Introducing: Back 4 Blood Impressions
Recently, several members of our team were able to get a taste of what is coming for Back 4 Blood as we entered into the first beta of the game ad got some hands on experience with the title. We’ve gathered and collected everyone’s impressions here. So, here’s what Dan, Richy, Mel, and Solomael thought about what they got to see! Let’s look at the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Let’s get straight into the positives. Well, we all thought the level design, gunplay, and atmosphere were great. It definitely scratches the old L4D itch. In order to complete a level, players make their way from safe house to safehouse, whilst avoiding (and most likely) decimating the zombie infested populace on by the way. The game feels quite balanced in terms of the abilities of the characters (some run a little faster, some have more stamina, health, etc.). There is lots of fun to be had experimenting with different strategies, weapons and so forth and the deck building adds layers of customization.
On PC, the game does have a nice graphics options menu, with settings for DLSS and FSR. We didn’t notice any problems with smearing or fuzziness even when DLSS was set to Performance. There are some options for the console editions as well and everything looks just as good on them.
Rather annoyingly, the text (in menus and in the HUD) is needlessly small. It is really difficult to see button prompts for health items and weapons unless you are directly in front of the TV. This can be a problem as there is a fairly frequent need to read text in the game’s card system.
Online Play (Good)
Cross platform play appeared to work seamlessly and easily. During our time with this game, we tested it on Xbox One, Xbox Series, PS5, and PC and didn’t notice any issues collaborating with each other across these systems. We found ourselves regularly paired up with players from different platforms with no discernible impact on matchmaking times or gameplay. How the will translate in versus mode, with PC players having the benefits of mouse and keyboard, remains to be seen.
Versus Mode (Good)
The versus mode seems like a fun way to play the game, with players controlling the more powerful special ridden. It also seems like a good way to understand the nuances of the different types of special enemies. Until we played versus mode we couldn’t understand why enemies would sometimes have slightly different abilities despite looking similar. Versus makes the subtypes and their inherent abilities much clearer.
Cards are drawn at the start of each match, to tweak the game’s mechanics or offer perks, such as more health or stamina. The ability to unlock cards as you go will add an additional meta beyond the core gameplay and should hopefully extend the replayability significantly. We were conflicted about whether a card system was the right mechanic to distribute perks in this game. Left 4 Dead used the “AI director” to provide some variety on how levels could play out on repeat playthroughs. The deck system does the same thing due to the random pulls, while adding explicit objectives and challenges (via the enemy cards). Although this can be a little confusing, for newcomers and veterans alike, it does add a unique spin on the old AI director approach to emergent gameplay that L4D used. It could do with clearer tutorials though.
The Ridden (Debatable)
On anything above the easiest difficulty, the basic zombies are bullet sponges. It feels like special zombies are much more powerful than they were in L4D, but also seem to appear less frequently. Some of the same traits exist, but the way they are implemented seems much more generic at this stage. For example, there is no smoker type to drag stragglers from the group. They can be very difficult to dodge as well, meaning if you don’t have a long range weapon you are in trouble. Being surrounded by a horde of zombies is much harder to get out when compared to L4D.. Whether these choices are intentional or balancing issues will remain to be seen in the final product, but it does feel like the difficulty curve is off at the moment.
The Hub World (Bad)
The use of a hub world for your options, shops, and such is aesthetically pleasing but highly impractical and very sparse to begin with. It’s unclear whether this will be expanded upon in the final game or whether progression will unlock more to do. At present, it offers nothing that couldn’t be done in a menu, and seems likely that people will gravitate towards that option instead since a more traditional menu is just a button press away.
It can be difficult to pick out teammates among the horde due to the gore effect which covers them with an increasing layer of blood and guts as the level progresses. It would be nice if this was a toggleable option within the menu so that players had the option to remove it, should they wish. At times, the AI of bots is awful. This doesn’t make sense as L4D (by the same devs) had great AI and that was at least ten years ago. They often neglect to revive/heal you and get stuck in doorways. This gets particularly frustrating when they get stuck behind the door to the safehouse, which all members must pass through before level is marked as complete. It feels like there should be a better solution to finish the level together that would prevent issues like this occurring.
While playing on Xbox One S, we found a bug whereby the audio would become really distorted and choppy at times, when the horde attacks. It’s almost as if the aging processor is struggling to keep up. Curiously there is no noticeable issue with frame rate that could be seen during these moments. We have tried running on the Xbox Series S, PC and PS5 and noticed no issue with this whatsoever.
Another bug we encountered was during the end of act 1. Players are supposed to get into an escape vehicle but are not allowed to exit once they get in. The result being that incapacitated players cannot be recovered by their trapped teammates if someone entered the vehicle early. All team members are forced to wait while the incapacitated players slowly bleed to death. Since some of the bonus challenges require everyone making it to the end alive, you can see how this might be a problem.
Despite our list of criticisms, we’re still super excited for the final game. L4D and its sequel were both critically acclaimed, and B4B looks to continue that trend. B4B feels similar in style and design but adds more depth in the form of the purchasing, upgrades and deck building systems. The negatives we’ve identified are mainly things that we feel could be improved upon to make this a truly great game.