There are thousands of video games out there; some classics, some obscure, and others new to me and maybe new to you too. Today I’m NOT recommending a new game but instead, writing a review of something that disappointed me. I wanted to like it, but it missed the mark.
I talked up (and Left 4 Dead 2) already; you can read about it here. It is one of the best co-op games of that era and fires on all cylinders. The game feels good, the balance is amazing, the tone is both haunting and scary in the first game to sometimes a farce in the second, but it is always fun, fair, and fast to get into. Back 4 Blood is a new zombie game made by Turtle Rock Studios, the creators of Left 4 Dead, and sold to me (and to many people) as "Left 4 Dead 3."
Left 4 Dead: 4 people are alone and for some reason immune to some sort of zombie illness. You never see another living person in any of the games causing the isolation to seep in, making you the last line of defense against the hordes of undead. Each player is unique in appearance, but each has the same exact abilities.
Back 4 Blood: There are 8 people, and they all have different abilities. Some are objectively better than others AND if someone else is playing as that character, you can’t play as them. Normally you might go oh well and play as another character and since they play the same, it’s fine, but that’s not this game. If you want to play as the character that gets bonuses to melee, you better find another match.
There is also a hub sort of army base area where the army is. You know, like soldiers and stuff, begging the question if there are soldiers, why are they not out fighting the “ridden” … it’s zombies. Back 4 Blood calls zombies ridden, but they are zombies.
Anyway, does “mom” need to go out and fight zombies when this place is full of soldiers? It’s stacked to the rafters with supplies and guns, making killing off the “ridden” feel like an afterthought. It feels too comfortable and feels like this should probably not be my job to be fighting on the front lines.
Left 4 Dead: There is one flat upgrade in terms of your guns and their power. The starting shotgun and automatic are weaker, the next one you pick up will be stronger and faster. Each gun deals the same damage (I guess, it’s not like a bunch of numbers pop up over zombies) but each gun has a different feel. It’s subtle, but it means you like certain guns but are ok with using the AK-47 or the M-16. You’re never disappointed when you find guns.
Back 4 Blood: There are WAY too many guns and each deal different stats. Much like in most looter shooters, some guns are different colors (for rarity and power) and others are different levels. This makes the game terribly unbalanced as some guns are objectively much better than other guns. The heavy machine gun has the range of a sniper rifle, is easy to use against close up enemies, and packs a punch, so there is no reason NOT to use it.
Added to this is a pile of weapon attachments like silencers, scopes, triggers, and stocks. For some weird reason, you can’t swap around these weapon mods once you use them; they get stuck to that gun. This means that if you find a better gun (and you can see it is a better gun because the stats are there in their spreadsheet glory) you can’t remove the add-ons to your old weapon and put it on the new one. WHY?
Just a heads up, this is not even half of the guns and attachments, not even close. The game has so many guns there is a shooting gallery for you to practice in that also shows you how powerful each gun is with numbers popping up over targets. What is really strange is that for all of these guns, there are only 4 melee weapons. Odd.
Left 4 Dead: Every weapon or item you find is free.
Back 4 Blood: There is a currency system. This encourages players to buy weapons (rather than health or helpful team items) or items (that they will use on themselves rather than the team) and tends to make gameplay focused on self sufficiency and not teamwork. Money is scattered all over the map, so you’re encouraged to look in every nook and cranny, giving the zombies more time to kill you BUT if you are the fastest player (because the characters are not the same) you can grab all the money first.
Left 4 Dead: The characters are the same and their stats never change. You playing your first match and your 58th match doesn’t matter because the only way you can improve is for you to improve as a player.
Back 4 Blood: There is a leveling system involving getting loot-crate feeling cards. This feels pay to win (it’s not as of this date) and involves sifting through 150 cards and building a deck of 15 of them including what order you want to receive them. At the end of each completed level, you get a new card, making your character stronger and more unique as you play through a campaign. Oh, we’ll get to campaign nonsense, believe me.
But over 150 is wildly unreasonable, especially since at least half of them are never going to be used because they are not nearly as good as others, making them feel like a “common” or “rare” drop, meaning that you’re not playing the game for fun, you’re grinding for cards to improve your stats. Congrats Back 4 Blood, you made a spreadsheet with zombies. Oh, I mean ridden, my bad.
The ridden also get cards to make the game harder. Why? This game is hard enough as it is. I mean, I get it, you want variety, but Left 4 Dead included variety in terms of spawning monsters and weapons through the A.I. “The Director” that adapted to how you play. But yeah, this card thing means endlessly long set up times and if you go melee and someone else picks the melee character, you need to build a new deck of 15 dang cards to better suit your new non-melee character. Ugh. Just let me play already!
Left 4 Dead: Variable difficulty, smart yet fair A.I., games where you can pickup and play your favorite part or skip around in the story as you wish.
Back 4 Blood: I play games on the hardest settings, and this game is MUCH too hard. Even on recruit (and just a heads up, you can’t play a level on a harder difficulty until you beat the level on the lower difficulty setting) it’s very hard. The reason this game is hard is because…
1: The enemies are bullet sponges and often appear in packs and there are a frankly unfair number of them most of the time. Left 4 Dead, if you can see a monster, you can shoot it before it gets too close and, aside from the tank, they don’t take very many hits to kill, meaning they can hide and jump out. Spooky. Back 4 Blood, the monsters mostly just stumble towards you because they can take a beating.
Do not make your game “harder” by making the enemies “tougher” because then you're just filling a bucket with water until it overflows.
2: There isn’t a music cue or any sound they make to let you know they’re there. Good horror includes music and sound cues to make you anticipate the scares and the action. Here, you just walk around a corner and are grabbed with no warning.
3: The A.I. of the other “cleaners” is terrible. They’ll watch you be trapped by monster go and do nothing. They would not help me fight the final boss on easy, a task that involved throwing some sort of anti-zombie grenades at it and they did not help clear out the other regular zombies. The game is not completable unless you play with 3 other humans because the A.I. is terrible.
4: If you spawn into a game or want to play a campaign from any point other than “the beginning” you will enter the match with the weakest most basic weapons and no combat cards. Since each “cleaner” is unique, this means they have unique weapons that you also might not want, and no money. They will also have no cards, meaning you’re weaker than anyone else playing when you join a match that’s already in progress. You could start from the beginning but …
5: The levels are too long and lack variety. Since you start in the same “hub” AKA the army base, most of the first part of each campaign is the same location as the last one. The issue is that the levels are so long that it just drains your resources and health. Not difficult, just draining. It feels like working a long day at an office, the fluorescent lights and Judith in accounting sapping your will to continue.
Left 4 Dead: has unique locations with unique enemies. At the airport, there are more TSA people; at the carnival, there are zombie clowns; in the swamps, there are hillbillies covered in mud. These zombies also have unique attacks like the bio-hazard zombies (people that died in hazmat suits) who are immune to fire.
Back 4 Blood: every location has the same zombies, and they don’t stand out. Even the special zombies are boring to look at, they don’t look like they were ever people, and I can’t tell them apart. These are three “different” zombies in Back 4 Blood. Come on, those are just re-skins.
Left 4 Dead: There are more varieties of play, especially multi-player. You can remove players that are trolling or are being bullies. The goal is fun and it’s left to the players to work that out. Selfish and unsporting play is punished.
Back 4 Blood: You can’t kick players that are not playing. You could sign into a match and just sit in the safe room and prevent everyone else from playing until you leave the game. You could shoot your teammates, throw the ammunition in a river, grab all the money spending it on junk, and nobody can stop you. The only person that can remove someone like that is that player leaving on their own. That’s not how trolls work.
Also, if you play as a fast character, you can just sprint to the end of the level. The zombies are NOT fast enough to catch the players, even when you’re not sprinting, so at times, this is rather easy to do. But what kind of player is this game teaching me to be? A selfish one that doesn’t help my allies; is the game teaching me to avoid fighting zombies in a game about fighting zombies, especially because the zombies are too durable anyway? Yes, that’s the best tactic, especially since you need to get cards and the best way to do that is just complete the level and pick up the money before others can.
These elements are ruining the player base.
Bottom line, Turtle Rock made Evolve, that pay to win slog from 2015 that rotted out faster than a pumpkin on a porch. I think they have good ideas for games but need a parent company to help refine their vision. I’m giving credit for Left 4 Dead to Valve, the publisher. Turtle Rock, you can have Back 4 Blood and Evolve, two games I was glad I got for free on Xbox Live.