Action,  Co-op,  Early Access,  First Person Shooter,  Game,  Gaming,  Horror,  Xbox,  Xbox One,  Xbox Series S,  Xbox Series X,  Zombie

Back 4 Blood Open Beta: Thoughts and Impressions

Reading Time: 8 minutes

By Brent Gass, Ciaran McGinn, Kiley Wilde, Pete Beckett, and Rob Lake

Fast Facts

Back 4 Blood Open Beta

Developer: Turtle Rock Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Games
Website: https://back4blood.com/en-gb
Genre(s): Action, First Person Shooter
Platform: Xbox (Also available on PC and Playstation)
Age Rating: PEGI 18
Release Date: 12/8/2021 – 16/8/2021
Price: Free for everyone

A code was provided for review purposes

The surprise announcement of Turtle Rock Studios’ latest co-op zombie-shooter game, Back 4 Blood, has had zombie fans excited to once again take on the endless hordes of the undead alongside their buddies. With the original developers behind the well-known Left 4 Dead franchise at the helm, Back 4 Blood is being heralded as this generation’s next premier co-op horde shooter. Yet, while there are some clear similarities between the two, Back 4 Blood is proving to be far more than just Left 4 Dead’s spiritual successor. So if you’re looking to find out what to expect from Turtle Rock Studios’ latest co-op zombie shooter, then here are our thoughts after playing the game’s Early Access Open Beta.

A Long and Bloody Road

A large zombie Ogre in Back 4 Blood  lobs a boulder of flesh at the human characters, who are shooting at it.
That’s one ugly mother…

You begin your epic fight for survival in a simple base camp, which is, fortunately enough, equipped with a shooting range. This exciting little gem is where you have access to all of the types of weapons available in the full game, as well as their attachments – plus plenty of space to practise using them. (It must be noted that while you can practise with any weapon in the shooting range, your characters load onto the maps with their preassigned weapons).

The campaign of Back 4 Blood is easy to pick up if you have any previous experience with video-game shooters. Basically, point the shooty end of the gun or the smashy bit of the melee weapon at the enemy zombies, called Ridden, and pull the R2/RT trigger. Sometimes they die. Weapons and their ammo are freely available in safe houses and on maps. (Although, you can also purchase some weapons at the safe houses). The weapons themselves consist of two classes, Primary and Secondary, and you can carry one of each in your inventory. Primary weapons like the M1A felt smooth while the reloading times on the majority of the guns were amazingly fast, with the exception of LMGs. My favourite by far is the Desert Eagle – it feels powerful, easy to handle and I hope they leave it alone and don’t nerf it. The melee weapons are no-brainers – as in they’re great for slashing and smashing braindead bad guys. In addition to the primary and secondary weapons, there are also throwables in the form of grenades, Molotovs and firecrackers but they don’t feel quite as powerful.

Overall, the levels presented in the beta feel small – sometimes verging on a bit too narrow in parts – and seem somewhat short. Although, the variety of characteristics allows for some quick thinking as you must decide what weapons suit best for close-quarter fighting and what is best for the open areas. It becomes apparent relatively quickly that this game is all about thinking ahead and planning your next move. Despite some minor pacing issues, the campaign still features a number of cinematic and exciting surprise moments, and I can’t wait to see how they all play out in the full game.

Good To Be Bad

Two zombies stand in front of a larger armoured zombie, whose skin is made of boney flesh.
What a handsome little trio.

Alongside a taste of the game’s killer campaign is a competent – and mildly enjoyable – online PvP mode. In versus, four players will take on the familiar role of the game’s selection of human cleaners, while the other team step into the gory shoes of Back 4 Blood’s mutated Ridden. The goal is to survive as long as possible against wave after wave of Ridden combatants, or, alternatively, to make sure the humans die as soon as possible. The team that survives the longest as the cleaners wins the round. It doesn’t sound like much, and that’s because it isn’t.

My biggest issue with versus mode is its round-based competitive format, which already feels lacklustre and devoid of long term entertainment value, not to mention feeling completely out of place. Turtle Rock Studios have already explained why they chose not to bring back Left 4 Dead’s versus campaign, but I still can’t help but feel Back 4 Blood would’ve wholeheartedly benefitted from the mode’s return, especially when you consider how fun the campaign mode is so far. That being said, versus mode still has its moments.

Where versus excels is in its playable classes of Ridden, whether that be the mighty Tall-boy, bloated Reeker, or nimble wallcrawling Stinger. Each offers a ton of gameplay variety that helps make playing as the Ridden feel fresh and exciting. I was surprised at just how much time and effort was put into crafting the playable Ridden and their subtypes, from their looks to their unique playstyles, and how little effort was put into making the cleaners feel just as exhilarating.

One of the characters is being grabbed and crushed by a "Tall-Boy" zombie, while another survivor prepares to swing a baseball bat at it.
You raise me up!

What was evident after playing on both sides is just how different they feel to play. On one hand, playing as the cleaners is way more challenging, requiring the same level of team coordination and skill to survive against a significantly stronger enemy team and an unfortunately small map. On the other hand, playing as the Ridden team is, quite simply, way more fun, exciting, and easy.

Where the Ridden have an array of tools for success, the cleaners’ only equivalent is the deck system, which, frankly, doesn’t go far enough in making the gameplay feel balanced. No matter what class of Ridden you play, each will feel as enjoyable as the last, while at the same time feeling wholly unique – including each subclass. The Ridden’s brutal and bloody abilities diversify gameplay, round to round and match to match, offering a multitude of playstyles suited to every kind of player. The same can’t be said for the cleaners, who, in comparison, will have a much more stressful time in versus mode – suggesting that in the future, some changes and reworks may be on the cards to bring a little equilibrium to what could actually be an entertaining game mode.

Pick a Card, Any Card

A menu displaying various cards, including their headings, descriptions, and details on what boons they provide.
Decked out.

One of the aspects of the Back 4 Blood Beta that sets it apart from other games in the genre, like Left 4 Dead, is its perk card system. The system is implemented well and provides an extra layer of strategy and customization. This results in an experience with greater replayability than others I have played in the genre. Although you can play with a pre-built starter deck in campaign or class deck in versus, it is generally best to build your own after your first run. You start by selecting your first card, which is extra important. This becomes your starter card, always being activated during play. After that, you choose up to fourteen additional cards to complete the deck. Each card has a suit symbol in the corner. To avoid drawing basic cards too soon, you will want to try to have close to even numbers of each of the four suits. For reference, basic cards are the weakest, but most plentiful perk cards. New cards are unlocked by spending supply points, earned while playing, on different supply lines. Generally, the higher level cards cost more points to unlock, with the last card in the line being an expensive perk card that gives a bonus to the entire team.

Now onto how your deck works while in a match. At the beginning of each round as Cleaners in versus, or after reaching a safe room in campaign, you draw a selection of cards to choose from. These represent each of the suits, plus a wildcard. You then choose one card to activate at that time. This is in addition to your starter card and initial draw that you get at each continue. In the end, if you play a campaign from start to finish, use all continues, and open the locked Intel container, you can theoretically activate all fifteen cards in one match. Intel containers are scattered around lootable locations in the campaign, each containing a random basic card, except the specially marked locked container which gives a random card from your built deck. It will need to be unlocked with a tool kit. Ideally, you will want to choose perk cards that help you scavenge items early in your campaign run, switching to the rest later in your run. You can also buy team perks at each safe house, if you have enough copper. These are obviously very valuable, and you should work with your team to buy as many as you can.

Graphics and Performance

A horde of zombies rush a distant church in Back 4 Blood
Here they come!

As you can imagine the title plays incredibly well on the Xbox Series X.  The power of Microsoft’s flagship console gives you crystal clear clarity as bullets, gore, and body parts fly in every direction.  Even when playing with others on other Xbox Consoles, the game doesn’t give too much – if any – slowdown and maintains a constant 60fps.

On an Xbox One X, with an HDR capable 4K TV, the game still looked intense, showing incredible details in the environments, as well as each Ridden’s design. It has a very dour look, as to be expected with a zombie survival game, but it is a visual spectacle, even on the previous generation.

In terms of the graphical performance, with this game being around two months away from release, you would expect that this is the mostly finished article, with the potential of a day one patch to smooth out a few issues that may arise during the beta periods. However, the game managed to stay at a solid thirty frames per second on the One X during my time with the beta, with only a few dropped frames here and there, which is to be expected when playing an online game with people of various different connections.

It is also important to mention the quality of the game’s netcode and overall connectivity. Whilst the netcode isn’t perfect for sure, it is showing promise that the full game will have a particularly good netcode that allows for near seamless play across all platforms. Overall, the netcode appeared to stay intact, with very minor lag issues and few problems regarding data synchronisation between all players. It felt robust, stable, and offered a speedy entrance into most campaign and versus lobbies.

Conclusion

While it may be a little premature to herald the return of the king, Back 4 Blood has thus far captured everything that made its older cousin a success, and brings it kicking and screaming into 2021, whilst also standing apart as something that feels new and exciting. Its campaign often struggles to feel as intense as its predecessor but gunning your way through hordes of undead with your friends is still an absolute blast, even in the quieter moments.  Versus remains an area in dire need of some attention, even with its exceptionally fun and detailed Ridden gameplay; but with a few changes here and there, it could in future be a really solid mode for everyone to enjoy.

Both modes are bolstered by the addition of a highly customizable and intricate deck system that opens the door for a lot of player creativity and personalization, which we can’t wait to see more of in the full game. All of this is complemented by some incredible graphics and remarkable smooth performance across console generations and platforms; creating a fun, and near-flawless taste of what to expect from the Back 4 Blood’s full package. So, although the game’s full release is still a couple of months away, it’s already shaping up to be a worthy addition to any zombie fan’s games library.

Make sure to try out Back 4 Blood yourself when the Open Beta starts on August 12th across PC, Xbox, and Playstation platforms.

One Comment

  • Dave

    “Back 4 Blood has thus far captured everything that made its older cousin a success”

    To say this doesn’t flatter you as a reviewer/critic, as you don’t understand what made L4D good.

    Viewers, look at the player reviews on Steam, it’s more honest than this. B4B, like this review, didn’t do it’s homework.

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