Although I've only played Back 4 Blood for about twenty hours, I dare say that few games have given me so many memorable moments. There are so many times when death has been a given and my pulse has been ticking at 180 beats, only to make a miraculous comeback after someone has managed to survive against impossible odds, killed a boss, and then revived the whole team.
This is exactly why, even at the time of writing, I'm sitting here feeling like I don't want to write a review at all, but just get back to Back 4 Blood with my friends instead. It is, as you know, a kind of spiritual successor to Left 4 Dead with the same basic concept from the same developer, supplemented with a lot of its own unique ideas and some really good gameplay. The latter is incredibly important in a zombie game because of course there will be a devilishly large amount of undead scum being slain, which here have been named the Ridden (what's the deal with so many zombie universes having to have their own names for zombies?).
The fact that Turtle Rock has got the gameplay right makes it a joy to beat zombies to death with axes, set them on fire with Molotov cocktails, and perforate them thoroughly with all kinds of firearms. Killing the already dead never stops feeling satisfying, although Back 4 Blood never gets as splatter-inspired as the genre often otherwise gets, and the combat is then varied in different ways with multiple types of enemies and quests that need to be completed alongside the killing. But before you get to kill anyone at all, you'll have to familiarise yourself with what can best be likened to the game's hub world.
Here you can do things like choosing which character to play, what that character will look like, tinker with your weapons, and, most importantly, create decks of cards. In fact, unlike Left 4 Dead, there's a sort of progression system here that improves the odds during the levels. And you'll need a fair supply of good cards because the stages are roguelike-inspired with new challenges that mean you never know exactly what you'll be facing. These can range from simpler things like keeping everyone alive to far tougher enemies that will make every encounter a true struggle. It's nice and important to be able to play cards yourself to counter the challenges, such as granting the team more healts, bigger magazines, or better attacks.
Being able to buy new über-cards keeps things exciting and varied, and it's fun to discuss as a group to optimise the conditions. I know some have been negative about the card system, but I honestly can't imagine Back 4 Blood without it, it's just nice to have something that ties the game together and provides some sort of reward after each round.
The stages are admirably long (expect at least two hours to play through) and varied to really feel like a cohesive mini-adventure. Along the way, you'll come across several safe havens where you'll have the chance to unwind, buy essential equipment, weapons, ammo, and so on before we then start the continuation by opening a different door than the one you came in through. Thanks to the card system, the stages are never the same and the strategy you used last time you played won't necessarily be the best next time.
Unfortunately, the system is not fully perfected yet, and the challenges can be very uneven. Early on, you might get a mission that's borderline impossible, while the next one is so easy it's almost dull. An overhaul of this will be needed as although it's not a major problem, games are usually made better by the challenge increasing continuously without going from zero to 100 - or almost worse, from 100 to zero. Otherwise, the fact that the eight available characters also have unique characteristics also helps keep the game interesting, as you can experiment with different constellations to get synergies.
In addition, Turtle Rock has used its concept in creative ways that throw the premise off. This could be building barricades or stealth, which helps to keep the concept fresh at all times. I'd also like to mention a section with a jukebox, which I predict will be considered a cult classic in a few years. Added to this are things like bosses, which I, unfortunately, don't find particularly memorable, without them being bad for that matter.
I played the Xbox Series X version prior to the review and the PC during the beta, and consistently think Turtle Rock offers a really nice looking game with Back 4 Blood. The visuals are solid, the world is neat and believable with clever use of delimiters instead of invisible walls. There's plenty of environmental variation on offer too, which is always a plus in a multiplayer game designed to be run over and over again. The audio is also beefy with meaty effects, heavy explosions, and good use of surround sound.
But all is not up to par, unfortunately. Back 4 Blood is a distinctly multiplayer game, but Turtle Rock has hyped up the fact that you can play it alone. And you certainly can, but it's not particularly fun. None of the systems used to level up your deck are used, nor do you get to save your stats or earn Achievements/trophies. Almost worse, though, are your insanely stupid teammates, whose artificial intelligence makes me think you can't talk about artificial intelligence in this case. Be prepared to get constantly annoyed by decisions they are making.
For me, It really doesn't matter much, as Back 4 Blood is a multiplayer game meant to be played with others, but it bears mentioning that this is not a game you should consider getting if you're mainly going to be playing by yourself. Furthermore, Back 4 Blood is difficult on the two higher difficulty levels. Like, really hard. Having fellow players helps.
Overall, I think Back 4 Blood is a worthy heir to Left 4 Dead. It has everything that made it so great and then some, combined with modern gameplay and lavish production values. Every round will be lined with memorable moments you and your teammates will be laughing at for a long time to come (ask our UK editor what he likes about the game's birds) and it often gets excruciatingly exciting. It's not quite perfect, though, and I hope Turtle Rock overhauls the unevenness of the difficulty levels and sorts out single-player. But if you just want to have fun with good friends, you can hardly find anything better right now, and the fact that it's included with Xbox Game Pass hardly makes matters worse.