really positive ways, particularly the main cooperative campaign mode.
My group found the Classic difficulty to be a little bit of a snoozefest. Against a strictly AI enemy horde (we don’t get player Special zombies in campaign like we could in L4D) it never felt like we were in danger of being overrun. Nightmare, on the other hand, handily dumpstered us before we’d gotten twenty feet from the safe room. We were not prepared for that.
Survivor difficulty, however, felt about right. Challenging enough that playing too sloppily could easily doom a run, but not so tough it ever felt insurmountable. A lot of the time we’d make it to a safe room by the skin of our teeth, amazed that we’d narrowly made it out alive, which is a great feeling for this type of game.
It’s a game that requires a good amount of communication, and (we found) resource sharing. Selecting weapons that used different types of ammo so we were never competing for drops, and regularly pooling and sharing ammo pickups were a big part of what made it work. The moment you lose even a part of that, it’s a different game.
We mostly played as a premade foursome, but one evening our fourth was unavailable and so we left the slot open for a bot/random matchmade player. It was… an experience.
There are some games that, while playing with friends/people who communicate is naturally better, you can still get through and have a decent time with randoms. Back 4 Blood does not feel like one of those games. It is not a game where one person can just do their own thing and not work with the team, because little mistakes like spooking a flock of birds and alerting the horde can so easily snowball into a disaster that ends the run. I would go so far as to say that given the chance between playing with an open slot again and not playing at all, I would choose to simply not play the game, and wait until my whole group was available. (Note: Classic difficulty may be forgiving enough to fumble through dragging an idiot or two along and still succeed)
With that said, if you can muster a group of friends to play (or are at least willing to assemble a team via a B4B discord to ensure all of your randoms are looking to work together), the campaign offers a fantastic 4-person co-op trip through L4D nostalgia. The guns feel great, the environments I saw in the beta looked cool, the card system is… interesting (it’s too early for me to say if it really works or not).
I can’t thus far say I’m as enamored with the PVP side of the game. Ditching the L4D style “campaign levels but with other players controlling special zombies,”, instead we get a sort of arena-based survival mode. Both teams are thrown into a small, square map, with one side the cleaners and the other side the zombies. The humans have to stay alive as long as they can, and that time becomes the benchmark for the other team to beat when they switch sides.
It didn’t not work… but it also just didn’t feel as special.
I have a lot of other nitpicks, the biggest of which is that I’m still not sure why I would keep playing the game after conquering all of the campaign missions. There wasn’t a whole lot of variety (little things like a room existing in one run, and not in another and ammo changing places) to suggest a ton of replayability. The corruption cards changed stuff like adding mist, or giving some special zombies armor, or more health, but they were pretty repetitive themselves.
I don’t want to go too far down the “concerns I have” rabbit hole, because this is a beta and the game is still a few months away, which means they have a decent amount of time to hear feedback and tweak things. And certainly not everything was shown in the beta either; there’s only one campaign mission, and we couldn’t play half of the Cleaners. So there is a lot more to come.
Exactly how much will be the deciding factor between whether I purchase it or pass. I know the core gameplay stuff is fun now, they just need to have enough content to justify the AAA price.