Back 4 Blood, the four-player coop survival zombie shooter from Turtle Rock Studios – the team that brought you the original Left 4 Dead – will open its doors back up to players beginning with an early access open beta that runs from August 5-9 for anyone who’s pre-ordered, with a fully open beta to follow from August 12-16. To kick off our month-long IGN First for Back 4 Blood, I was able to visit Turtle Rock for a sneak peak at what they have in store for us with regards to both PVE and PVP. And while I was regularly grabbed, puked on, smashed, set on fire, and covered in sticky debilitating phlegm, the one thing that was on my mind as I left the studio was “Man… do I want to play some more.”
If you’re not up to speed on Back 4 Blood or familiar with its pedigree, I’d highly recommend that you first check out our Back 4 Blood Alpha Preview. In any case, the main thing you need to know is that it’s you and three other friends, facing off against the zombie horde with a heavy teamwork-oriented focus, much like Left 4 Dead. But there’s a key twist: there’s a deck-building card system that allows you to build decks of stat-altering cards that help define the roles each individual player plays on a squad. There are cards meant for those who want to play a healer, cards for people who want to be a leader by calling out and marking special zombies, or if you want to scavenge supplies around the map, or even just focus on bashing zombies’ faces in.
At each safehouse (and also after each continue if your team wipes) you’re able to add a new card from your deck to your set of active cards, which can often be just the leg up you need to meet the rising difficulty with each new level within an act.
The cards aren’t just for you, though. Every level of Back 4 Blood introduces a number of Corruption Cards that can enhance the zombies – AKA the Ridden – in specific ways, create challenging world events for your squad to overcome, and even offer a special reward for completing an optional challenge that encourages your team to play a certain way. The latter is especially interesting because it can mean challenging you to play fast enough to beat a speed-run challenge or careful enough to get through the level without scaring birds or triggering a horde.
All of this was stuff that we got a small taste of in the alpha, but the beta really kicks it up a notch – especially on the Corruption Card side. One round dealt us a card that would trigger a horde every couple of minutes, regardless of what’s currently happening in the level – that completely changed how we had to play, to put it mildly. It caused our team to keep an eye on the countdown clock and call out when a horde was approaching so we could attempt to find a position that’s relatively defendable. Of course, that’s not always possible in Back 4 Blood, and we eventually ended up having to fight off a horde in an area that was open on all sides and had a pack of birds that inevitably got spooked… which triggered another horde. Our squad survived, but was left in utter shambles. Oh, and we’d have to go through it again in just two and a half minutes.
Back 4 Blood IGN First Screenshots
In another playthrough we had a card that increased the spawn rate of Snitches, a special type of Ridden that, when alerted, makes a ton of noise and triggers a horde. This time we had to creep along, making sure to keep an ear out for any hidden Snitches and either avoid their detection or coordinate fire to kill them before they could let out a scream. As a vehicle to drive the variation of each run, the Corruption Card system is extraordinarily effective, and when combined with the more subtle under-the-hood tweaks of the Left 4 Dead “Game Director” AI system that orchestrates nearby item and enemy spawns, it’s easy to see that a clear focus of the team at Turtle Rock’s team is making every run of Back 4 Blood feel as distinct as it can, and so far it’s a goal that they’re absolutely succeeding at.
Back 4 Blood’s PVP Swarm Mode
Based on my experience with the alpha, I expected that I’d have a great time with the PVE of Back 4 Blood – which I absolutely did – but as someone who is typically very lukewarm on most competitive asymmetrical multiplayer modes, what I didn’t expect was that I’d absolutely love its PVP Swarm mode.
It’s 4v4, Cleaners (humans) vs Ridden, in short bite-sized rounds that have the humans fortifying their defenses in a relatively compact arena and surviving against hordes of AI-controlled zombies with player-controlled special Ridden in the mix. The Ridden team must attempt to wipe the Cleaner team as fast as they can. After a round ends, the teams switch sides, and the team that survives the longest as the Cleaners wins.
Every round begins for the Cleaners with a scavenging period where they can explore the level for supply boxes that contain randomly placed goodies like med kits, grenades, Molotovs, razor wire, and an assortment of weapons. Then the Ridden start to spawn – though player-controlled special Ridden can only spawn in locations that are out of sight of the Cleaners.
One of the most crucial pieces of strategy I found was that as the Ridden, it becomes very important to coordinate your spawns so that you don’t die one at a time. Even tankier Ridden like the Tallboys can go down quickly against coordinated fire from the opposing team, and while the spawn timers are relatively short, this is still a game mode where every second matters.
It’s also worth pointing out that there are nine different types of Ridden to choose from, with three main classes and three Mutations within each of those classes – though only six are available in the beta, with two mutations for each class. Each Ridden is designed to be really good in one environment and kind of weak in another, making it critical to switch to a different monster depending on what the situation calls for. Tallboys and Exploders are phenomenal if a team tries to hole up inside a house, but if they’re out in the open, a well-coordinated team can spot them and take them down before they cause any damage. Retches, meanwhile, aren’t great in a one-on-one fight, but can force a team that’s sticking together to split up with their AOE puke that deals damage over time. And finally, the Stinger-type Ridden are near useless indoors because they die so quickly, but they’re able to wreak havoc from long range and can force a Cleaner team to take cover indoors, making them easy prey for your teammates.
The Cleaners, meanwhile play very much like they normally would in a PVE game of Back 4 Blood. They must constantly communicate, calling out locations of special Ridden, taking care not to split off from their team, and always be ready to break an ally out of a bind. Oh yeah – there’s also a completely separate set of cards that are designed purely around PVP that you can equip yourself with in order to establish roles on your team. For example, the Squad Leader deck comes with a card that allows you to mark special Riddens for your whole team to see, which is invaluable when it comes to locating elusive Stingers or coordinating attacks on the more tanky enemies.
All in all, it all felt really well designed, and while it’s hard to get a feel for how balanced Back 4 Blood is as a whole after just a few rounds, Swarm felt like a mode that I could see myself spending just as much time with as the PVE.
Between the PVP and the PVE, which includes both the Evansburg level from the alpha and the full Blue Dog Hollow chapter, which is a lengthy endurance run to say the least, there’s a lot of content to keep us busy in the beta. I genuinely can’t wait to get back in to sweat through it with my own friend group, and fortunately I don’t have to wait long to get my chance. The Early Access beta opens later this week, and the open beta follows it not too long after.
Mitchell Saltzman is an editorial producer at IGN. You can find him on Twitter @JurassicRabbit