Turtle Rock's Left 4 Dead series is one that remains among the cream of the crop when it comes to cooperative zombie shooters. That's why it was so exciting to see that they were back to doing what they did best and putting together a co-op multiplayer zombie shooter, only this time for Warner Bros. It's been a few months since Back 4 Blood's closed alpha wrapped up, but now it's set to return for a new open beta. Shacknews had a chance to try it out, where we bungled our way forward, just like the good old days of L4D.
The biggest addition to Back 4 Blood's upcoming open beta is Swam, the game's PvP mode that was unveiled earlier this summer. The beta pits two teams of human Cleaners up against a zombie horde with more powerful Ridden variants controlled by an opposing team of players. The objective is to survive the longest against the zombie horde.
Over the course of our playthrough, we got to pick between five of the eight playable Cleaners. After selecting a Cleaner, players are prompted to select a pre-assembled card deck that's separated out into roles: Squad Leader, Medic, Operator, and Soldier. After choosing a deck, players are then given a few extra cards that they pick out of random groups to round out their arsenal. As is the case with single-player, these cards can boost attributes like reload speed, stamina, health, and more. Some bonuses will even benefit the team as a whole, like an extra life or a team-wide stamina boost.
Outside of the card element, Swarm should look familiar to Left 4 Dead veterans. Cleaner teams have a few minutes to rummage through supply crates and load up on weapons, supplies, and throwable items. There are only a few maps available, but knowing their layouts is the key to survival. Map locations vary from survival camps, to an abandoned schoolyard, to a lakeside camp. Knowing the chokepoint locations and ambush points is critical, not just as a Cleaner, but also as a Ridden. Play will go on until the Cleaner side is eliminated, at which point teams switch sides. To help expedite these sessions, there's a battle royale-style circle of death that closes in as the game goes on. If players exit that circle, they're slowly consumed by locusts.
Playing as the Ridden is where Swarm starts to feel interesting. These players can select between three families of Ridden: the smaller Stinger, the acid-covered Reeker, and the slower, but powerful Tallboy. There's also the option to play as a Common enemy, for those who desire to do such a thing. The Commons don't have the bells and whistles of their bigger brothers, but they can be upgraded with armor, health, and stronger attacks.
Each of the Ridden classes have subsets of specific zombies, so once we had our combination of Stingers, Reekers, and Tallboys at the ready, the Shacknews team was off to the races. Unfortunately, we quickly found that most of the Ridden aren't very durable. Our Exploders were getting taken out with great frequency, while the Crushers couldn't find an opening to put the squeeze on any opposing Cleaners. Our most effective Ridden proved to be the Retches, a subset of Reekers that could spit acid that damage Cleaners over time.
To reiterate, success in Swarm is all about knowing the map layout. Stingers can spit projectiles from long distances, so if they can hide across the map, they can be a serious annoyance. Ridden players can only spawn when they're not in the Cleaner team's sights, so being aware of the hidden nooks and crannies can allow a Bruiser or an Exploder to spawn nearby and ambush the human team at a moment's notice. Once the Shacknews team became familiar with the floor plan of the camp, we were able to act quickly and take *a* round off of our opponents. We take the victories where we can get them.
Speaking of which, our team was more suited to the PvE campaign. The first act from the closed alpha was available for play, but there was a newer act to sink our teeth into. Set later in the game, our team ventured into Blue Dog Hollow and while the opening act felt overly similar to Turtle Rock's previous work, this new stage is where Back 4 Blood started to shine. The outdoor wilderness venue felt much more atmospheric, containing open forests, empty highway tunnels, abandoned shacks, and mining areas.
The idea of the campaign is to clear a path to the nearest safehouse, but beyond the normal Ridden wandering the paths ahead, there are numerous ways to attract hordes. Obviously, going in loud is one way to attract attention. On top of that, Snitches (a special Ridden type) can alert their brethren, flocks of birds can make a lot of noise if they're scared into flying away, and car alarms can be set off by errant shots. For that matter, car explosions can attract unwanted hordes, too, as our own TJ Denzer found out.
Communication is key to surviving in the campaign, so have your voice chat ready to roll. Lack of communication can lead to friends wandering off on their own and getting jumped by incoming hordes. During one of our sessions, Community Manager Dennis White set down a gas cannister, only for me to shoot it and send him flying out a nearby window to his death. It's good to chat with your teammates if you want to make it far in Back 4 Blood.
Beyond the obvious reasons, you'll want to stay in touch with teammates, because Special Ridden can often come out of nowhere. The same Special Ridden that we were playing with in Swarm mode were back for another round in the campaign and we often found ourselves contending with hordes of common zombies, as well as the occasional Exploder, Bruiser, and Retch. Beyond those, occasional boss Riddens will pop up, such as the towering Ogre that can wipe out Cleaners in a matter of seconds.
It's been a very long time since Left 4 Dead graced the PC and it still has its fans to this day. With that in mind, it's great to see Turtle Rock doing what they do best again, because this feels mechanically close to their old opus. The card system is going to take time to get used to and, honestly, it felt like a superfluous addition at times. However, it never actively got in the way of the action. As a zombie shooter, Back 4 Blood looks to be on its way to capturing Turtle Rock's former glory.
Back 4 Blood is set to release on October 12 on PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. It will also be part of Xbox Game Pass. The open beta will run from August 12-16, with an early access period set to begin later today and run until Monday, August 9.
These impressions are based on beta keys provided by the publisher.