Back 4 Blood is out today, that new game from the original developers of Left 4 Dead that is definitely not Left 4 Dead 3, but is still about turning waves of zombies into splashes on the post-apocalyptic pavement as a co-op team. And yes, I still love it. It is fun. It is so much fun. When is this formula not fun? The release version is, in several respects, an improvement on the beta. The characters do more bantering, it has cinematic cutscenes, and if you have to play with bots those bots do not spend all their time shooting into the drywall. Tick, tick, tick.
But in playing the full game in context, with stuff like opening cinematics and tutorialising videos all embedded in it, something else has become clear: this game is peak early-00s cheese. Not just because many of the enemies have the same texture as a fully loaded pizza.
I consider this a statement delivered mostly for informational purposes. There is no moral weight inherent in my saying that. That's just what the game is like, and it's one of the things that makes Back 4 Blood different compared to other games of its type and, indeed, Left 4 Dead. If you were in school circa 2000-2008, consider that one dude. He started trying to grow a beard as soon as he could. He wore a beanie hat, and a hoodie for a band somewhere on the Linkin Park to DragonForce spectrum. Wallet chain optional but probable; ditto sweat band on at least one wrist regardless of whether he played guitar or not. Went to Download most years. That dude is now, like, 35 years old, and Back 4 Blood is his favourite game.
The tone of Left 4 Dead was always pretty neutral. Sure, it was a co-op zombie shooter, which is just not going to appeal to everyone, and it put bits of flavour into the character combat barks. But in Left 4 Dead neither the characters not the game itself ever spoke in the same expositional tone as Sylvester Stallone's character would use to give life advice to Jason Statham's character in a movie. But in Back 4 Blood the first cinematic contains the following dialogue exchange:
Bearded man in serious neogtiation over bag of supplies, under top-lighting from pool table lamps: "I'm done playing soldiers for him, and you should be too. Come on Chris, don't tell me you're still falling for his BS - especially after what happened to Jason."
Mom, strong mature woman character, pointing emphatically at bearded man: "Don't bring my son into this!"
[Bearded man is almost immediately killed by a single zombie, before you go on to mow hundreds of them down indiscriminately like a group of teens on the way to the big slide pushing every toddler they see into the pool]
It's not just the characters, either. Everything, from the marketing blurbs and promo screens to the in-game tutorials and tips, feels like if it were personified it would be a dude in a leather kutte saying Ritchiean one liners like "If the milk turns out to be sour, I ain't the kind of pussy to drink it." And you know what? Fuck it, man, I watched all of The Expandables movies, and the first one of those bastards came out in 2010. Who am I to roll my eyes when a tutorial video, apparently wholly unironically, uses the phrase "locked, cocked and ready to rock" in the year 2021? And Back 4 Blood has earned it; the guns feel fucking immaculate.
The tone is entirely consistent for the content of the game i.e. exploding zombs like over-ripe tomatoes. It won't be everyone's cup of tea, but personally I am a noted fan of tea, and in this case it would be thematically consistent to slip in a dash of something stronger and raise some goddamn hell.
Because that dude at school was also a cool guy! He didn't have any special beef with anyone, and on at least one occasion he got you a glass of water when you were throwing up but your mate was too busy necking someone else in a bush. "No worries," he said, before returning to the room where he and the rest of the metal-adjacent clique were drinking room-temperature cider and solemenly nodding along to Rammstein songs. Like Batman, but in Etnies. So here's to you, bro! I hope we run into each other in a game some time.