Back 4 Blood
Back 4 Blood is a co-operative first person shooter from Turtle Rock Studios, who are best known for the Left 4 Dead Franchise and Evolve. This game has been described as a spiritual successor to Left 4 Dead, so naturally draws many comparisons. This could be seen as something of a drawback though, as the game has been receiving a lot of criticism on the discord servers during this closed alpha. There seems to be some expectation that this game should be left 4 dead 3
The game benefits from an upgrade graphically from the Unreal 4 engine. I had the occasional dip in frame rate, but overall the performance of the game was very smooth. I did have a go at cranking all the settings up to ultra and it looked fantastic, but further optimization is still needed. Overall I felt the performance of the game was good, especially considering it is still in Alpha.
With regards to the story, it seems safe to assume from this alpha that it will follow the same formula as Left 4 Dead, with checkpoints along the way to a goal, and some kind of noisy section where you have to hold off against the ridden. This formula works though so we'd be happy for more of the same.
One of the strengths of Left 4 Dead was the diversity of it's characters, each with their own distinct personalities. We're shown 4 of the 8 characters in Back 4 Blood who look great, but aren't very fleshed out yet. There are only a few lines of dialogue and each character repeats the same few phrases throughout. The previous games give us an entire game to get to know the characters though, so we won't judge them too harshly.
We very much appreciated the change in pace from the rapid moving infected of Left 4 Dead, to the more deliberate ridden. Although slower, it did not detract from the experience that the common Ridden were still a threat that should not be ignored. Given their numbers, it was easy to become overwhelmed if you found yourself separate from the rest of your teammates. The common infected are often on shot, one kill, with anything other than pistols on the easiest difficulty. This works fine for a big horde, but can feel a bit too easy when they're more spread out.
There is a wide variety of special infected which each have their own unique characteristics and distinct appearances. These did seem to draw the most criticism from us though. The range on the Retch just seems unrealistic, it seems to be able to hit you from across the map. There was even a point at the end of the game where there was one on the boat, who managed to get us while we were picking up the explosives to blow the bridge. Ideally we’d just like to see this range dialled back a little.
The Tall Boy, or Bruiser, is also a frustrating enemy and seems to be significantly harder to take out than the rest, who all just need one or two shots on their weak points. Given the confined nature of the maps, the Tall Boy felt a little overpowered and an entire team of 4 could potentially get taken out if there is more than 1 in the room. I’d prefer it if all the special infected, excluding the ogre, were all a bit more in line with each other. So either make the Tall Boys a little easier to take down, or just have less of them spawning in. We felt this would keep the game balanced in between the difficulty levels.
The Hocker also seems to have a few issues with it’s AI. This enemy will often attack from above whilst attached to a wall. We noticed on a couple of occasions though that it would drop off the wall and start running around with the common infected, not really doing anything. When it does attack though, it seemingly comes out of nowhere and there doesn’t seem to be a way to dodge the attack.
When you are trapped by a Hocker, there is also no way in which you could free yourself. We all agreed that players should have the opportunity to wriggle free themselves, but have this take longer than if someone frees you. At the moment there is a card that allows you to free yourself once per level, but that's it.
The shooting gameplay is fun and allows you to aim down sight, which is not present in the Left 4 Dead franchise. Although I did quite often find myself clicking the right mouse button in an attempt to melee. The weapons mostly all handle easily and there is minimal recoil, so accuracy is great. The exception being the sniper rifle which packs enough recoil for all the other weapons combined. All of the weapons feel and sound realistic whilst being satisfying to use, this applies in particular to head shots, which are easy to pull off and give a satisfying head-popping sound effect. At the beginning of each chapter you also have access to a vendor which allows you to purchase upgrades such as increased mag capacity and a variety of sights. These upgrades are purchased using in-game currency, and we hope it stays that way. This also helps give the game a little more depth than its predecessors and gives a new layer of player interaction.
In comparison, the melee weapons felt like they were lacking slightly. The machete and baseball bat both felt slow and clunky to use, lacking the fluid speed and animation style of Left 4 Dead. I understand however that this may be an intentional design choice as the Ridden's movement speed and animation is slower and far less erratic than the common infected from Left 4 dead. There is also a quick melee option of either a punch or a tactical knife, which can be equipped via the card deck.
I personally had mixed feelings when I saw the card system. I generally just like to jump into a game, without having to spend time sifting through cards. However, after playing over the course of the weekend I can see how it will be beneficial to the game and will add replayability. The corruption cards that the game’s ‘Director’ gives you also have a significant impact, with the difficulty of the game seeming to range from relatively easy all the way up to impossible depending on the luck of the draw.
In the final product I'd like to see a more in-depth tutorial on the card system as it took us longer than it should have to work out that we can make our own starting decks, which then managed to keep us busy for at least 15 minutes. I also thought the cards were merely perks, and found myself wondering why I’d started the game with only a melee weapon. I hope that Turtle Rock also don’t use the card system as a means of introducing monetization within the game, allowing players to ‘pay to win’.
The controls seem to handle pretty well, with the exception of going down the ladders. On multiple occasions we witnessed players entering the animation to go down the ladder, then just falling, which gave significant damage. Hopefully this would be a relatively easy fix though
Teamwork is a must in this game, and the card system can be used to optimise your performance as a team. For example, there are certain cards that can benefit the whole team. One that was particularly helpful was when a player is downed, the rest of the team receive a certain amount of health
Even on the easiest difficulty, we found it was only possible to complete the game with 4 people playing together. The AI is basically useless and just gets in the way, the AI players will also occasionally set you on fire with propane tanks.
Due for release in June 2021, this game is currently available on Steam to pre-order, starting at £50. Based on what we have seen so far, we all felt this price was a little steep. However, none of us really know just how much of the game we’ve been shown in the Alpha, so I’ll reserve judgement for now. Based on what we have seen so far, I’d be happy to pay about £30 for the game. It will be interesting to see how many chapters the game will have though and what other gameplay modes there are. We’re all keen to see more though, and this game does feel like a worthy successor to Left 4 Dead 2. It is not Left 4 Dead 3 though, although you could argue it is in all but name!
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