Out of all the amazing projects that were revealed at this year's Game Awards, it was perhaps Back 4 Blood that had us the most giddy with excitement. This cooperative zombie shooter has been proclaimed as the spiritual successor to the Left 4 Dead series, as it has many of its original creators at the helm. Just like the aforementioned title, it sees you and your buddies team together to gun down swarms of undead creatures, and it features roguelike elements to help keep things fresh. It may be a good few months away from release, but fortunately, we were able to secure ourselves access to the game's closed alpha over the weekend to provide you with our very first impressions.
Sadly, we didn't get to peer too deeply into Back 4 Blood's narrative within the alpha, but from what we could see, it's your typical zombie invasion plot. Here the world's population has been transformed into some pretty putrid-looking creatures after being infected by a parasitic Devil Worm. Playing as a group of seemingly immune humans known as 'cleaners,' it's your job to slaughter the undead and help bring the world back to its original state. Within the alpha, we were able to play through the opening act, which was set within the fictional locale of Evansburgh and consisted of four different parts.
We also had access to four of the eight 'cleaners' that will be available at launch and these were Hoffman, Holly, Walker, and Evangelo (you may remember them from The Game Awards trailer). As well as having different looks and personalities, all of these characters come with their own secondary weapon and individual set of perks. Evangelo, for example, starts with a machete and has increased stamina regeneration and double movement speed. Each of these characters felt useful in their own separate ways, which meant it was never too frustrating when jumping into a game when our first choice was already taken.
Before we even got a chance to shoot a zombie in the face, we were introduced to the game's deck-building system and roguelike elements. When starting a new run, we had the opportunity to select several stat-altering Player Cards. Each time we selected a card, we had to choose between a random selection of three and had to consider the best option. Cards come in four categories (Stat, Talent, Loot, and Loadout) and have positive impacts, such as increasing your sprint duration and reload speed. Players can choose to either build a custom deck from the cards they've unlocked or they can opt for the standard default deck.
There are also Corruption Cards which are randomly selected by a system known as The Game Director. These Corruption Cards have a detrimental impact on your game, as they can add more fog to a level and increase the size of enemy hordes. The Game Director also has an impact on several other factors. Each time you play a stage, enemy spawns and loot drops are completely randomised. What does stay the same, however, is the overall level design and the objectives that you will need to complete. This level of unpredictability and variety always made us keen to return, even if our last run ended in frustration and failure.
Once we got into the action, we found ourselves blown away by the designs of the zombie creatures. Along with your typical zombies, we encountered Stingers, that glued us firmly in place by spewing slime on us, and Bruisers, that sent us flying by swinging their oversized arm around like a wrecking ball. We also ran into the huge 20ft zombie known as Golem, which acted like a boss and had a seemingly impenetrable health bar. Seeing the zombies in action got us even more excited for the PvP Mode that will allow us to have control of them.
There was also a great deal of variety when it came to weapons. During the alpha, we came across ranged weapons such as SMGs, shotguns, and assault rifles, and melee weapons, such as baseball bats, crowbars, and machetes. All of these weapons have a star rating which indicates their power and rarity, and they can be modified further using in-game currency (copper) at safe houses. When modifying your weapon you can add different scopes, grips, and clips to improve aspects such as their range and ammo capacity.
Something of which we did find frustrating, however, was how mindless the AI felt at times. The AI always seemed to heroically charge into hordes of zombies and larger foes only to be knocked on their asses and crying for help a few moments later. It got to the point where we just abandoned the AI survivors, as it was too much of a time sink to keep reviving them. Something else, which was a persistent pain was how frequently the characters repeated their dialogue. Sure, we found the banter between the four different 'cleaners' pretty hilarious the first time, but it lost its charm after being persistently repeated. We should stress again though that this is only an alpha, and the game isn't launching until June.
After spending a bit of time with its closed alpha, Back 4 Blood has quickly established itself as being one of our most anticipated releases of 2021. Its deck-building system and roguelike mechanics kept things feeling refreshing and unpredictable, and we were impressed by the designs of its many undead creatures. Unfortunately though, we found the AI to act clueless and the dialogue to be a little bit too repetitive. This was only an alpha, however, so we are hoping that these shortcomings can be ironed out before a full release. Be sure to check back for our full thoughts when Back 4 Blood launches on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series on June 22, 2021.