Back 4 Blood review: The Left 4 Dead 3 we've been waiting for

Despite disappointments, Back 4 Blood is a bloody good time that fans will love.

Back 4 Blood
(Image: © WB Games)

While the last decade has spawned an abundance of zombie games, we haven't a return of the co-op zombie shooter genre that Turtle Rock Studios once debuted with Left 4 Dead. These games have maintained a strong community of players over the years, still among the most played PC games, but there's only so much to squeeze out all these years later. Like the thousands of zombies that they've hacked, slashed, and blasted apart, Left 4 Dead fans are hungry — not for the flesh of the living, but sinking their teeth into a fresh new experience.

Enter Back 4 Blood, Turtle Rock Studios' spiritual successor to its beloved Left 4 Dead franchise. It sports fan-favorite features from Left 4 Dead, including an AI Director system and special mutated zombies. However, from modern shooter mechanics to deck-based build crafting, Back 4 Blood promises a creative take on Left 4 Dead's hit formula.

I've been excited to play ever since I went hands-on with the Back 4 Blood beta this summer, and now that it's here, I'm confident in saying that Back 4 Blood is the "Left 4 Dead 3" that myself and many others desire. There are some things that disappoint me, but overall, Back 4 Blood is a bloody good time that any fan of Left 4 Dead (or any other co-op shooter) will love.

Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a review code provided by WB Games. The company did not see the contents of the review before publishing.

Back 4 Blood: What you'll like

Back 4 Blood is essentially everything that made Left 4 Dead so good, but better. Gunplay and movement feel great thanks to snappy arcade-style animations and the addition of sprinting and clambering. There are also tons of different weapons that you can find scattered throughout each level. Each one fills a unique role in the game's wider sandbox; for example, assault rifles and light machine guns are ideal for mowing down crowds of regular zombies, while sniper rifles and shotguns deal huge chunks of damage when targeting weak spots. There are also plenty of weapon attachments you can find or buy with Copper (money obtained via gameplay) that allow you to buff and tweak weapon performance. Back 4 Blood's arsenal of support items includes Left 4 Dead classics like pills, medkits, and pipe bombs, plus new items like razor wire fences, firecrackers, and tool kits.

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CategoryBack 4 Blood
TitleBack 4 Blood
DeveloperTurtle Rock Studios
PublisherWB Games
GenreCo-op shooter
Game Size40GB
PlayersMultiplayer
Launch Price$60

In terms of the zombies, Back 4 Blood's roster of special infected isn't quite as large as its predecessor's. Regardless, there are plenty of threats looming, from tanky Tallboys that soak up damage and deal heavy melee attacks, Hockers that pin players down with adhesive goop, and Snitchers that attract hordes if disturbed. There are also several boss-style zombies, such as the gargantuan Ogre, or the aggressive Breaker that resembles Left 4 Dead's Tank.

Back 4 Blood's card system gives players many fun opportunities for build crafting.

The game's standout feature is its card system, which players can engage with to create decks of helpful stat-boosting cards like increasing health, improving damage output, or buffing healing items. Players can include up to 15 cards in their decks, and at the start of each level, they'll be given an opportunity to select one card to activate from their lineup. Completing levels earns supply points, which can then be spent on new cards, or cosmetics like skins and sprays. I've had a ton of fun putting together specialized card decks for becoming a melee juggernaut, keeping teammates healed up, or dealing huge damage to special infected with weak spot crits.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

There's a catch, though — the Ridden can also activate Corruption Cards of their own that force you to deal with new challenges. These can include thick fog that blankets the next level, a tougher variant of a special infected, or additional sources of noise that can attract hordes like security alarms on doors. These Corruption Cards add a nice twist to the gameplay, and when you combine them with the AI Director's dynamic weapon, equipment, and enemy spawns, there's an incredibly replayable experience here.

I also love Back 4 Blood's level design. It's got plenty of meticulously designed locales that demand cooperative play, which prevents people from cheesing each level in speed runs. This is one of my biggest issues with the Left 4 Dead games, and I'm glad Turtle Rock Studios made Back 4 Blood's levels harder to exploit. There are also several levels that task players with rescuing survivors and recovering important supplies, and these objectives offer a nice change of pace compared to the standard "reach the safe room" levels.

Finally, Back 4 Blood's characters are fun to play as thanks to their unique personalities and humorous voice lines, and they all bounce off of each other well. For example, the nervous and jumpy Evangelo is contrasted nicely by Doc's stoic no-nonsense attitude, and I've enjoyed hearing their quips to one another as I've shot and chopped my way through the undead army. Considering these are characters that players are going to spend a lot of time with, it's good that they're likable.

Back 4 Blood: What you'll like less

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The decision to lock solo players out of Back 4 Blood's progression is baffling.

The biggest issue I have with Back 4 Blood is that it doesn't allow solo players to earn supply points to unlock new cards and cosmetics. It's true that Back 4 Blood is meant to be played as a multiplayer game, but some players don't have friends to play with and don't enjoy playing games with strangers. The decision to completely cut them off from making any progress towards new cards and cosmetics is baffling, and I hope Turtle Rock Studios reconsiders their position on this in the future.

Secondly, there's no PvP Versus mode, which is quite a disappointment. It's replaced by a mode called Swarm in which a team playing as the humans has to hold out as long as possible against a team of player-controlled Ridden. The mode is fun, but it shouldn't be replacing the fan-favorite Versus mode that allowed players to control Ridden in Left 4 Dead's campaign levels.

Finally, I experienced some annoying stuttering while playing Back 4 Blood on both Xbox and PC. It didn't happen very often, but when it did, it made it incredibly difficult to fight the zombie hordes and even led to my death in one instance. It's not a game-breaking issue since it doesn't happen frequently, but it should nevertheless be addressed.

Back 4 Blood: Should you play it?

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Despite Back 4 Blood's solo restrictions, stuttering issues, and the lack of a Versus PvP mode, it's ultimately still a fantastic spiritual successor to Left 4 Dead that any fan of Turtle Rock Studios' original franchise shouldn't miss.

Without a doubt, Back 4 Blood is easily one of the best Xbox shooters available if you enjoy co-op. And while the game does have a few disappointing aspects now, I'm hoping that the developers will be willing to lift solo play restrictions and add in a Versus mode moving forward.

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.