Back 4 Blood's PvP Swarm Is "A Very Snackable Game Mode," Says Executive Producer
Back 4 Blood will launch with both a four-player PvE campaign and four-vs-four PvP Swarm mode.
Ahead of the Back 4 Blood beta, we got to go hands-on with the upcoming cooperative zombie killing shooter from developer Turtle Rock. In our time with the game, we only got hands-on with the PvE campaign. But afterwards, I sat down with Turtle Rock executive producer Lianne Papp to talk about all aspects of Back 4 Blood, including its PvP Swarm mode, which Papp describes as "snackable" (a term I will be stealing and using to describe many games from now on).
Swarm mode is a best-of-three-rounds competition, in which two teams of four go up against one another. One side plays as the human Cleaners who need to survive as long as possible, while the other is composed of the zombie-like Ridden that must kill all the Cleaners as quickly as possible.
Between each round, teams switch sides and the winner is whichever team manages to get the best score. According to Papp, there's no concrete time limit to the rounds. Theoretically, they could go on for a very long time. But the mode remains a snackable escape because rounds are designed to prevent the overall matches from going on too long.
"As the Cleaners, you're in this arena that's constantly shrinking and so you have a little bit of a time limit from the standpoint that it's going to get so tiny that it's just absolute chaos if you're still alive," Papp told me.
"We like [Swarm's] format a lot. I stole this term from someone else in the industry and I'm going to make it a thing because I love it. It's a very 'snackable' game mode. You can just jump in, play those rounds, and you're done. And it can be anywhere from five minutes--if you're very unevenly matched--to 15 minutes."
The overall design of each PvP map helps in this regard as well. According to Papp, the team was "very intentional about what maps can actually be played in PvP," ensuring that the Cleaners will eventually be overrun and defeated by the Ridden despite their best efforts.
At launch, all players will be paired together, as Back 4 Blood will not launch with a separate ranked playlist. You have the option of playing PvE or PvP, and that's it. Back 4 Blood will support cross-play at launch too, putting all players into the same PvP pot, even across console and PC.
"By default, if you leave everything the way that we have it, you will cross-play with everyone," Papp said. "So that's current gen--Xbox One, PS4--and next gen. You can choose to turn that off if you want. We do mix [console players] into the PC pool as well--we went ahead and made it one big pot--but if you want to turn that off, you absolutely can."
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If jumping into PvP seems intimidating, or it's just not what you want from a cooperative zombie-killing game, you don't have to engage with it. It's completely optional and Turtle Rock hasn't tied any of Back 4 Blood's narrative elements to it. "[Swarm] is just a game mode," Papp said. "[It's] more focused on getting in and destroying each other."
Instead, the overall narrative of Back 4 Blood plays out in the PvE campaign. Similar to games like Left 4 Dead (which Turtle Rock also developed) and World War Z, Back 4 Blood doesn't primarily deliver its narrative through traditional cutscenes. The game seems to use emergent storytelling, relying on dialogue between the characters and details in the environment to paint a picture of what's going on. "We don't want to take control away from the player, force the game to pause, and have you watch a whole cinematic," Papp said.
When we played Back 4 Blood during the preview, we noticed that this meant there wasn't much feeling of camaraderie between the playable characters--in the first few levels anyway, there were no substantial character arcs or noteworthy developments in interpersonal relationships. The characters felt a little flat and stereotypically generic for the zombie-killing game genre--they mostly spouted one-liners at each other or apologized for accidentally shooting their teammates in the back of the head.
But where the individual Cleaners fall short, the world delivers. Back 4 Blood's environments are full of details to unearth. There's graffiti to notice, random notes to look over, safe houses to explore. And these details translate into worthwhile information that informs the gameplay, rewarding you for taking the time to pay attention. As an example, we finished a level by reaching a small safehouse that had a crude drawing of an Ogre on the wall, with painted warnings of where a previous group of survivors had run into it. The miniboss appeared in the next level, but we were prepared for it because we saw the graffiti and heeded the warnings.
Intriguingly, Papp teased that Back 4 Blood will go beyond the character dialogue and world details to tell its story but would not reveal what that might look like. "There will be more to the storytelling--we won't go into details now, you'll have to see at launch--but it's mostly through dialogue," she said.
We won't have too much longer to wait to see what Papp means. Back 4 Blood is scheduled to launch for Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, and PC on October 12. The game will also be available on Xbox Game Pass on day one.
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