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Back 4 Blood preview — Hands-on first impressions

Back 4 Blood
(Image credit: Turtle Rock Studios)

Let’s be honest, whether Back 4 Blood would be fun or not was never in doubt. The team behind Left 4 Dead has returned to the roots so many other developers have tried and failed to copy since the release of the acclaimed 2008 survival horror. Turtle Rock, now an independent studio after being shut down by Valve, knows what it’s doing, and fans of this genre are in for a treat.

So, what’s new? Does Back 4 Blood change the recipe for good or bad? And from the few hours I’ve played the game, how excited should you be for its October 12 launch?

I’m a firm believer in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra, and Turtle Rock, by standing by its past successes, is well on its way to making one of the best games of 2021.

What did I use to test Back 4 Blood?

I brought an underpowered knife to an RTX 30-series gunfight as I played along with other journalists. More specifically, I tested this on an old Asus Zephyrus G15 with an AMD Ryzen 7 processor, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660Ti GPU and 16GB of RAM.

Yes, I tested it on a gaming laptop. We are Laptop Mag, after all. Not only that, but bringing my aging rig to the party means we can get a more grounded impression on how it’s going to perform for some of us, that is, those who can’t afford (or find in stock) thousands of dollars of GPU power.

Zombieland (with DLSS)

Back 4 Blood

(Image credit: Future)

It only struck me how good this game looks and sounds after a particularly big horde scenario. The sun trickled through the leaves onto my blood-soaked hands and assault rifle (the amount of blood changes over time), as I looked upon a sea of limbs and disfigured bodies strewn before me. 

Around me, I could hear the faint gurgles of my next targets and the roars of the Ridden: special enemies that make distinct noises you’ll learn to quickly identify. All of this contrasts to the oddly serene sounds of leaves rustling and a conversation between in-game characters Walker and Holly about the last time they went out into the wilderness.

Back 4 Blood

(Image credit: Future)

Every scene is dripping with detail from the moment you walk around camp (the hub world of Back 4 Blood) to being in the thick of battle on top of a cement truck. When the on-screen action hits these high points, Back 4 Blood didn’t skip a beat at 1080p medium/high settings at a smooth 60-90 frames per second. 

An extra-loud shoutout goes to the moments when the game’s AI director pumps a level full of fog, which makes for a tense time when you rely on your ears and the surround sound audio to pick out which direction the zombies are attacking from.

World War cra-Z

You wanted more Left 4 Dead? Well, here you go!

That same co-op chaos is back and better than ever. Gameplay is fast and responsive, levels are built with a variety of pacing, the selection of enemy types kept me on my toes, and the cinematics gripped me from start to finish.

Back 4 Blood

(Image credit: Future)

Turtle Rock clearly nailed the formula, give or take a few staged chase scenes that didn’t make it clear when I was actually in a chase. 

But be warned — the game’s AI is far more brutal this time round. Much like Left 4 Dead, it ensures that no two runs through the campaign ever felt the same. Not only did it control the number of enemies, but it dictated the placement of items and obstacles, like cars with alarms.

The AI also decides on ammo placements too, which explains why supplies got so scarce later into the campaign. Because of this rationing, my team ended up dying a few times on the easiest difficulty. Turtle Rock does not treat you with kid gloves!

The walking depth

Of course, you can’t just make Left 4 Dead again and be done with it. It’s 2021 and we need something more. That’s where the team adds a dash of world building, and a generous serving of loot, weapon customization and player choice. 

Back 4 Blood

(Image credit: Future)

Every level now starts with a vendor box rather than being gifted with a table of guns and items. You use this box with the currency collected throughout the levels.

It feels very Counter Strike and adds a new layer of tactical thinking, which is given depth by  add-ons like scopes, shoulder stocks and expanded clips. Along with these items, you have to invest as a team to ensure you have every role covered.

But without question, the biggest difference-maker is cards. I didn’t see much of the deck system at play in the beta, but the added strategy, teamwork and risk vs. reward system this provides is warmly welcomed.

Back 4 Blood

(Image credit: Future)

You start with corruption cards, which change how the level plays in one of many ways, and each team member gets their own set of active cards. These elements drive conversation between teammates, as you pick active cards that work best for the corruption card, while making sure you don’t double-up on cards.

Outlook

The more I played Back 4 Blood, the more I remembered watching Wheatus live a few years ago. Half the crowd likes the new stuff, while the other really wants them to play Teenage Dirtbag 15 times over. It is an awkward situation that requires them to walk a tightrope to satisfy everyone.

Back 4 Blood

(Image credit: Future)

Luckily, Turtle Rock has struck just the right balance between old and new. The focus on loot, vendors and weapon customization add a tactical layer that doesn’t detract from the insane fun of the core elements, many of which are reminiscent of Left 4 Dead.

Back 4 Blood looks good, sounds good, plays great and is vastly replayable. The two-month wait until I can get my hands on the finished game is going to be a painful one.

Jason England

Jason brings a decade of tech and gaming journalism experience to his role as writer at Laptop Mag. He specializes in finding the best deals and making sure you never pay more than you should for gadgets! Alongside this, he takes particular interest in writing and creating videos about laptops, headphones and games. Previously, he has written for the likes of Kotaku, Stuff and BBC Science Focus and in his spare time, you'll find him usually looking for good dogs to pet or eating/thinking about eating pizza.