Sometimes even an original game idea can follow a formula so closely, it gives off an undeniable feeling of déjà vu. That's not necessarily a bad thing though, a point Back 4 Blood proves with ease. While the game isn't technically a sequel or reboot of Turtle Rock's previous Left 4 Dead games, it shares a lot of its gameplay DNA with the classic hit series. Four Cleaners still team up to fight back hordes of grotesque zombie-like Ridden mutants and make their way to intermittent safe rooms where they can regroup, restock, and head out further into the fray. Even the Ridden enemies give off a sense of Left 4 Dead familiarity, with creatures that explode into gaseous clouds, creatures that grab and strangle players, and behemoth bruisers that wreak massive destruction. Back 4 Blood even features a nebulous AI "Director" that adjusts certain gameplay elements on the fly like enemy spawn points, item locations, difficulty, and more, all based on player actions and designed to keep each playthrough different and challenging.
In spite of all the similarities, Back 4 Blood has more than a few tricks up its sleeve to stand out from under that long Left 4 Dead shadow. One big change is the addition of card-based power ups. Players build decks of cards that are pulled from at the start of each act, adding new abilities or other gameplay modifiers that can help to turn the tide of battle. Players also earn and pick up currency in the game, which can be used at the start of each round in the saferoom's shop to arm themselves with some of their favorite weapons and attachments, as well as some personal and team upgrades. Multiplayer, a key component, tends to run the spectrum between really good and, well, not so great. It all depends on the teammates that pop into the game. If you're not on a private match, it's possible for players to join that, at best, might not be the best team players or, at worst, are just trolling to ruin a game. While this can be a risk in many multiplayer games, the focus on teamwork in Back 4 Blood makes this all the more frustrating when it happens. But if you luck out and find a group that gels together well or, better still, you can get a group of friends together, Back 4 Blood is a fantastically frantic and fun first-person co-op shooter that's hard to put down.