I was never the biggest Left 4 Dead fan, despite the huge impact both it and its sequel had on the world of gaming. Since then, players have been clamoring for a third game, as Valve retained the IP and developer Turtle Rock moved on to asymmetrical PvE game Evolve, which released in 2015 to a disastrous response.
At this year’s Game Awards, fans’ prayers were finally answered to a degree with the reveal of Back 4 Blood. Turtle Rock said it was returning to a multiplayer zombie game, and had no shame in drawing parallels on stage to Left 4 Dead, Valve be damned.
This weekend is the game’s pre-alpha preview, allowing players that signed up for it to experience a taste of the title. I’ve gone hands-on with it for a few hours, and not only is it even more like Left 4 Dead than I was expecting, but it’s also an absolute blast that should position the final game as a big hit in 2021.
The player is a member of a squad of four. After choosing a character, as well as the difficulty settings for matchmaking, players start in a safe room where they can buy various offensive and defensive items to prepare for what’s to come.
Each level is then marked with a handful of these safe rooms, and the group must cut their way through a horde of zombies, ranging from your standard walking dead to more monstrous creatures that spit acid or have overgrown limbs to smash you to pieces.
Players must make it to the next safe room to restock and resupply, picking up ammo, resources, and money along the way to make their team more formidable so it can face the even deadlier set of challenges that lie ahead. As players progress, the game will make changes to resource drops and enemy spawns depending on how well or poorly the team performs.
This is beat for beat a Left 4 Dead game, but with the polish of a modern-day shooter. The gameplay feels frenetic, and already really tight for a pre-alpha build of the game.
There was one moment I got separated from my team, and a horde had backed me up into the corner of a rocky outcrop. The stone formations above me cast a dark shadow over the space, meaning I couldn’t see the zombies grasping at me, but I knew they were there.
This was confirmed when the light emitted from gunfire illuminated my view for small bursts, revealing the undead clambering over each other to get at me, with those in the front dropping to a pile of corpses. I was literally screaming over my mic, to the disapproval of my teammates.
Fans of the Left 4 Dead duology will feel right at home, but it also doesn’t leave new players like me out in the cold. The improved access to multiplayer makes it easier to find a team to play with, which is what was missing for me when those original games were released. I just didn’t have anyone I knew in my life that played them.
Now, I’m surrounded by gamers, and with Turtle Rock confirming crossplay in its official Discord, my options have increased tenfold.
There are two key differences that separate Back 4 Blood from its spiritual predecessor and elevate the gameplay: Character attributes and card decks.
In Left 4 Dead, your character would look and sound different from the three other players, but they’d operate in the same way. Back 4 Blood adds in unique character traits, including different perks that provide a buff and a distinctive secondary weapon.
Card decks add an entire meta game to Back 4 Blood. Players will be able to build decks of cards that provide either individual buffs or enhancements to the entire team. Perhaps healing a downed companion will provide a health boost as well, or everyone’s melee damage will get a boost at the expense of your crew’s stamina.
At the beginning of a round, three cards are dealt to you at random, with players picking one to add to the run. This process plays out twice more, for a total of three cards chosen per player. If the team fails a run, they will then get to choose one more card each for the subsequent attempt, adding to the already selected pool and therefore giving your team a little boost.
The enemies, however, are also dealt cards at random, receiving their own modifiers. Players are able to build out their own decks before each round, so they have some idea of what cards will be drawn.
The new character attributes and card decks bring the Left 4 Dead formula into the modern age, providing additional layers of strategy to Back 4 Blood that will guarantee players return on top of the addicting gameplay.
At this time, some of the cards feel a little unbalanced, such as a card that heals when dealing damage, which makes the player it’s tied to feel a little overpowered. However, the gameplay feels tight and refined overall.
Hopefully, this means all that’s left to do is tweak some of the systems like the cards so that when the game launches in 2021, players are getting an addictive, polished experience. From my time with this preview, it seems like that might be the case.
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