Back 4 Blood Closed Alpha Preview

Back 4 Blood was a surprise announcement at the 2020 Game Awards. What came as an even bigger surprise was a closed alpha starting a week later. Developed by Turtle Rockthe minds behind Left 4 Dead, Back 4 Blood is a callback to their old games, bolstering a few new additions, and I was excited to jump in. With a planned release date of June 22nd, 2021, we won’t have too long to wait to play this game.

The alpha had one level available to play, and four out of the eight characters were playable.

I wouldn’t say I’m the biggest fan of the Left 4 Dead franchise, though I enjoyed it for it was; a frantic zombie-killing spree to enjoy with up to three of your friends. As a spiritual successor, Back 4 Blood feels familiar but has a few differences, mainly in gameplay, that set it apart. One of the first things I noticed is the pace of the game. It has been a while since I’ve played any Left 4 Dead game, but this felt a bit slower. Movement felt slightly slow, guns felt that small bit more heavy and realistic, and ammo seemed to be more scarce, making a trusty melee weapon more important, or so I thought. In Back 4 Blood being separated from your team usually ends badly. I found it most useful to stick with your teammates, not running in front of anyone (due to friendly fire) and never running headfirst into a horde because they will quickly destroy you.

The guns I used felt good to shoot, my favourite being the shotguns. I didn’t like using melee weapons for two reasons: The impact when attacking wasn’t all too great, and the game felt unbalanced for melee attacks. You can die very quickly in Back 4 Blood, especially if you’re using a melee build. The newest addition to gameplay is the card system, putting an almost roguelite spin on the old Left 4 Dead formula. At the start of each round, the Game Director pulls a few cards that can be played throughout the round. The same goes for the players. There are default decks of cards with a good mix of cards to choose from, but where I feel the main variety in the gameplay will come in is in the custom-built decks.

Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses; as I said, there were four characters to choose from, two of which were focused on melee, one being a quick attacker with perks to help you get in and out of combat quickly, the other being a brute melee character that was built to deal damage. The other two were focused on ranged damage, with Walker (my personal favourite) gaining benefits from headshot kills and more ammo and Hoffman filling a support role with extra slots for grenades and healing items. Building a custom deck to better suit my playstyle with Walker was really fun, and I feel this is where Back 4 Blood will shine. Left 4 Dead was kept alive by the modding community, but I could see plenty of variety here with the different characters and decks to build.

The special infected posed a big threat during my short time with the game. There were four available during this playtest: Stinger, Retch, Tall Boy, and Ogre. The stinger was certainly the most annoying, they cling to walls and shoot goop that sticks you to the floor, and if you get caught in this goop, you’re done for. The Retch is a brute of an infected who sprays acids on you that can attract the horde. The Tall Boy is a really cool design, and they are the special infected that kill me the most; if you get trapped in a room with one of these, they’ll knock your head clean off your shoulders with their big arm.

The hardest and most interesting infected was the Ogre. This gigantic monstrosity follows you at different parts of the level, boasting a massive health bar and even bigger damage capabilities. The spectacle of fighting it was terrific. How he reacts to the world took me by surprise; if you run into a small doorway, the Ogre will shove his hand in the doorway in hopes of crushing you. At one stage he ripped the chain link fences off a tunnel to break through. Fighting the Ogre was a great experience…when my teammates were coordinated.

My main issue with the preview was the difficulty. Now, keep in mind I played with random people online. The basic infected can kill you quite quickly, especially when people were running in like headless chickens. Now, I can’t blame a game for the usual trappings of solo queue online play, but I had plenty of leavers in games that rendered the last 20 minutes of playtime useless because the A.I.-controlled teammates are arguably more useless than having no player. Luckily, the difficulty is something that can be tweaked easily between now and the launch of the game.

Final Thoughts:

If you’re itching for some more Left 4 Dead action, then I would keep my eye on this game. However, from this preview, I can’t see much to bring new players in. As a co-op experience, there’s plenty of enjoyment to have, even with only one level. The card system could shape up to add plenty of replayability to the formula. With a bit of tweaking of the difficulty, the game could be fun even as a solo experience.  I’ll be interested in seeing how this game pans out in its official launch next June.

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