Many have said that Back 4 Blood is something more than the spiritual successor to Left 4 Dead as, despite the new publisher, team, and name, the DNA of Valve's co-op zombie shooter should be clear for all to see. But, for those dining in on its nostalgia, there's something new to explore that's going to even further improve the game's inherent replayability - a Roguelike card system.
"We are definitely trying something a little bit different," explains Lianne Papp, executive producer at Turtle Rock Studios in an interview with GamesRadar for the Future Games Show. "We've got the elements that you want out of a cooperative zombie shooter, so you can gather up with your three friends and take out a bunch of Ridden [the game's zombies]; we're also adding some rouge-lite elements with our card system that's actually pretty cool, and we think it will provide a different spin on it and provides more replayability to the game."
For those of you who didn't manage to jump into the game's closed alpha – although an open beta is arriving sometime before the game's new October 12 release date – the game starts out simply, and familiarly, enough. You and three friends find yourselves in a safe room, and although zombies are the main foe, the orchestrator of everything once again is the Game Director. Rather than a developer though, the Game Director is the in-game AI established in the Left 4 Dead games, tweaking each section, deciding when and where to drop zombies, and what kinds you will face. Thus, each round you play feels dynamic and unique, responding to decisions you've made, but now the card system will let you tailor your tactics to combat the Game Director too.
"You're going to start in a safe room with three of your friends and the Game Director is going to play what we call Corruption Cards," explains Papp. "You get to know what challenges he is going to throw at you and your team by looking at what these cards are; they might be things like Swarm of Bruisers or Ridden on Fire, and you then get to know what it is that you're going to face. After you see those cards, you're then going to be given a hand from a deck that you've built, and you need to decide what cards you're going to play."
Between levels, players will receive three cards from a deck that you've either chosen from presets or built yourself. But, you'll only actually be able to play one of those per round. The strategy around what you play and when will be crucial to success, and you'll gain more cards as you play the game to build out your arsenal too. Without the right cards, higher-level difficulties will be out of reach, and initially, progression is going to be difficult until you learn how best to use the hand you're dealt.
"Coordination with your team is going to be super key here, as you can do things like improve the quality of items and weapons that are found in the world, you can make it so your team can carry more Molotovs or medkits, or you can even do something cool like your team gets a burst of health when you get incapacitated," adds Papp.
"It allows players some transparency into what the Game Director is doing, so they can develop a counter-strategy," explains Turtle Rock Studios co-founder and design director, Chris Ashton in an interview with Edge Magazine. "For example, the Director is playing a bunch of Tallboys [enormous gangly monsters that charge from a distance] in the next section – you don't know exactly where or when they are going to spawn, but armed with this knowledge... you and your teammates could stock up on HE grenades to take out the Tallboys more easily."
With the Left 4 Dead series, it was more about going in blind and having to learn how best to conquer different situations. With the new Back 4 Blood card system, Turtle Rock Studios is adding a meta progression system, where you'll have more tactical ammo to throw at a situation. The Game Director can also mix things up when it comes to environmental effects like Fog or Darkness, so despite your added advantages, there will always be something unexpected.
"It's so powerful from a player's perspective and so fun when you put a plan together with your friends, build custom decks and successfully conquer a level that was previously giving you fits," said Ashton. "We're approaching co-op in a more flexible manner now, not requiring character classes, specific gear, or strategies. We've learned the value of letting players play their way."
Because of that, the playable characters for the core PvE experience have been expanded from four to eight, meaning no-one gets lumbered with the last character left for their pick. None of these so-called Cleaners are tied to a traditional class type, but each does have a specific passive perk. Hoffman has 'So Many Pockets' that lets him start with an ammo pack and the chance to find more whenever he kills an enemy, while melee specialist Holly begins with a baseball, and the military-trained Walker arrives with bandolier straps that give him an increased ammo capacity trait. The enhanced range of Cleaners combined with the card system should mean this is the most replayable of its ilk.
"We're really excited to see what you and your friends do with your cards," adds Papp.
Back 4 Blood is arriving on Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, and PC on October 12, delayed from its original June 18 release date. Check out more in our new games of 2021 and beyond round-up