Back 4 Blood, undeniably one of the most anticipated games of the year, had its Closed Beta this weekend. Coming from the developers that gifted us the Left 4 Dead series, it’s fair to say that a lot was riding on this first public Beta. After all, you only get one shot at a first impression.
Thankfully, after spending around five hours cutting through hordes of the undead with some old friends, I’m happy to say that Back 4 Blood is the spiritual successor we’ve been waiting for.
A True Spiritual Successor
Environmental storytelling is at the forefront of Back 4 Blood‘s Beta. With every new area you enter, new narratives are subtly introduced via environmental details such as writing on a wall or objects lying around an NPC. Often, the subtle storytelling of Back 4 Blood meets the game’s stellar voice acting, such as in the opening of one particular level which sees the “Cleaners” talk to a woman in a caravan about how her and her son are doing “just fine” by themselves. Upon starting the level players can spot a body lying face-down on top of the caravan, presumably belonging to the woman’s son. Back 4 Blood seems to be littered with these small, entirely missable story moments, making each and every one feel like a little reward for investing your time.
Environmental detail and variety is another area in which Back 4 Blood seems to excel. Rather than traversing through a series of drab grey hallways and alleys, Back 4 Blood will have you navigating your way through infested farms, dockyards and mineshafts, all within the first 8 levels of the game. Naturalistic lighting and highly detailed textures helps to cement the notion that Back 4 Blood is well and truly a AAA game.
This high level of detail and variety also extends to the weapons and items within the game. Whether you’re using a melee or ranged weapon, there are plenty of different options to choose from, each boasting the high number of unique animations we’ve come to expect from modern FPS games. Some updated physics helps to make each swing of a melee weapon and each blast of a shotgun feel suitably heavy and powerful. There are also a decent array of items within the game, ranging from support items like bandages and med kits to defensive items like razor wire and offensive items like the iconic pipe bomb, giving you plenty to discover and experiment with.
Mission objectives are also fairly varied across the Beta. While there are a fair share of classic Left 4 Dead “defend this position until the thing happens” objectives, the context surrounding the set-piece is in constant flux. You’ll be planting explosives on a crashed ferry, barricading church windows and firing artillery rounds down a mineshaft. The card system (a set of upgrades given to you at random at the start of each level) also helps to mix things up on subsequent playthroughs, guiding you to try different playstyles based on what upgrades you’ve been given. “Corruption” cards also come in to play throughout the Campaign. These modifiers can change the enemies’ aggression, spawn-rate, health pool and more, forcing you and your team to adapt to the situation in unique ways.
We’ve Still Got Time
While I may have just praised practically every aspect of Back 4 Blood, this is all still based on a Beta, and as you would expect from a Beta, there’s still plenty that needs to be ironed out before its final October release date.
The main issue I found with Back 4 Blood‘s Beta didn’t have anything to do with server issues or latency (we’ll get on to that in a second), it was the difficulty. Currently, Back 4 Blood has three difficulty levels: Survivor, Veteran, and Nightmare. Me and my team started with Survivor, just to get a feel of the game as a whole and its various exciting new mechanics. After a few hours we had finished all available missions of the Beta, with only a few deaths between us. So we decided to hop onto Veteran difficulty for our next playthrough, and let me tell you, it was like playing a wholly different game.
The jump between Survivor and Veteran difficulty seems, without exaggeration, broken. Players have massively reduced health yet special infected seem to retain their high health pools. Common infected seem to dish out oddly high damage and special infected seem to spawn much more frequently. In one instance, we had just left the saferoom on the second mission and were immediately greeted with SIX special infected, with the game seeming to greatly favour the Retch and Bruiser. Whilst it did make us play more tactically, we couldn’t shake the feeling that something was… off.
Speaking of feeling off, the PvP in Back 4 Blood is ridiculously unbalanced right now, with the infected definitely being favoured. On average, it usually took our team around 2 minutes to kill all Cleaners as the infected, less if we actually worked together as intended. I’m not sure if the damage rate, health or spawn-rate is at fault here but something definitely feels a tad off, which is a shame as the PvP mode offers a fun little change of pace from the main meat of the game.
To close out my first impressions of the Back 4 Blood Beta I just want to quickly give praise to the game’s Crossplay features. In our party of four we had two PC players, a PS4 user and a PS5 user all playing together and we rarely came across any issues. Sure, there were the standard lag spikes and minor glitches (zombies falling over before being hit), but nothing that really hampered our overall experience. If there’s anything that makes Back 4 Blood feel like a true modern successor, it’s just how well it runs, even for a Beta.
From just what was displayed in this first Beta, it’s clear that Back 4 Blood is the Left 4 Dead successor we’d all hoped it would be. It might need a little more time in the oven, but Back 4 Blood looks as though it’s going to stir up a horde come its October 12th release date.
Words By Cameron Swan