My Thoughts on Back4Blood's Closed Alpha

So I got to participate in Back4Blood's Closed Alpha. If you don't already know, Back4Blood (B4B) is a game being developed by Turtle Rock Studios, the same people that brought us Left 4 Dead 1, and is a spiritual successor in a way. I like to look at it as a modernized version of L4D, although that isn't entirely positive. Now, obviously, since this is an Alpha, the game is far from finished, and I only had access to one campaign. There's no NDA, so I'm free to talk about this however I like, which means I will be critical about it. At the end I'll include in a quote my exact feedback sent to TRS, and it'll act as a sort of tl;dr for this article, even though it's long on its own, and I will touch on things here I forgot to mention when I sent that feedback, so I still recommend you read this if you want my full thoughts.

If you think I compare this game to L4D too often, well, tough shit. The game is called “Back4Blood”, which is a very obvious callback to Left 4 Dead, having the number replace the word, and also somewhat symbolizing TRS's return, and it's also being heavily marketed as a spiritual successor to L4D. The devs are doing it, so I will too.

First thing I'll touch on is my past experience with L4D and playtesting, just to give you an idea of who I am if this is all you've seen from me. I've played both L4D1 and L4D2 extensively, fully completed both games's campaigns on at least Advanced difficulty, and played a lot of survival with friends on Normal and Advanced. My total playtime between the two games comes to about 337 hours, not as much as many other L4D players, but I'd say it's a good amount, and I love the games either way. My experience with playtesting is much wider, I've playtested for both small and large projects, most notably 343i's Halo Insider program. I always ensure to read my own feedback carefully to ensure it's as easy to understand as possible, and I value getting responses on it.

Now that you know my experience, I'll get started proper.

Visibility

The visibility of important things isn't good enough. As it is now there's only outlines/highlights on other players, and items once you're close enough to pick them up, and for everything else? Tiny, white, easy to miss waypoints that don't scale with distance. Outlines on items should be seen from a small distance, not when you're right up against the item, and give important waypoints an outline once you're close to the object you need to get to, like a door or something.

The UI is somewhat forgivable since it's an alpha, but the in-game HUD isn't, this should've been the easiest one to do. My issues are visibility here, not overall design aesthetic, that I don't really care about. Your health is always a white bar with a white number above it, no color. When you're low it flashes red, but in my experience by the time it gets that low it's already too late for you to notice and you'll go down immediately after seeing it. I have no idea if temporary health works the same way as somehow, in my playthroughs, I never had any. Still not sure how, other than I never bought pills, I always got a medkit or bandage instead. Health should still be colored no matter what for this kind of game in my opinion, it catches your attention by going from green to yellow when you're at a midway point of your health, and red when critical, easy. Either way, that's my main gripe with the in-game HUD right now. Other than that, it's fine, could be a little bigger.

Survivors

These survivors are terrible. They're not nearly as memorable as the L4D cast, spout random one-liners during gameplay, and don't even really introduce themselves to each other. They're just a random group of people to me, not real characters. I know it's an alpha with only one campaign, which might not even be the first one in the story, but come on, first impressions are everything, right? I don't even remember their names other than Holly and Walker. Their overall design? I'm okay with them, they look nice, but they need way more personality.

Infected

Common infected, or the Ridden, are incredibly bland. Not even by a zombie standard, just the variation of what you see. Add more variety to their clothing, build, and whatnot. They look like the same model with about 4 different clothing choices.

Special infected, or mutated, whatever you like to call them, are cool in design, but their functions are very confusing. The Snitch is the worst in my opinion. The devs already tried a similar idea with the Screamer in L4D1, which was cut because it wasn't fun chasing down a single zombie to stop a horde from coming, especially if there already was a horde, so why implement a zombie that summons a horde if you shoot it, while it's almost indistinguishable from the rest of the horde that's rushing towards you? Both are bad ideas, and the Snitch needs a rework.

The Ogre, aka B4B's Tank, is worthless. The Tank is reasonably sized for the mutation it has in a human, so why is the Ogre the size of a building? Better yet, the Tank can actually be killed even if you still only have basic weapons, while the Ogre is basically a game over if you try to fight it with basic weapons, which are hard to get better ones of in the first place. Overall, worst infected in my opinion, needs to be nerfed severely if you want to make it even nearly as memorable as the Tank was.

Supplies & Currency

This kills the game for me, it really does. In L4D you can find weapons and supplies in buildings if you look around and take your time. In B4B, the most you'll ever find is Copper, the in-game currency. I can count on one hand the amount of times I found any helpful non-weapon supplies outside of the shops in saferooms. Guess how many times that was? Once. One medkit, at the beginning of the campaign, and I was searching buildings a lot. The times I found weaponry or ammo? Two or three times over the course of a 4 map campaign, only finding them by the third map, and they weren't even better than the weapons I started with. Once, I had a glock my teammate gave me, then later on, found an identical glock, but it was full-auto instead of semi-auto. That makes no sense realistically, wouldn't my identical glock just be able to switch fire modes?

This game relies on the currency system too much, it expects you to buy most of your supplies with the Copper you find around the maps, which might I add, don't even drop from killing infected. If you're going to rely on it this much, and have the currency total shared by the whole team, make it more common.

Obviously, the better direction to go is how L4D's Director AI populated the maps with supplies accordingly with how well survivors are doing, with the currency being a supplement to that, but hey, what do I know, right? I just play games, I don't make them! (if you can't tell this is sarcasm)

The Director AI

Here we are, the Director AI. It was done so well in L4D, so why does it feel like it's not even a thing here when you're marketing it so hard? Really, I can't even tell if there really is a Director AI here. This is tech from 2008, and it's still better? I know they can't just reuse L4D's because it's not only owned by Valve, but is written with the Source engine in mind and not UE4, but still, I expect code written in 2018-2020 to be at the very least on par with something written in 2006-2008.

General Polish

This game is unpolished and just looks bad. The animations don't blend together like they could in L4D thanks to Source, the hair on the characters glow because they don't even get any blood on them, and I had trouble climbing down a ladder because of how clunky it was, one of my teammates even fell and got downed because of it! I understand that this is an alpha and these should be addressed after it's released, but that's supposedly only 6 months from now. That's a lot of crunch time to fix everything being reported, don't you think?

tl;dr/feedback sent to TRS directly

Overall, a fine game. I had fun, but a lot of it is bogged down by confusing mechanics, bad ideas, and general polish being pretty poor, even for an alpha.

I'd definitely try to massively improve on visibility of important things, such as pickups, shops, and other things, and try to lessen the amount of movement inhibitions and annoying horde summoners (like doors) and try to spread those out in the campaigns.

The common infected, or whatever it is you call them in this game, are incredibly bland, at least try to make them more varied if you're making them look less human. Special infected are kind of cool, but they're not that “special” in my opinion. They're so far gone that they have no personality. The ogre boss feels pointless because you have no chance against it with basic weapons, whereas the Tank in L4D could still be taken care of with the tier 1 weapons.

The survivors, please make them more interesting. You had a great cast in L4D, they synergized well with each other's personalities. These characters feel bland and constantly spout one-liners that aren't even that funny. I'm not saying copy what you did in L4D, but I am saying there's a lot of room to improve on these characters and their memorability. I almost forgot to even write this because I forgot all about the characters after I closed the game, I don't even know their names!

Oh, and make an actual Director AI, I could barely even tell there was one, and that's not a good thing. Give proper sound cues, actual downtime in the map, and more weapons and supplies in the map. Supplies shouldn't be only bought with copper, make that a supplement to what we can find in the maps.

Well, those are my thoughts. As always, if you have something to say about this blog post, or just wish to chat with me, I can be found over on Mastodon, or you can send an email to voidthoughts@gmx.us. I hope you enjoyed reading, and have a good day!