When Back 4 Blood was first announced, we initially were turned off by yet another zombie game hitting the market. It's a genre that's died a death now (no pun intended), and we weren't sure how many more avenues could be explored. It wasn't until we discovered this was being helmed by the creators of Left 4 Dead that our interest was piqued, and luckily, this beta has proven there's still some life in the old zombie genre.
The beta gives you two campaigns to test out, some PvP action, and a look at the communal hub. It's a pretty beefy preview and provides a good idea as to what players can expect in the full launch. Starting off you can explore the hub. There's not too much to do there, but it's a great opportunity to test out some weapons and set up some loadouts before truly getting into the action.
There are two campaigns to check out: The Devil's Return and Blue Dog Hollow. Both offer different experiences in terms of locations, but stick to a similar gameplay loop - kill some zombies, complete some minor objectives, get to the safe room. Each campaign is broken down into four chapters, each increasing in difficulty before all-out war in the final moments.
Of course, you most probably know all that. The Left 4 Dead series is a cultural phenomenon, with thousands of players still enjoying the series even in 2021. What matters is whether that formula has been improved, and for the most part, it has. The gunplay has never felt better, with aim assist for those who want a snappier experience (although it can be turned off). We tested a variety of guns, including a bunch of melee weapons, and found each packed a satisfying punch.
Shotguns provide the necessary knockback, pistols possess the satisfying snap of the trigger, and assault rifles gleefully cut down hordes of the undead. Throw in others such as axes and baseball bats, and you've got a bunch of tools at your disposal. These can also be upgraded on the fly with upgrades lying around. You may be able to pick up a new sight or extended mag, each with a varying level of rarity for how useful they are. Out of everything, the LMG is a personal highlight of ours, capable of cutting through a sea of undead like butter.
Throughout each chapter you can also source tons of money by exploring. This is key to ensuring you're stocked up on the best items, as downtime in the safehouses enables you to buy new guns, throwables, and equipment to assist you such as defibrillators and health packs. It does give you a sense of being able to tailor your character to your own choosing (each of which have special attributes), but adds up to a ton of downtime, which unfortunately leads us to our main complaint.
While the moment-to-moment gunplay of Back 4 Blood packs a fine punch, it's plagued with an unnecessary number of slower moments between missions. The main factor of this is the game's much talked about card system, which is a great idea in theory, but a bit of a convoluted mess in practice. As you progress through the game, you unlock cards which you can use to make a deck loadout. These can be selected prior to missions and allow you to use cards which provide modifiers or buffs for the mission ahead. You may get increased stamina, or add the ability to cover the map in fog for a tougher experience. It's a great idea and adds replayability, but the way its presented in the beta isn't very straightforward.
It doesn't help that between each chapter you're forced to pick and swap out cards for your character, and that applies to everyone in your team. It adds a ton of waiting around when all you want to do is get back to the zombie-killing mayhem you signed up for. Coupled with the fact you then have to spend money to suit up your character, it all slowly adds up how much time you're being kept away from the action.
The Game Director, an AI which throws zombies your way, also seems slightly unbalanced. There were long stretches where we were hardly met with a challenge before being thrown at the mercy of large scale hordes comprised of unique infected. When you've got the Stingers which leap from wall-to-wall, as well as multiple powerful Tallboys who throw devastating punches, it can go 0-100 in a matter of seconds and feel slightly unfair at times.
Despite these complaints, our time with the beta has been mostly positive. It truly captures that original Left 4 Dead formula and improves on its general gameplay in many ways. While not all of its ideas have stuck the landing with us, we're willing to give it the benefit of the doubt for the full release this October. There are tons of good ideas packed into Back 4 Blood, and they just need refining and being made more intuitive to really shine.
Back 4 Blood's pre-order beta lasts until August 9, and the free open beta takes place between August 12-16.
Have you checked out the Back 4 Blood beta? Let us know in the comments below.