Back 4 Blood is banking on our Left 4 Dead nostalgia to breathe new life into the unliving

Back 4 Blood
(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

It would be a fair assumption to consider Back 4 Blood as the sequel to Left 4 Dead 2 in all but name; it's a frenzied, co-op FPS from the very same studio which created that seminal zombie-hunting series, after all. Of course, its identity as a spiritual Left 4 Dead successor is right there in the name, too, that winking numeronym eliminating any doubt about Turtle Rock Studios' true intentions for its first AAA console project since 2015's Evolve.

That infamously contentious asymmetric multiplayer title no doubt still looms over the studio's legacy like a dark cloud after its servers shut down in 2018; the unfortunate final act of a long-running struggle to maintain a viable playerbase. In response, Turtle Rock is returning to simpler, cleaner times with Back 4 Blood, which looks to deliver on that classic, old school recipe of slaying hordes of undead with friends, and nothing more.

All 4 one 

Back 4 Blood

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)
Key info

Back 4 Blood

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Game Back 4 Blood
 Turtle Rock Studios
Publisher Warner Bros. Interactive
Platforms PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X/S, PC
Release June 22, 2021

That's not to say Back 4 Blood won't be doing anything differently to its spiritual predecessor. Take its new roguelike perk system, for instance, which is presented as a playable card deck. Both yourself, your companions, and The Director (yes, Left 4 Dead's reactive AI game manipulator is back) will have the opportunity to pick from a number of cards at the start of a game session, each activating a particular modifier to the oncoming mission. 

The Game Director's chosen deck of Corruption Cards might throw ammo scarcity, vision-blurring fog, or a higher frequency of Ogre enemies into the mix, for example. In response, you'll need to play your own set of cards to either combat those modifiers or simply support your playstyle, whether it's increasing your ammo capacity, gaining the ability to heal yourself with melee kills, or becoming more resistant to acid attacks. More cards will unlock as you play Back 4 Blood, be that its core co-op campaign or its eight player PvP multiplayer mode, with deck customisation eventually becoming a key meta-game in itself. 

Back 4 Blood's card system isn't just there to throw an extra layer of unpredictability into the mix, then, but to give players more control over their role within the zombie-slaying clean-up crew. If you want to be the designated healer of the squad, for instance, your deck should be stacked with cards that focus on buffing team-mates and keeping their lifebar in the green. Tanks, meanwhile, will want to play cards that enable them to charge into hordes of enemies without worrying about the risk. To be clear, Back 4 Blood shouldn't be mistaken for a full-blown RPG, but you can certainly see how Turtle Rock has taken inspiration from the hero-shooter to bring more depth and agency to its battles against the undead.  

And, goodness, do those battles sing. Playing through the Evansburg mission of the Closed Alpha, it becomes clear that Left 4 Dead's original charms of fast, unrelenting crowd control haven't lost any of their appeal. Back 4 Blood heightens that freneticism with a greater emphasis on diverse enemies, modifiable weaponry, and even gorier visual flair, allowing you to create truly apocalyptic tapestries of carnography within seconds of starting a session. 

"It's clear that Left 4 Dead's original charms of fast, unrelenting crowd control haven't lost any of their appeal"

Chris Ashton, co-founder and design director at Turtle Rock Studios, has explained that the team developed Back 4 Blood "with our community in mind" from the very beginning, "firing on all cylinders to give players a compelling zombie experience that is unlike any other.”

A quick look at the Steam player count for Left 4 Dead 2 confirms that the community he's talking about is very much alive and well, but is that nostalgia-fuelled appetite enough for Back 4 Blood to succeed, over a decade since Turtle Rock's critically-acclaimed sequel first launched? While there's no doubt that veteran Left 4 Dead players will relish Back 4 Blood's imitative design, what about the generation of players unfamiliar with that series entirely and, more importantly, fed up with the glutton of zombie shooters that have flooded the market in the years since?

Perhaps Back 4 Blood doesn't need to appeal to anyone beyond its core audience, but as Warner Bros' biggest new IP of the next generation – outside the realms of wizards, superheroes, and LEGO bricks –  it will be interesting to see whether the game can generate a dedicated player base that will eagerly return time and time again. While Back 4 Blood is by no means a live service title, Turtle Rock has stressed the replay value afforded by its unpredictable Game Director and Card system, again subtly citing Left 4 Dead as proof that this is an experience players will enjoy returning to time and time again. 

I certainly found myself itching to play more of the Alpha since its brief run in December, to experiment further with different weapons, cards, and difficulty settings to perfect my monster-mashing flow against streams of infected husks. More than that, though, there's comfort to be found in the familiar, and Back 4 Blood is absolutely familiar to those of us who grew up with Turtle Rock's generation-defining franchise of the 2000's. Some might argue that Back 4 Blood should do more to evolve Left 4 Dead's template if it truly wants to make a genuine impression but, let's be honest, the last thing Turtle Rock wants to think about right now is Evolve...

Big in 2021 is GamesRadar's month-long celebration of the new year. Every day, we will be exploring the most anticipated games on the near horizon with brand new previews and exclusive developer interviews. 

Alex Avard

I'm GamesRadar's Features Writer, which makes me responsible for gracing the internet with as many of my words as possible, including reviews, previews, interviews, and more. Lucky internet!