Pick a card, any card! With living dead blaster Back 4 Blood out this month, we speak with the game’s executive producer, Lianne Papp, about how a card system and the benefit of time is injecting new life into a popular undead formula.

Words: Stephen Farrelly

“From the creators of Left 4 Dead”. It’s certainly a statement that holds weight – something Warner Bros. Games is banking on with what can be comfortably described as a spiritual successor to Left 4 Dead.

“With Back 4 Blood, the stars kind of aligned,” enthuses Turtle Rock Studios’ Papp, when we ask just how this new venture came about. “We got an opportunity to work with Warner Bros. Games on a title and they were interested in working with us on a zombie shooter, which is something that we’d been wanting to do. So, everything has been focused on making Back 4 Blood as fun and awesome as it can be – we’re drawing from our experiences both as professional game developers and as gamers who play a lot of games.”

There’s a lot to be said about taking lessons from the past, but there’s also something to be said about making a new mark. Back 4 Blood, while principally similar to Left 4 Dead, is a game with an emphatic new lease on life. It’s still a four-player co-operative experience with a campaign, nestled alongside an eight-player PvP mode, and there’s still an AI Director. But Back 4 Blood is anything but a carbon copy of its legacy roots.

“Back 4 Blood, while principally similar to Left 4 Dead, is a game with an emphatic new lease on life.”

“Our goal is to make Back 4 Blood stand on its own,” Lianne asserts. “So, one of the big things that was important for us was ensuring that killing the ‘ridden’ was fun. That means that the gunplay has to feel good, the animations when you’re killing them as you’re going through the maps — that has to feel good. The world has to feel rich…

“What we’ve really focused on is ensuring that the things we’re working on and that we’re pushing for feel good for the title, and are as good as they can be,” she continues. “We have three things that we feel are very important: the first is co-operative gameplay. So, a lot of the decisions that we make as to what you can do… are to push towards that co-operative emphasis; to help encourage it so that you know that you as a ‘lone wolf’ can’t just run ahead.

“The second thing we wanted to emphasise was replayability. When you look back at some of our other titles, you have fond memories of playing them over and over with friends. So, we wanted to make sure that this game felt something like that, but we wanted to add a bit more. So that’s where the Card System was born. There’s a lot of customisation where you can create different decks – different Corruption cards that can be thrown at you by the Director, and then there’s that, the Game Director itself, helping with replayability.

“The last piece that was really important to us was the idea of accessibility,” Lianne concludes. “There are a lot of games where you’ll be 200 or 300 hours in and you’ll have access to certain maps and items, but, if you ask me to join you, I can’t necessarily join right away because of where I’m at in the game. That’s something that’s bad in games that are supposed to be co-operative. So, that was something we wanted to avoid, and the idea of the decks is that many of the cards benefit the team as a whole. So, I can join you on one of your campaign runs and, even though I might only have starter cards, I can still benefit from what you have and we can have fun and experience the game together.”

Back 4 Blood launches for PS5, Xbox Series X|S and PS4 on October 12. Pre-order now at JB Hi-Fi.

Back 4 Blood predecessor Left 4 Dead introduced the “AI Director”, a system by which the game forewent baked-in enemy spawn points, electing instead to dynamically place various enemy types based on the progress and status of the player. It felt like the game was always out to get you, and it was personal!