It’s October and that is the perfect time for the new zombie FPS, Back 4 Blood, to be released on Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PS5, and PC. Created by the developers of Left for Dead, this is a game I have been highly anticipating testing because Left for Dead is a game I hold very dear to my heart and thanks to Game Pass, I was able to play it on day 1. Growing up, before the ongoing prevalence of accessibility options in gaming, I would often play Left for Dead with my friends without the use of any accessibility features such as aim assist, TTS menus, or even headphones to plug in; it was only the amazing sound design of Left for Dead that allowed me to play semi-independently. 15 years later, I am excited to share my experience playing Back 4 Blood and to highlight the great, good, and the bad.
Does Back 4 Blood Have Text to Speech?
Yes, Back 4 Blood has text to speech, but primarily in the menus only. In fact, upon loading the game, there is a prompt that tells you how to log in, and then how to turn on menu narration. A few years ago blind gamers were asking if a game has TTS menus, but now I believe we are entering the territory of asking, “Is this TTS sufficient for me to hear and navigate text on the screen?” That is something only you can answer, but this is what I can let you know.
Text to Speech Pros
TTS is very much responsive and snappy, unlike the TTS in Minecraft dungeons, which often does not allow the TTS to be interrupted, resulting in frequent periods of time being spent in inventory menus attempting to read everything. There are occasional moments, however, where the TTS in Back 4 Blood will not read whatever I scrolled over, causing me to have to refocus on what I skipped. During the beta of Back 4 Blood, TTS did not read character cards and other modifiers before starting a chapter. I’m pleased to note that TTS now does accurately read cards, which gives me hope that accessibility is an ongoing priority for the Back 4 Blood team.
Text to Speech Cons
As with closed captions, users will have their own preferences and the same can be said for TTS. Unfortunately, there are very few options to adjust the TTS in any way, with the one exception being the ability to change between a male and female TTS. I find this to be an interesting design choice to take priority over something like TTS speed, which would have been much appreciated while playing. Another con I noticed was that the TTS did not always read details such as stats or additional info, which lead me to simply pick a character based on their name and voice only, rather than the one that would have been best for my play style. The TTS overall is difficult to understand and frequently mispronounces basic words. Lastly, all other HUD and objective notifications are in fact not read by TTS, which is always a major downside for blind players, as they provide useful information on what to do or where to go.
Navigation and Gameplay
There is not much to report as far as navigation accessibility unfortunately, but there are a few gameplay options that are worth knowing about.
Navigation and Gameplay Pros
Notable game options are aim assist, with a slider that allows the player to adjust how strong they want it to be, 10 being quite strong, as well as toggles for auto reload, adjusting vertical and horizontal sensitivity, color blind mode, and motion blur options.
Navigation and Gameplay Cons
Currently, Back 4 Blood is completely inaccessible when it comes to navigating independently, but it actually wasn’t like this during the beta. During the beta, there was an option to turn on take a break mode, which gave the player the option to go AFK during a game and have a CPU take over until you returned. This feature would have been extremely useful for blind gamers, as it would allow us to navigate through difficult areas, recenter the vertical orientation, and generally be less of a burden on the rest of the team. This is an option I sincerely hope returns in the form of a patch because it is essential for blind gamers to enjoy the game. According to a few commenters on a steam forum, the take a break option was remove due to a glitch in the way they operated, but no other official reason was found. One last shortcoming is the lack of camera centering, which automatically centers the vertical orientation on the camera, making it easier for blind gamers to know when they are shooting straight. This is a feature we have seen in Gears 5 while the player is running, and even better yet in Sea of Thieves, where the camera will recenter after 3 seconds of not touching it.
The sound design of Back 4 Blood is nothing to scoff at, with a wide range of audio sliders, headphone presets, and distinct and realistic sounds when playing. What I was absolutely thrilled by was is how each audio slider is set at 80%. I am a huge fan of this because what it does is not only allow users to turn down specific categories of sounds, but now they can also turn up sounds that help them. I specifically took advantage of this by turning up sound effects to 100%, which made it easier to hear zombie footsteps, murders of crows, and when I bashed in a zombie with my spiked bat.
Ultimately, there is a ton of potential for Back 4 Blood to be improved, even beyond its release date. I am confident that this will be a game worth playing for blind gamers if take a break returns as an option. Feel free to check out my live stream of me playing it for the first time on my Twitch if you want to experience the full process.