By: Neil Bolt …..
In Back 4 Blood, survival is defined in many ways. Conserving ammo, securing an area, or packing a health kit can be intelligent moves when you don’t know what nightmarish foe is coming round the next corner. But the most important thing to remember is survival is impossible if you don’t have each other’s backs.
Published by Warner Bros. and developed by Turtle Rock Studios, Back 4 Blood is a first-person shooter that brings the classic co-op zombie experience of Left 4 Dead kicking and screaming into a new generation. There’s going to be plenty of that kicking and screaming as players traverse a post-apocalyptic America, battling hordes of infected humans known as The Ridden in the hope of one day finding some much-needed peace and solitude. The only way to do that is to work together…with guns.
Players are in the shoes of a ‘Cleaner’; battle-hardened survivors with more than a few notches in their Ridden-killing belts. From tough-talking Biker ‘Mom’ (played by horror icon Barbara Crampton) to Doomsday Prepper Hoffman, these folks know a thing or to about survival. The player can team up with three other Cleaners online to take the fight to the Ridden, but don’t go out all guns blazing, otherwise, that’s exactly how you’ll go out. You need a strategy.
As Cleaner’s move from place to place, danger is around every corner, and you generally only get a couple of chances to come back from near-death before a game over hits. With this in mind, every action counts. Yes, you can revive downed teammates before they cost you a precious life, but that leaves you vulnerable to attack, so the balance between offense and defense needs to be communicated and understood in stressful situations such as these.
Simply reloading at the wrong time could be the difference between a last-minute revival on the road to relative safety and a complete squad wipeout that leaves the team in pieces both figuratively and literally. This is where Back 4 Blood most epitomizes the essence of a ‘survival horror’. While the focus is primarily on hi-octane shootouts, in many of the game’s sieges against the Ridden, Cleaners often have to hold out in a small space against a horde of Ridden in all their gruesome varieties. There are too many places they could attack from, the room to escape is minimal, and you only have so much ammo.
This scenario brings to mind the sieges of games like Resident Evil 4. Every small sigh of relief as the grisly wave of infected subsides for a brief moment is tempered by the dread of knowing the next wave is incoming, and everyone’s health is looking a little too low to make it through another onslaught. You feel like you’re really up against it in these moments, but a well-oiled team can push past it and live to survive another day. There’s not a better feeling in Back 4 Blood than standing tall over piled Ridden corpses after surviving one of the game’s set-piece sieges.
Then there’s that last dash to the safe room that ends a chapter. Back 4 Blood pounces on the player almost as soon as it announces the safe room as the next objective, effectively ringing the dinner bell for The Ridden. As the monsters gain on the Cleaners in greater numbers, keeping the group tight and in constant communication will boost the chances of everyone walking through that safe room door, but a time will come where someone gets caught out. Perhaps they walked into a dead end with a group of Ridden hot on their heels. Maybe a Stinger Ridden was lurking in the shadows and caught one unlucky soul in its phlegmy web. Now the rest of the team has a choice. Go back and free their downed Cleaner compatriot and risk dooming the escape for everyone? Or cut their losses and slam the door on them?
That’s the cruel reality of survival in a post-apocalyptic world. You can’t save everybody, and sometimes decisions need to be made for the benefit of the group rather than the individual. Those left behind might make it to the door on their own in the right circumstances, but the last place you want to be in the world of Back 4 Blood is on your own.
The Cleaners all have their particular skills they bring to the table, and understanding them will enhance teamwork and help keep everyone alive a bit longer. Who knows when you might need the extra life or instant revival that Mom brings, or Karlee’s ability to see hazards? Every tool that stacks the deck a little closer to your favor, which is fitting given Back 4 Blood literally does have a deck to stack.
The card system in Back 4 Blood gives players the opportunity to build decks of beneficial boosts that are drawn at the end of each section. These can allow for extra stamina, health, weapon damage, and more, giving players a leg up for the troubles ahead. Of course, it’s not all in the player’s favor, as Back 4 Blood entices players into peril with the countering Corruption card, which offers alluring rewards for even more dangerous stakes.
That risk and reward dynamic is the beauty of any horror game experience. The thrill of it comes from the gamble. You may earn something that helps make the game a bit easier if you go out of your way to look for it, but that way is undoubtedly going to be a drain on your resources, and from there, it’s so easy for things to go horribly wrong. Sometimes, risking certain death in the short term can benefit the long term.
Horror gaming can be a lonely, brutal experience, so there’s a comfort to be found in a game like Back 4 Blood where friends can share the experience. It’s still going to be tough out there, but at least you might have someone watching your back as the ammo runs low and the Ridden close in.