MGN was given early access beta keys for the new co-op zombie shooter game Back 4 Blood…and it sucked.
More? Oh, alright.
I’m going to start by disavowing some of the more common beta version excuses like: “Oh, it’s just a beta. They can fix that.” or “What can you expect, it’s just a beta.” These are just cop-outs and don’t really apply to Back 4 Blood.
Why? Because this is something that the studio has released, basically saying that “This is a version of the game that we feel is at a point where it’s playable enough for the audience to sink time into and provide feedback on.” If a studio feels comfortable releasing a game for testing and review, even without it being the final product, it deserves to be assessed as such.
So, let’s start with the cards system. This is obviously something that Back 4 Blood wants to be its key differentiator from its competitor, Left 4 Dead. It’s the hook that the developer hopes will be the reason that you select Back 4 Blood instead of Left 4 Dead when you boot up your Steam library. And it is absolutely awful, for a lot of reasons.
The first being that, the beta has absolutely no introduction or tutorial for the card system, which is ridiculously convoluted and unintuitive. Having the key feature of your game beta-tested without a tutorial, or any sort of in-game guidance, is inexplicable for me. Expecting players to provide valuable feedback on a new system, that you did not take the time to explain at all, is stupid to a ridiculous degree. It lends credence to the accusation that the beta for Back 4 Blood was more about marketing than getting and acting on user feedback.
Here’s a hot take: If you want to release a demo of your game that looks and plays like shit, don’t pretend it’s a beta that you’re going to gather actionable feedback from when this is obviously not the intent. Just call it a demo (that looks and plays like shit) that you’ve released to generate some buzz on YouTube or Twitch.
Now, let’s move on to how the gimmick actually functions. Like I said, it’s supposed to be something that is going to be Back 4 Blood’s point of difference from Left 4 Dead. You get cards that are meant to change the gameplay (very) slightly, so that each playthrough can be done a little differently, optimized with certain rolls and card selections. Truthfully, the core idea isn’t bad.
Turtle Rock Studios clearly needed SOMETHING to help with the longevity of their game because the quality angle clearly isn’t going to be a factor with Back 4 Blood. So, they’ve opted for providing that longevity and replayability with the card system. Fair enough.
The problem, however, is the execution. The card system could have absolutely been fun and exciting, and something that would make you want to continuously do runs of the game’s levels, but instead becomes something devoid of interest almost instantly. If you want a mechanic to affect the gameplay to the point where players are coming back time and time again, they need to be impactful, they need to be interesting.
Something that alters the run and makes it more challenging or more fun like:
- Enemies will only die due to headshots
- Shooting allies will heal them at the cost of your own health & ammo
- Allies can only be revived by throwing grenades
- this level is melee only but your movement speed is doubled
- enemy pathing is reversed and friendly fire is increased
You get the idea. Those are just some examples, off the top of my head, that would add an extra layer to the game once the fun of playing through the levels starts to wear off and players start losing interest over time.
Instead, we get watered-down, cookie-cutter, generic-ass augments that really don’t feel impactful whatsoever. Sure, they’re there and they’re going to give your character a slight leg up. But they’re simply not going to sell copies of Back 4 Blood. Considering that this system is supposed to set apart Back 4 Blood from (the infinitely superior) Left 4 Dead, this is probably a bad thing. I’m going to put a few of those cards here so that you can see exactly what I’m talking about:
- +5 health and +3% movement speed
- +10% speed
- +50% fire resistance
- +20% healing efficiency and 1 more item slot
That’s the card system in a nutshell. That’s about all that’s done different from other examples in the genre. The elements don’t necessarily have to be new, but they do need to be executed better in order for players to choose your game over others. Graphics have come a long way since Back 4 Blood was launched and this would’ve been a good opportunity for Turtle Rock to provide a modern alternative with preen and polish.
What they came up with instead is a game that looks and runs like shit. The models for the
zombies ridden are so uninspired, I’m shocked that they’re not stock art from a creative commons Google search. There’s nothing original or interesting about the special enemies either. They grab you. They spit on you. They explode. If you’re looking for a point of difference here, the enemies or playable characters aren’t it.
To top it off, the animations for all this are woeful as well. Even for a beta.
Specifically, you’re going to notice, if you’ve watched any beta footage for the game whatsoever, that the ammo drop animations from killing a ridden can be measured in frames per hour. Animations for the game look more like a Power Point slideshow rather than something that’s supposed to be at a point in its development cycle that the studio is releasing it for public beta testing and feedback.
I know that this is something that can be fixed pre-launch, and my judgements are based on a beta version of the game, but…damn, son. This should not be the benchmark for public testing. The game would need a full year, with a gigantic development team, before it would be in a suitable state to be released to the public. Considering that this version is the beta, and that the game is expected to launch two months from now, you can likely look forward to a lot of the same issues once the game is shipped.
Two months simply isn’t enough time to fix the game for it to be as good as Left 4 Dead, let alone better. Right now, it’s undeniably worse and there’s no reason to buy or play it. I could keep ranting, but the TL;DR is that Back 4 Blood is a bad game with a bad name; don’t waste your money and boot up Left 4 Dead if you feel the urge for playing a game in the genre.