When I was younger, and I was first cutting my teeth on shooters, the two most acceptable enemy types were Nazis and zombies. It wasn’t controversial back then to want to shoot Nazis (and let’s face it, only Nazis think it’s controversial today) and since zombies don’t have any advocates, no one complains when you dismember the already dead. That’s why I was always surprised we didn’t see more Nazis AND zombies outside of Call of Duty game modes. It took a spin-off from the Sniper Elite series to perfect the Nazi+zombie equation—Rebellion has really figured out this Nazi zombie thing.
The fastest way to describe Zombie Army 4: Dead War is that it’s a love child between Left 4 Dead and the Sniper Elite series, which it is technically spun-off from. Zombie Army 4: Dead War is a third person shooter where you and up to three friends can join together and fight hordes of zombies from safe room to safe room. If you’re not familiar with the Sniper Elite series, it has its own brand of third person stealth meets action gameplay. The Zombie Army series started as Sniper Elite: Nazi Zombie Army and Sniper Elite: Nazi Zombie Army 2. Both of these titles eschewed the stone-cold seriousness of the main series, and embraced a campy experience that made you feel like you were walking through a haunted house as much as playing an action game.
Zombie Army 4 is the follow up to the Zombie Army Trilogy, which itself was a collection of the first two Nazi Zombie Army games with some rebalancing, an updated engine, more enemies, more levels, etc. Zombie Army 4 takes its zombie killing formula, and injects a bit of Strange Brigade into it. If you’re not aware, Strange Brigade is another Rebellion 4 player co-op action shooter with horror elements that really lay on the camp, and emphasized its arcade elements. Zombie Army 4 feels like a natural progression, and surprisingly, it ends up with more content than the entire Zombie Army Trilogy, all with faster, more action oriented gameplay. It’s the best time to get into the series.
The world is overrun with zombies. Hitler, losing World War 2, enacted his “Plan Z” which raised the dead, and turned the German military into a grotesque undead zombie army. After the defeat of zombie Hitler in the previous trilogy, occultists are keeping the Nazi zombie dream alive, and you have to hop around Europe (and beyond) in an attempt to thwart their plans. As the intro cinematic explains, it’s a full blown Dead War.
If you’re familiar with the previous entries in the series, or with the Sniper Elite games, you’ll know what to expect: third person shooting, with an emphasis on “long range” shots that are usually within a few hundred meters, which is something I’ve had a gripe about for a while. But in the Zombie Army series, that doesn’t really matter, and the Sniper Elite style of gameplay seems to work best for me when you’re staring down hordes of undead, and using your rifle to pick off zombie sniper, and other of the various kinds of undead.
I loved Left 4 Dead, but I always wondered what I zombie game featuring slow, shambling zombies would be like. The Zombie Army series sort of answers that question, but punctuates the masses of slow dead with special zombies. Unlike Left 4 Dead and similar games, there are no zombies that grab you, or pull you away from the group; instead, most of the specialized zombies in Zombie Army 4 act as sort of mini-bosses that are in your best interest to defeat swiftly. There are the bullet-sponge types that wield special heavy weapons (that you can take off of their corpses to help even the odd) and there are commander types, that raise the dead continuously or even send exploding zombies your way.
For those who have played the previous Zombie Army games, you will notice that things have changed as much as they have stayed the same. Many enemy types remain that were in previous games, but now they have a visual overhaul or completely different forms altogether. Some enemy types are missing, like the skeleton, but new zombie types have stepped in to take their place—like the one that spits a slowing goo.
To kill those zombies, you’ll need weapons. The weapons you’ll be using in Zombie Army 4 reflect the innovations the world has made in response to the ongoing Dead War. Guns are modified to burn and electrocute, and even heavy weapons were made…heavier. Grenades, trip mines, and other explosives make a return, but not some are modified to attract zombie and heal teammates too. Explosives are often the most fun and effective way to eliminate zombies—like setting up traps for impending hordes, or hitting the right environmental trap to take out entire groups of zombies at once. You can activate giant propellers to suck in zombies, or even rile-up an undead shark to munch on a few.
Each gun you use (except for heavy weapons) in Zombie Army 4 has a type of elemental effect like explosive, electrical or divine–which doubles damage against enemies and can even heal team mates. Each gun is also upgradable with upgrade kits you find or earn through character progression. Once your weapon is upgraded completely, there is a weapon challenge to finish your weapon mastery for increased benefits.
Weapons aren’t the only things that are upgradeable. By playing, you will accumulate levels. Item modifications, grenade modification, and perk slots are opened up based on what your level is. And there are a lot of them, so for completionists who want to max out their level, there will be a lot of zombie gore in your future.
Different perks are attained through doing different actions, most of which come naturally to playing the game—but some you will have to go out of your way for. Perks are bonuses you can apply to you character to do be able to go more grenade damage, have faster stamina recovery, more health, etc. There are three categories of perks, with lots to choose from: defensive, offensive, and support, which have some pretty useful bonuses—like the ability to get yourself up from being incapacitated by getting a kill, or the ability to heal teammates with divine weapons.
The level design in Zombie Army 4 is pretty great, even if most of it involves moving from point A to point B. There are lots of secrets to find, with some previous weapon upgrades even hiding for those willing to look for them. There are some impressive set pieces, too, like in Venice when you’re travelling down the canal and zombies are pouring from the rooftops onto your boat.
If you’re done with the campaign, there is a horde mode that lets you fight increasingly challenging waves of zombies. You don’t get to use the guns you’ve upgraded over the campaign in horde mode; instead you’ll be given weaponry to fight the increasingly large and dangerous waves. It’s not endless—but I appreciate a good challenge that is able to be completed, and not just for a “best score.” If you find Zombie Army 4 too easy or too hard, there are customizable difficulty settings for both the main campaign and horde modes. You can tweak things like friendly fire, and even the amount of zombies that spawn. It isn’t quite as extensive as the customization the Sniper Elite games have, but you get a bunch of options.
Zombie Army 4 does have microtransactions, such as the usual cosmetic items, but they are also selling weapons and at least one character. These are really just a la carte options for the season pass DLC, as far as I know, but the weapons might be a problem. I don’t have them, so I can’t say whether they’re explicit upgrades, but that isn’t something most people like to see. Still, I’m ambivalent, as studios have to pay the bills, and I’ll happily support those that are releasing games that I want to play.
One of things I was most excited about with the new Zombie Army game was the soundtrack, especially with the Zombie Army Trilogy’s Nick Brewer returning, since the first two games had an amazing retro 80s sounding soundtrack that John Carpenter himself would have approved. Zombie Army 4’s soundtrack does away with the spooky vibe in favor of energetic music that drives the action forward, instead of promising a slow plodding death. This feels more in line with the direction the new game was taking.
And of course, for anyone aware of the Sniper Elite series, the slow-motion bullet cam returns. If you like to watch zombie bones shatter in even more over-the-top ways than even the Sniper Elite series has, Dead Army delivers. Watch as zombies are crippled or killed in bone crunching and squishy gore. It’s okay, they’re already dead.
Zombie Army 4: Dead War is horror-themed, gory, zombie shooting fun with an over-the-top feel that has just the right amount of campiness to even it all out. And while it benefits from not taking itself too seriously, it is seriously fun, even more so with friends.
Zombie Army 4: Dead War is available now on Epic Game Store, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.
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