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Players aim at a Retch in a screenshot from Back 4 Blood. Image: Turtle Rock Studios/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

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Back 4 Blood is the best-case scenario for Xbox Game Pass

Back 4 Blood deserves to be the next big Game Pass hit

Ryan Gilliam (he/him) has worked at Polygon for nearly seven years. He primarily spends his time writing guides for massively popular games like Diablo 4 & Destiny 2.

Microsoft has established Xbox Game Pass as an excellent service. It provides one of the best values for gamers, it guarantees that money goes into the hands of developers, and it’s a great way to keep players in the Xbox ecosystem for Microsoft. As the company has expanded its acquisition efforts, it’s also providing players easy access to some of the best games the day they launch, like Psychonauts 2 and Ori and the Will of the Wisps. Back 4 Blood is a game I didn’t believe in — something I was positive I didn’t want all these years later. But it turned out to be one of 2021’s best surprises, and that makes it the perfect Game Pass title.

Game Pass works for a variety of reasons. It exposes players to older, backward-compatible games like Fable. It also gives players the chance to sample games they weren’t confident buying — something like Outer Wilds, for instance, whose complexities were not easy to market, but ended up propelling it to Polygon’s No. 1 spot in our end-of-year awards. It serves games with no name recognition because players who are already subscribed can jump straight in with no penalty — kind of like how a Korean show called Squid Game can just show up on Netflix one day and explode. Lastly, Game Pass gives players the freedom to dive in and out of games with zero financial pressure, outside of the subscription cost.

But what about games players are skeptical about? Or games that, like Back 4 Blood, didn’t impress during beta?

As a multiplayer zombie game that’s fine in solo but excels in co-op, Back 4 Blood needs return players in order to thrive. There’s always a risk with multiplayer games that their player base dies out. And with so much competition in the genre, there was always potential that Back 4 Blood would be dead on arrival. As someone who didn’t enjoy Back 4 Blood’s beta — and spoke to others turned off by the game’s vanilla opening levels — it’s the fate I expected for the game.

But Game Pass essentially guarantees a player base while the game is on the service. With games that have crossplay, like Back 4 Blood (or an earlier Game Pass success, People Can Fly’s Outriders), it can benefit the player base on PlayStation and PC. When one friend begs another to install it and try to relive those Left 4 Dead glory days, it’s hard to say no when the barrier to entry is a simple download. If the game isn’t for you, you delete it off your console in seconds and download something else in the service’s massive library. But if, like Back 4 Blood’s, the game turns out to be great, you’ve accidentally stumbled into something that can keep you and your friends busy for weeks. Nobody loses, everybody wins.

And in this Game Pass equation, nobody wins quite as much as Turtle Rock Studios. Back 4 Blood is a spiritual successor to Left 4 Dead, and it’s built by the same people — but it’s still a new property. There’s a good chance the average player has no idea it’s the same studio behind Left 4 Dead — if anything, they might remember Turtle Rock Studios as the company behind the far less successful, if mildly interesting, Evolve.

So, after being away for so long, and inspiring successful competitors like Warhammer: Vermintide 2, Turtle Rock Studios needed to prove that it was able to bottle that lightning again. Game Pass allows players to test the studio’s latest project without paying full price; It makes playing Back 4 Blood as simple as clicking on box art.

Time and money are always limited, but Game Pass, which has already proven to be a great investment to help you choose where to spend those two resources, is now even better because of Back 4 Blood — better for players, Turtle Rock, and Microsoft itself.