This article contains spoilers for Left 4 Dead 1 and 2 (that Back 4 Blood will hopefully crib tactfully).
Pride comes before a fall, and in the case of Back 4 Blood’s zombie-blasting Cleaners, I have high hopes they’ll trip over their shoelaces and tumble into the abyss. That’s not (just) spite talking, though Turtle Rock’s claim that, “The immunity gives the main characters a sense of bravado and confidence that normal folks don’t have,” could be a sneaky little red flag.
No, the real reason I want to see the Cleaners’ world turned upside down is that, since Left 4 Dead’s big twist was so unsettling, it’s only fair that its successor Back 4 Blood drops an equally game-changing bombshell.
“Hang on,” you might be thinking, “… what twist?” In truth, the twist of Left 4 Dead was only hinted at in the game itself, and it wasn’t until the release of The Sacrifice, the official L4D digital comic, that it was confirmed. But it rewrote the survivors’ role in such a way that it gave me pause for thought every time I picked up the joypad afterward.
If you’ve never played Left 4 Dead, you’re seriously missing out, particularly since it supports offline play and couch co-op (unlike Back 4 Blood). You play as one of four survivors who, working as a team, have to make their way across several zombie-infested zones, each split into sub-areas. Just when they’re about to be rescued, they encounter some misfortune, a helicopter pilot turning into a zombie or a plane crashing, something that forces them to traipse through the next zone. Their bad luck is almost comical — except that The Sacrifice confirms it’s no coincidence this keeps happening to the survivors.
Left 4 Dead’s gut-wrenching twist is that the survivors aren’t immune; they’re carriers who’ve been spreading an airborne variant of the virus. It’s a twisted stroke of genius, explaining both their resistance to zombie bites and their continued “bad luck.” But the more you dwell on it, the more disturbing this becomes (and also distressingly relevant given the current pandemic).
All the time you’ve been merrily blasting away, you’ve been infecting others. They may not have been responsible for igniting the initial apocalypse, but just how many of Pennsylvania’s residents joined the ranks of the undead when Zoey, Francis, Bill, and Louis passed through?
That one twist reframes the whole game and not just because your entire team are roaming disease vectors. Short of setting up house with Left 4 Dead 2‘s group or wearing hazmat suits for the rest of their lives, your survivors will never be able to rejoin human society. Whenever I replay Left 4 Dead I’m acutely aware I’m not leading them to safety and sanity — just to a place where they can be marginally less miserable. If the world somehow, miraculously returns to something approaching normal, they’re always going to be outsiders.
Back 4 Blood is technically a new series, even though Turtle Rock Studios was behind Left 4 Dead 1 and 2 as well (and Evolve, but the less said about that the better). And the fact it deals with parasites rather than a virus makes it tougher to take the same tack, but it wouldn’t be a proper zombie story without a sizable helping of gloom.
If Back 4 Blood really intends to take Left 4 Dead’s bloody baton, a game-changing twist should definitely be in the cards, one that has you setting down your controller and gawping at the screen for a good few minutes. But factoring in Left 4 Dead’s revelation, Back 4 Blood will really have to work hard to achieve that same chilling effect.