After playing a few hours of Back 4 Blood, the new co-op survival shooter from Left 4 Dead studio Turtle Rock, I was left with two questions: How is this legal? And, when can I play again? Turns out, right now.
The Back 4 Blood open beta runs from August 5th to 9th, and again from August 12th to 16th, on PC, Xbox and PlayStation consoles. I got a sneak peek at what the beta has to offer on PC, with an emphasis on PvE content, since there were some technical issues with PvP modes during my playtime. Those have been resolved and I’m told PvP is ready to rock for the open beta.
Not that you should expect it to be perfect. Turtle Rock Studios is using the open beta to fine-tune Back 4 Blood ahead of its release on October 12th, and developers are serious about gathering as much feedback as possible. There’s plenty to track: The game uses a Left 4 Dead-style AI director that adjusts the difficulty level in real-time as you plow through hordes of Ridden in your own special way. There’s also a card system that allows players to build decks of class-specific perks, plus corruption cards that apply randomized effects to every level, changing up the gameplay each time. And it’s a true cross-platform game, running across console generations and PC. All of this is on top of a new PvP mode and the core PvE gameplay, which has to feel like butter if it’s going to satisfy Turtle Rock’s Left 4 Dead fans.
I’m one of those fans, and I have to say, I’m enjoying the hell out of Back 4 Blood. Left 4 Dead is a pivotal game of my past, and Back 4 Blood taps into those good feelings in a delicious way.
I’m most interested in PvE, since that’s the core of my nostalgia in this case, and I ended up playing about two hours of the main co-op mode with some new friends. The open beta features two PvE maps for co-op runs and two maps for the Swarm PvP mode, where teams of four take turns fighting each other as the Cleaners (the main characters) and the Ridden (the infected former humans). A new character, Mom, joins the roster of playable Cleaners for the first time, too.
One thing that stands out in Back 4 Blood is its sense of replayability. While the levels feel familiar, they’re filled with secrets and they naturally encourage dynamic play, offering various ways to approach any single encounter. The card system adds a lovely layer of customization to the game, while the corruption cards make each new round just a little different, just a little more exciting. There’s a variety of weapons and items to gather as well, and a healthy allotment of ammo drops throughout the maps, especially if you go exploring.
Shooting the Ridden is immensely satisfying with any gun, while getting snatched up or knocked down by a Special Ridden is shocking basically every time. Meanwhile, the dialogue among the Cleaners is cute, with references to “the new normal,” lizard people in the government and the lamestream media, to name a few joke opportunities. The protagonists of Back 4 Blood aren’t shocked and running for their lives; they’re on a mission to eradicate the Ridden and create safe zones for human life to resume. It’s a refreshing perspective twist.
I ran into a few issues during my time with Back 4 Blood’s open beta content, but nothing that felt insurmountable at this stage of development. Essentially, I trust Turtle Rock to take the feedback from the open beta and apply it to the game in the smartest, most gory way possible for its launch in October.
I actually chatted with Turtle Rock executive producer Matt O’Driscoll about the beta and what developers hope to get out of it.
"These next two weeks are so vital to us," he said. "We're gonna get so much data for how people play this. Is easy too easy? Is it too hard? Is nightmare mode impossible? Like, all these kind of little things. Or, how do people build decks? Someone's gonna build a deck that I'm sure is gonna kind of break something in the game."
You heard him, Cleaners — get to breaking.
Back 4 Blood is definitely a lot like Left 4 Dead, but updated for modern systems and sensibilities. The question for most players in the open beta will be whether it’s too much like Left 4 Dead — but personally, I say bring it on, Turtle Rock. After all, it’s not like Valve is gonna give us Left 4 Dead 3. Or any 3, for that matter.