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 a cop-out and don’t apply to Back 4 Blood.
Why? Because this model of the game that players have beta tested recently is something that the studio has made a statement by saying “This is a version of the game that we feel is a point where it is playable enough for the audience to sink time into, and provide feedback based on it’s current state.” As such, I’m going to judge your game on that statement, if you feel comfortable in releasing this model to the world, even without it being the final product, it deserves to be assessed as such.
Let’s start with the cards system. This is obviously something that Back 4 Blood wants to be its key difference between this and its key competitor in Left 4 Dead. This is something that the developer wants to be the reason when you sit down and open up your steam library, that you select Back 4 Blood instead of Left 4 Dead. 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 without explanation 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 unexplainable for me. Expecting players to provide valuable feedback on a system that you do not explain at all – that is stupid to a ridiculous degree. It lends credence to the beta for Back 4 Blood being more about marketing than gaining and acting upon feedback.
If you want to release a demo of your game that looks and plays like shit, don’t pretend it’s a beta you’re going to gather feedback from, when this is obviously not the intent. Just call it a demo that looks and plays like shit, that you have released to generate some buzz by getting twitch and youtube personalities to play and shill to their audiences.
Moving on from the horrible implementation of the card system, to how the gimmick actually functions. Like I said, it is 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, or optimized with certain rolls and card selections. The idea isn’t bad.
Turtle Rock Studios clearly need SOMETHING to help with the longevity of their game, because the angle that Left 4 Dead approached to get longevity out of their game – in quality – clearly isn’t going to be a factor with Back 4 Blood. So, they’ve opted for providing that longevity and replay-ability in the card system.
The problem is 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 it hasn’t been executed well, and becomes something devoid of interest almost instantly. If you’re going to have cards 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.
Off the top of my head, they need to be something that alters the run and makes it challenging or more fun, like:
Enemies will only die 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 and the challenge/enjoyment, once the gameplay of playing through the levels starts to wear off the players 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 the key difference between Back 4 Blood and the infinitely superior Left 4 Dead, the card system not selling copies is probably a pretty bad thing. I’m going to put a few 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, blah, blah, blah .. you get the picture – boring.
That’s the card system in a nutshell. That’s about all that is done different from other examples in the genre. So, what’s left are elements that aren’t new, but need to be executed better in order to be a reason not to launch other games. This first and most obvious one is that graphical technology has come a long way since the main competitor of Back 4 Blood was launched, and therein lies a huge opportunity for the studio to provide a modern alternative with preen and polish.
But, like I mentioned a little earlier, the game looks and runs like shit. The models for the
zombies ridden are so uninspired, I’m shocked that they’re not stock art from google images from the studio searching for ‘generic and boring zombie pictures’. 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 in the enemies or playable characters, or a reason to spend your money, keep looking.
The animations for all this are woeful as well, ‘even for a beta’.
Specifically you’re going to notice if you have 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 slideshow from Microsoft PowerPoint, than a game that has reached a point in it’s 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 model of the game, but .. wow. 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 a suitable model for public testing. Considering that this version is the beta, and the game is expecting to launch two months from now, you can expect a lot of the same issues the current version has, will absolutely still be present with the game is shipped in two months.
There simply isn’t enough time between now and then for the game to be as good as Left 4 Dead, let alone better. Simply put, it’s just worse and there’s no reason to buy or play it instead of much older games. 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 the genre.