Zombie Army 4: Dead War is zombie-slaying fun at it’s finest, especially in co-op.
- Developer: Rebellion
- Publisher: Rebellion
- Release date: 4th February 2020
- Genre: 3rd Person Shooter
- Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, Windows PC (Switch coming soon)
- Reviewed on: Xbox One X
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
Zombie Army began as an offshoot of the Sniper Elite franchise, taking the slow-paced sniping and stealth action and placing it into a much faster-paced zombie slaughtering environment. It is set in an alternate history version of the world, one where Hitler has unleashed hordes of zombies when it became apparent he was going to lose the war. Combining the excellent gunplay of Sniper Elite with zombies worked surprisingly well, and eventually ended with a trilogy of Zombie Army games. Thanks to largely positive critic and player reception, we now have Zombie Army 4.
So, is it any good?
When gameplay revolves around putting bullets into the brains of hordes of the living dead, replete with perks, powerups and high-score leaderboards, you would likely assume the plot wouldn’t be too cerebral, and you’d be right. The storyline picks up five years after the events of Zombie Army Trilogy, and Hitler, who was dead, and then resurrected as Zombie Hitler, is dead. Proper dead this time. He is no more. He has ceased to be. He is bereft of life. He is an ex-Fuhrer.
That hasn’t stopped his undead hordes from continuing their murderous rampage, though. Your continuing journey to discover where they are coming from and uncover the secrets of their nefarious occult plan will take you through the war-torn streets of Europe, strolling through the cities, exploring the train station, cruising down the canals of Venice, or just having a nice day out at the (zombie) zoo. If it weren’t for the hordes of undead that you must continuously dispatch before they have a chance to turn your brains into a nutritious snack, it would sound like a great holiday.
Setting about sending these lumbering ghouls back to hell is simple, fun and deliciously ridiculous at times. Playable solo or cooperatively with up to three others, Zombie Army 4 offers the same process of ‘run, kill, reload, repeat’, regardless of whether you are alone or not, however; despite playing exactly the same in either case, albeit with lots more zombies in co-op, it offers a distinctly different feel, depending on whether you take on the zombies with or without fellow survivors.
Playing solo, the creepiness gets knocked up a notch, and the tension of holding off a horde while trying to stay aware of zombies shuffling in from your flanks or behind you builds palpable fear. There are plenty of ammo pickups to find, which is handy because blasting through hundreds of zombies drains your arsenal surprisingly quickly. Unfortunately, reaching these pickups in the heat of battle can become a harrowing experience, as you find yourself reduced to your trusty sidearm, with the relentlessly encroaching masses drawing ever closer.
When you are with your friends (or random strangers, we won’t judge), the previously tense gameplay is supplanted by the competitive nature of co-op. Attempting to kill more zombies than your comrades can bring about some of the more humorous scenarios Zombie Army 4 has to offer. Do you revive your high-scoring friend who has been downed by the zombies, or do you claim you can’t get to them in time? There’s no friendly fire, but if one of your teammates were to distractedly linger under that huge suspended crate of armaments that you can send plummeting to the ground with a well-placed shot, rendering anything underneath as flat as the proverbial pancake, or were they to wander just that little bit too close to those flesh-mincing swirly fan blades of death on that player triggered trap… well, accidents happen, right?… If they see the funny side of it, everyone can have a good laugh together, and if not, you may be one friend fewer, but at least you can lay claim to having had the literal last laugh.
Shooting your way through the meaty, brains filled campaign will give you a solid chunk of gameplay, and factoring in replaying missions, especially in co-op, you can get endless hours of fun. If you’ve had your fill of the campaign, though, then you also have the excellent Horde mode to sink your teeth into. Taking inspiration from Call of Duty Zombies, game maps expand as you survive more and more waves. Weapons also are tied into progression, with better, more powerful weapons being drip-fed to you as the hordes grow in size. It’s a fully fleshed-out mode in and of itself, and if you are the type of player who never tires of mowing down thousands upon thousands of zombies – thanks in particular to all the perks and upgrades available – Zombie Army 4 is the kind of game you will find yourself picking up and returning to for months on end.
In terms of characters, we see the return of many favourites(?) such as the explosive device wearing Suiciders, but also some new enemies and variants. Regular zombies have different movement types and speeds, ranging from slow-moving shuffles to a jolly jaunt. In small numbers, at a distance, lining up headshots is easy, and you can rack up some impressive combos. As quickly as you can kill them, though, another groans its way in to replace it, and what begins as a brain-busting shooting gallery can swiftly turn into a desperate attempt to fend off steadily advancing doom.
The huge, lumbering heavy units now come wielding flamethrowers that you have to shoot on their backs, whilst others carry machine guns or even chainsaws. Their slow-moving approach belies their danger, as by the time you have almost killed them they can be right on top of you. Zombie snipers and rocket snipers rain down hellfire from the rooftops, and if that isn’t bad enough, the undead Nazi army now has zombie tanks, with squishy, flesh filled innards encased in the usual tank armour. To take these down, you’ll have to locate the pulsating heart and sink a garrison’s worth of ammo into it to bring it down.
Unlike the previous Zombie Army games, Dead War has fully embraced its arcade-like sensibilities. Level progression allows you to unlock new skins for your character and weapons, as well as to unlock modifications to your weapons and a multitude of perks that can be further bolstered by completing challenges relating to the abilities it grants you. Want to level up the heavy mounted weapon perk? Get loads of mounted weapon kills. Need to level up the health reviving perk? Try to survive a level without dropping below half-health.
It’s this progression system that makes Zombie Army 4 so much fun to keep going back to. Whether you want to seek out all of the collectables and find the weapon upgrade perks so you can start on your weapon mastery, or you are trying to build the biggest combo possible as you take on your friends on the leaderboards, there is always something giving you rewards or progression updates. This reward/progression system is highly addictive, and it’s perfectly balanced. You can play for ten minutes, have a great time doing it, yet still feel like you’ve made some meaningful progress. At the same time, if you want to put in several hours of play, shooting zombies in the head rarely becomes tedious.
When it comes to ways of offing zombies, there aren’t as many different primary weapons as in the previous games, but this is offset by the large number of weapon upgrades and temporary power-ups like the electro-shot attachment. They have also added electro and fire variants to the usual stalwarts of thrown and planted explosives, and each has its own tactical advantage.
Your starting loadout allows you to choose your rifle of choice, each with its own strengths and weakness (the latter can be remedied with perks). The most powerful rifles have better range and less bullet drop, but take a long time to reload and have small magazines; while the semi-automatic Geweher, for example, fires much more rapidly and has an upgradeable ten-round magazine, but does a lot less damage.
Secondary weapons are a choice between trench guns (shotgun to you and me) or submachine guns. Considering when you need to use these it’s because you are surrounded by the undead and/or out of rifle ammo, the punch of the trench gun is the best choice for powering your way out of becoming zombie chow. The SMGs are ok, but the erratic spread of bullets and lack of potency will see you running out of ammo long before you run out of zombies to kill.
Finally, you have your pistol. It’s not quite as useless as in the previous games, and thanks to a nifty ability that lets you rapidly chain a quick succession of headshots together, it can get you out of some perilous situations. If you are in a situation when you are reliant on it then it’s a fairly safe bet that the proverbial excrement has hit the rapidly rotating blades of the fan.
The movement of enemy characters is generally very good, and they have perfectly encapsulated almost every trope of zombie movement you can imagine. Shuffling, crawling, shambling, lumbering, staggering, running, leaping, falling… If you can imagine a zombie doing it, it’s probably going to make an appearance. But, while enemy movement is good, your character’s movement is a little clunky. Animations all look good, but moving your character around the map can be a bit inaccurate, making navigation a little treacherous. It’s all too easy to overshoot the supply boxes you are running to or fall off a bridge you are crossing, or bumble ineffectively into walls while trying to climb a ladder. Considering the excellent shooting mechanics, it’s a little disappointing that your movement lacks polish. The extent to which everything else is refined and improved only serves to make this stand out even more. That being said, it’s certainly not game-breaking, and if the only thing to really complain about is slightly clunky character movement, it’s not the end of the world.
The gameplay isn’t the only thing to have been vastly improved over Zombie Army’s predecessors. Graphically, Rebellion has done an amazing job, especially on the generational refresh consoles, the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro. The Xbox One X, which we are reviewing it on, offers a gorgeous, high-resolution, HDR enhanced visual feast for your eyes. Character models are highly detailed, and environments are richly filled with decorations, while the welcome return of the x-ray kill-cam provides gloriously gory slow-mo views of your shots obliterating the skulls and body parts of your undead nemeses. Given the often fast-paced aiming and shooting required, you’ll be glad to know that there is also a performance mode, which drops the resolution down in exchange for super-smooth 60fps gameplay. Whether you prefer sumptuous visual over smoother frames is a matter of personal preference, of course, but in my opinion, the enhanced graphics are a clear winner here.
The audio follows suit again, with the synth-tastic ‘80s schlock horror vibe permeating through to the excellent soundtrack. Sinister and bassy, the music provides a suitably fitting backdrop to the gory, arcade-like trappings of Zombie Army 4: Dead War. Guns are noisy, and explosives rumble, and the sickening crunch and squelch as your bullets rend through flesh and bone fills you with disgust/glee (delete as appropriate). The penetrating groans of the zombies build from a passive indicator of nearby danger to a cacophony of brain-hungry zombies. Surround sound is handled fantastically well – prepare to jump out of your skin if a zombie manages to sneak up behind you, uttering a guttural groan just before it lurches towards you.
Zombie Army 4: Dead War has surprised me in so many ways. It looks amazing, production values are excellent, and the shooting mechanics are outstanding, but it also manages to remain fun tens of hours down the line, and the great progression system means you always have something to strive towards. Where the previous games were entertaining in small doses, this is a game I can envision myself coming back to again and again.