Turtle Rock’s Left 4 Dead successor is our favourite co-op game of the year. For more of this year’s Game of the Year awards, check out our GOTY 2021 hub, which we’ll be updating throughout the month.
Evan Lahti, Global Editor-in-Chief: Before it released, we were concerned that adding aim-down-sights to the Left 4 Dead formula (a run-and-gun game of perpetual motion) would slow it down too much. But Back 4 Blood’s guns are silky in your hands, containing nuance that exceeds their conventional appearance.
As an FPS fan I love the attention to detail: the hip-fire animation changes when you drop to a crouch, communicating clearly that you’re more accurate than when standing, but less accurate than if you were in ironsights. Range matters. You can kit out a high-efficiency horde killer by grabbing attachments and card bonuses that increase bullet penetration.
The high volume of enemies and that so many weapons are one-hit kills against run-of-the-mill undead feels great. Lately, I’m lugging around the .50 cal sniper as an anti-“big guy” gun and running the silenced Magnum as a sidearm.
Morgan Park, Staff Writer: Were I still on my first playthrough of Back 4 Blood, I would’ve thought Evan was silly for carrying the big sniper rifle that shoots slow. But now that I’m jumping back into the campaign on a higher difficulty, having a designated marksman for the nastier infected hordes is not only smart but necessary.
I also have to highlight Back 4 Blood’s cleaners, an addition that I thought would feel tacked-on to check a hero shooter box. I’m glad I was wrong. Turtle Rock chose a smart method to differentiate its roster—every cleaner feels more-or-less the same from the get-go, but their playstyles become more pronounced as you feed them cards or attachments that complement their built-in abilities. Add an upgraded laser sight to Walker’s baseline accuracy boost and everything he shoots becomes a laser beam. Invest in melee cards that restore health or increase speed and Hollie’s signature bat can melt zombies quicker than bullets. It’s a major upgrade from the Left 4 Dead days when I’d insta-lock Coach just so I could spam his “Keep your shit tight” line to my friends.
I think that speaks to Back 4 Blood’s strengths over Left 4 Dead 2: It pushes you to try new things, and it’s not only replayable because shooting zombies is fun. It always has a new deckbuild to test out, a gun you’ve barely touched that’s surprisingly good, or a nasty combination of Corruption Cards that puts a novel twist on a mission you’ve done before. It’s Left 4 Dead but more, and often better. Consider that Back 4 Blood has crossplay with every platform and has been on Game Pass since day one, and it’s one of the easiest recommendations of 2021.
I already love that Back 4 Blood is another great co-op shooter to return to with friends every once in a while, but I’m also excited that Turtle Rock seemingly wants Back 4 Blood to be a platform for more campaigns in the future. The first annual pass promises more campaign missions, new cleaners, special infected, and more. Will Back 4 Blood go on to be as beloved as its predecessors? A co-op zombie game isn’t as novel as it was when Left 4 Dead came out in 2008, so probably not, but it’s no less impressive that Turtle Rock could return to the genre it created 12 years later and make it better.
Jacob Ridley, Senior Hardware Editor: I’ve never had as much fun benchmarking a game as I did with Back 4 Blood, and that was in the company of its confused bots. Seriously, I ran the same level maybe 30 times, and I genuinely enjoyed every run.
If you have a cheery bunch of zombie-annihilating hobbyists to play with, there’s a lot of replayability in this game. The card system makes each level feel a little different to the last, and with buffs, for both player and zombie, you end up with a different playstyle nearly every run.