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Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The ‘Back 4 Blood’ Open Beta Shows Brief Gimpses of the Magic of ‘Left 4 Dead’

Done well, mowing down hordes of undead with friends has a good shot at replicating a high many have been chasing since Left 4 Dead 2. Still, to actually get something even remotely close to that magical concoction has proven to be elusive. In a way, the Back 4 Blood Open Beta (read our previous hands-on with the game here) comes closest of all, but in doing so, offers up a few unfriendly comparisons in its burgeoning state.

Turtle Rock Studios knows a thing or two about impactful multiplayer trends. Many of its number had a hand in that Left 4 Dead phenomenon. The studio’s previous game, Evolve, sank like a stone after sailing on a ship of pre-release hype and hysteria, its asymmetrical multiplayer set the stall out for a wave of horror multiplayer, including the franchise-gobbling juggernaut that is Dead By Daylight

Back 4 Blood is perhaps a little less ambitious than that. Turtle Rock heads back to its roots with a ‘spiritual successor’ to those Left 4 Dead games. Those familiar narrative-led races to the sanctuary of the safehouse and overwhelming swarms of undead (here named the Ridden) are present and correct. A selection of world-weary apocalypse survivors called Cleaners (including the Linda Hamilton-esque ‘Mom’, played by horror icon Barbara Crampton) is yours for the choosing, each with their own perks and abilities. 

The Beta features five playable Cleaners, two campaign missions for 4 player co-op (bots do handily take the place of any unfilled spots), and two maps for the PvP section of the game. The hub base allows you to try out a variety of weaponry from barbed wire baseball bats to high-powered rifles too, so you can get a feel for what arsenal is best suited to your fiend-slaying capabilities. From here, you also access missions, and purchase the game’s interesting perk cards.

The perk cards allow players to set up a deck of power-ups, from better stamina to damage upgrades. You get to select one from your deck at every saferoom in a run. I can see this becoming a key strategic part of the whole game from this taster of it. Complimenting a need for flexibility in combat encounters with the right perks at the right time may well do wonders for Back 4 Blood’s longevity.

This is a relatively small slice of the experience, and as such, it certainly struggles to meet the inevitable comparisons with its spiritual predecessors in its nascent form. There’s definitely promise, but natural concerns as well. The storytelling is incomplete without the whole game to fall back on, so I’m not too worried about the fairly malnourished amount we get in the Beta. The combat is what matters right now, and while it largely does the trick, it’s definitely not the finished article yet.

At present, guns feel a tad light in terms of impact. The mark of a good shooter is in its shotguns, and while Back 4 Blood has some fancy ones on offer, there’s a lack of weight and power to them. I was more impressed with the sniper rifles in this regard. They really nail that powerful punch as you pop heads from long distances. Melee weapons sit somewhere in the middle. It’s undoubtedly satisfying to clear crowds with a few swings of a machete, lopping off limbs here and there, but it needs some extra meatiness in that act of blade/bat hitting bone and tissue.

The Ridden are generally fodder in the opening stages of the first mission, so it only exacerbates the slightly empty feeling of combat. When the game isn’t overwhelming you with vast swathes of the Ridden and their increasingly intimidating mutations, you notice these things more keenly. It’s only once things heat up that the concerns melt away somewhat, and that faint glimmer of Left 4 Dead’s spirit can be witnessed. 

People help you see it too. Much of Left 4 Dead’s legacy is found in being frustrated by a bad choice of a teammate (leave the fucking birds alone, please) or working together to overcome the odds and barely make it through the safe room door. While it seems Turtle Rock is ensuring there’s some extra variety thanks to the perk cards, the real replay value comes from the moment-to-moment interactions between players and the game world, and all the sudden, crazy chaos that brings. From what I’ve encountered in my time playing with strangers in Back 4 Blood, there’s definitely a lot of that classic organic drama to be mined from it.

I’m not exactly blown away by the Beta, but it’s done enough to whet my appetite for the full game without (hopefully) showing too much. There’s still a couple of months to tidy up and tighten the loose ends. For now, I’ll certainly take quiet optimism over disappointment or apathy.


Back 4 Blood Open Beta access provided by the publisher.

Back 4 Blood Open Beta for everyone runs from August 12-16.

Back 4 Blood comes to PS5, PS4, Xbox One, Series X/S, and PC on October 12.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/video-games/3677603/back-4-blood-open-beta-shows-brief-gimpses-magic-left-4-dead/

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