Dan: I gotta say this is our second co-op review and this time for an actual co-op experience. Now the thing is, our last review was very calming and soothing. This time around, we were blasting away at the undead like our lives depended on it. Before we get into the actual review, I have to say that this is a game I have been counting the moments until release. I absolutely love and cherish my memories of playing Left 4 Dead growing up with my friends. Seeing how high we could push the difficulty every time we ran through the campaigns again was a lot of long nights of expletives at a television. Most of the team from Left 4 Dead went on to make this game, and it shows in the best way.
Gabrielle: I’m actually not a person who frequently plays multiplayer or co-op games. Although I played Left 4 Dead a lot, and I’m always happy to play with friends, I feel much more at home with single-player experiences. But this is the spiritual successor of L4D, so of course, I knew about it and knew I had to try it! It’s zombies, and it’s Halloween. There’s no better time for this.
The End is Nigh
Back 4 Blood is an FPS co-op at its heart, exactly like its predecessor. You go through different linear but well-spaced levels connected by safe rooms with your teammates, killing everything without a heartbeat. That means not only your run-of-the-mill brain-eating zombies but special types of mutated zombies. To help you with the slaughter, there’s a card deck system that will help you and sometimes your whole team to deal with the hordes, adding perks to the one your character already has. All of this is to say, Back 4 Blood is a fast-paced gorefest with many new and unexpected features that we’re dying to get into.
Dan: While this really does feel like a Left 4 Dead spiritual successor, there are enough upgrades to the gameplay and features to make it feel like a real evolution of the survival horror subgenre of games that Left 4 Dead pioneered. The bare basics are that 4 survivors must fight their way through the zombie hordes to a safe room for every level. Each level has unique environments and challenges though that never makes this feel repetitive. You are faced with some very different tasks to complete at each level. One of my favorite challenges included having to open a path in the sewers, which were the most infested area that we had seen so far in the game. It was a spine-tingling challenge as we had our backs to the wall as a group, just fighting to keep them back until we could make our escape. There is also a very new system in the game which involves perk cards. Gab, what did you feel about this?
Gabrielle: A big difference that separates this game from those that follow the same gameplay style and loop is the use of deck cards. I’m normally not big on these as I just consider them a boring addition that slows down the experience, especially in such an energetic game like this. Besides, its influence ends up never being very noticeable. Fortunately, that is not the case here, as it’s an easy system to understand and play with. They act exactly as perks that you can add to your character each level from the deck you build with every session, and their presence is palpable. I like to play as a pseudo-tank, with a heavy rifle or shotgun as a primary weapon and melee for the secondary slot. So every time I could, I used my health-related cards to assure that I could kill as many ridden as possible without worrying too much about that, and it was a completely different experience.
As Dan said, there’s not only a good variety to the levels, but they’re well structured. You’re not going to find yourself going through three levels in a row where you just have to go from A to B killing zombies. There are levels where you have to protect a stronghold while there are waves and waves of enemies coming after you. Sometimes you have to rescue other survivors or deliver a package, and more. It not only avoids repetition but constantly changes up the team’s dynamic as you have to micro-manage to decide who’s better suited for which task.
Dan: I love Co-Op games. My brother and I grew up playing them together since we had one console between us. When the online gaming community started to grow for consoles, good co-op experiences started to go the way of the dinosaur. Now that we are older and live apart, we are always looking for good co-op experiences, so that was an important factor about this review to me. Is it a good Co-Op experience? For me, the answer is 100% yes that this is a perfect CO-OP game.
Honestly, I don’t think I would play a ton of it if I didn’t have someone like my review partner Gab. We spent hours playing together and learning the mechanics of the game, how we act as players and the strengths and weaknesses of the characters we chose. Each playable character is called a “Cleaner” with its own unique perks and play styles. As someone who yearns to play every single game with melee, I have big heart eyes for Holly. After a few runs in the game, I built out a special deck of cards for my melee playstyle, which actually felt like it changed the gameplay a lot. I felt like I was actually playing to my strengths with the cards selected instead of having the feeling that it didn’t change the game one way or another.
It was a great experience being able to balance how I played with Gab as we made our way through the runs. There also is a very specific feeling you get when your teammate needs your help to get them up when they’re overrun. It’s like you’re really going to help your friend. Gab, as someone who mostly plays solo stuff, how did you feel usually teaming up with three other people to take on the Ridden hordes?
Gabrielle: It was honestly a great time. When you’re drowning in wave after wave of ridden surrounding you with no escape route other than your weapon, you get to feel like the survivor you’re playing as and part of a team where you have each other’s backs.
As you mentioned, it’s fun to see how everyone plays off of each other. While you played as Holly and were slicing down crowds of zombies with a machete, I played as Karlee. When I read her perks, I didn’t care much for it. She has a quick inventory, can augment the team’s speed, and detect hazards. I didn’t even pay attention to them until I started to notice just how useful it was. While Dan was doing crowd control, I saw every special kind of ridden coming from a mile away, even through walls, giving me an enormous advantage as I took them out with my rifle from a distance before they could reach any of my teammates. Or, in case they were already too close, I would still be able to tell where they were coming from which kind of special they were, letting Dan know so he could prepare. Not only that, but she also detected any birds or alarm systems that could attract hordes, giving me a better awareness of my surroundings to know how careful should I be going through the levels.
It’s also crazy how good the combat feels, melee and ranged alike. Playing with either a shotgun or a rifle felt near to using the equivalent weapons in Doom Eternal, which has, in my opinion, the best gunplay I ever experienced.
Let’s talk about the Ridden bay bee
Gabrielle: Obviously, the main theme of this game is the ridden. Zombie-type enemies that will try (and maybe succeed) to have your guts as dessert and turn you into one of them.
You have the regular Ridden, long-gone humans who will run to you at top-speed when they so much as hear a step. They are easy to kill, being able to dispatch them with one good shot most of the time. But their strength is in their numbers because where there is one, you can be sure there is a whole horde nearby. If you’re not careful, you will be on the ground serving as dinner for dozens of these guys before you realize it.
Of course, they’re not alone. You will also be dealing with the Special Ridden, which are types of enemies that vary in their abilities to make your game as much of a nightmare as possible. There are 8 of these for now, with three of them having their own divisions. Some of these will seem very familiar to anyone who played Left 4 Dead. For example, you have your Tallboy, Bruiser, or Crusher, a very strong but slow kind of enemy that will easily squash you against the floor if you let them get close. Or you have your Retch, Reeker, and Exploder, disgusting specials that will puke acid on you that will not only harm you but attract other ridden to you in a horde.
But with Back 4 Blood also come a lot of surprises! The Stinger, Stalker, and Hocker are fast and dangerous enemies that can attack you before you notice they’re even there, being able to climb on walls to devour you with different methods. There are also more unique Specials, like the Ogre, a gigantic monster, unlike anything you’ve ever seen, that can kill you with one or two hits and will have to be killed with the entire team’s cooperation. The Breakers act as their more manageable little brothers, creating a big problem for the team but not as uncommon or dangerous as the Ogre. The Sleepers are a type of zombie that will force you to be extremely aware of your surroundings, as they nest in walls prepared to launch against anything that passes near them and pin you down. The Snitcher is a mostly harmless but very annoying type that will alert every other ridden around of your presence but can thankfully be taken down easily without much problem. But by far, my favorite (and the last) of them is the Hag. A disgusting, terrifying, and hard-to-kill monster that runs uncontrollably and grabs you with its long arms to literally insert you in its mouth. Every encounter I had with the Hag was unexpected, and fear-inducing thanks to the great design it has.
As you can see, there are A LOT of obstacles to face in this game. That’s usually a great thing, as you never get tired of seeing and confronting the same enemies over and over. The way they play and challenge the players individually and as a team is great. But it’s true that on some levels, there will be a whole crowd of ridden trying to eat you and five different types of specials coming from all sides, almost guaranteeing a game over. It’s mostly fine, making a challenge that will satisfy you at the end, but it’s worth noting how it feels a bit unbalanced it feels in specific sequences.
How about you, Dan? What’s your favorite of these, and what did you think about the game utilization of them?
Dan: I honestly didn’t know a single one of their names and gave them my own names. Like hammerfist, money shot, and Shrek. Honestly, I loved the variety of them, but I agree, at times it was super unbalanced to the point of frustration.
Verdict: Worth it for the Co-Op experience?
Gabrielle: Totally. You feel like you’re there, in the middle of the apocalypse with blood basically raining down on you while you try to survive with your friends. It feels like an evolution of everything we saw in Left 4 Dead while designing an identity of its own with the many new monsters it has and features like the card deck. If you like co-op FPS, and especially if you have friends to play with, I’d say this is a must-buy. I feel this is a game that came here to stay as its predecessor once did.
Dan: I played on the Xbox Series S, and the game played spectacularly. There were only a few hiccups here and there. Overall, if you have a friend or are fine playing with new people online, it’s absolutely a must-have. It’s so much fun to play, and the action never ends.