I’ll embarrassingly admit that even though Zombie Army Trilogy was named as such, I had no idea there’d been three of them thus far. Despite this, the games, which begun as downloadable spin-offs of Sniper Elite, have slowly grown to become their own entity separate to Sniper Elite. Zombie Army 4: Dead War represents the first time the Zombie Army games have truly gone out on their own. And while it’s more than content with doing its own thing, I was surprised to find how little the franchise has changed since Zombie Army Trilogy five years ago.
The plot remains the same, just in a different year. Following his defeat in 1945, Adolf Hitler orders a barrage of occultist rituals to revive those who perished during the second world war as nightmarish zombies. Obviously, Hitler didn’t do his homework properly and the nation is overrun by hordes of the undead. Zombie Army 4 takes place a year after, following Hitler’s defeat. Of course, Hitler has found a way to return from the Hellmouth he was thrown into in the last game, and this time a band of resistance members must travel across Europe to stop him and his undead army.
It’s a basic story and the most rudimentary of setups, but it gives us a nice little excuse to travel across the European coast – from Milan to Genoa to Rome. It’s camp, it’s cheesy and entirely appropriate.
Anyone who has played Left 4 Dead or even the previous Zombie Army games should know what to expect from Dead War. Each chapter is presented like a pulpy grindhouse movie, complete with an overarching theme and poster. You select a character (each with unique skills), select your loadout and then dart from safehouse to safehouse, gunning down hordes of the undead in arena-style battles.
And you’ll be doing that a lot. Zombie Army 4 is, by the nature of the series it belongs, filled to the brim with arena-based encounters. But it feels a little bit too repetitive because of it. In almost every situation, you’ll look around for something to activate, activate it, and then defend it against waves of enemies. This one-note mission structure and design lack the variety that’s sorely needed to sustain itself for the entirety of its length. Sometimes the order of these objectives might change but it still boils down to the same menial tasks at every level.
But some earnest effort has been made to widen the pool of enemies that the game can throw at you at any given moment. You’ll fight all kinds of zombies – some of which can inflict certain debuffs, others carry heavy weaponry, and some can even resurrect their fallen allies in battles. There’s even zombie trucks and tanks, as absurd as it may sound. There is a lot of different enemy types on display here, but I can’t help but still feel a bit disappointed.
Zombie Army 4 is the first time the franchise has gone out on its own and had a standalone release. And yet, it feels like everything here has been repurposed or derived from previous games in the series and even the latest Sniper Elite games. The closest thing is the sharks, but they are criminally underused throughout the campaign. It just speaks volumes that a whole episode of the game is set in a zoo but nothing interesting is done with the locale – just the same enemies as you find everywhere else.
Dead War really represents a chance to completely differentiate itself from its more grounded progenitor but squanders the opportunity when it comes to the enemies you’ll face. It’s humanoid zombies or a zombie vehicle.
It’s an immense relief, then, that the gunplay in Zombie Army 4 feels meaty and satisfying. Almost anywhere on your enemies can be dismembered or popped, and there’s a healthy crimson mist with every successful hit of a bullet. It’s a visual and tactile sense of feedback that is honestly unmatched in the genre and one that I wish more games would implement. It just never gets old, whether you blow the head off a zombie or take it apart limb by limb.
Owing to this is the almost trademark x-ray kill cams, which make a return from Rebellion’s previous games. They’re just as viscerally gratifying as before – rewarding impressive shots with a camera following your bullet from barrel to body to show exactly where you’ve struck your enemy. Bones shatter, lungs deflate and testicles pop as your bullets tear through your enemies. It’s a bit masochistic, for sure, and it’s made even worse by the repulsive, rotten texture the undead organs possess. But I’d honestly not have it any other way.
There’s a surprisingly meaty progression system underneath it all as well. Weapons can be modded to improve damage output or add elemental effects to your shots, but you can also visually customise them as well. There’s also a wide variety of thrown explosives and traps to choose from, which can be modded to have a variety of different effects too. There are even personal perks you can attach to your character. It’s a progression system that doesn’t break any boundaries, but it does give you the option to build your character to suit your playstyle which I appreciate.
It’s not all about the campaign though! Zombie Army 4 also includes a comprehensive horde mode. With the wide arsenal of weapons, traps, and grenades on offer, it’s a great mode to mess around in. Thankfully, regardless of how you play, be it campaign or horde, you can join forces with up to three other friends. Online performs admirably – whether just letting people drop in and drop out or planning a room – and there are options to adjust the intensity of your sessions like difficulty or the enemy count.
Whether you play through Zombie Army 4 solo or with mates, it’s still a great experience. The nature of the game lends itself better to playing in a group. I divided my time with the game between playing solo and with others that I knew, and if found the repetitive nature of the arena encounters slightly more bearable when playing with someone else to chat with. It’s a problem not unique to Zombie Army 4, mind you, but one more noticeable here. Playing Solo is still possible, and doable, just not as enjoyable. You’ll want to gather a squad for this one.
Much like Strange Brigade before it, Zombie Army 4 is well optimised. From the get-go, you’ll be given the option to favour resolution or framerate, and I went for the latter. On the Xbox One X, the game runs smooth as butter, even when there are heaps of enemies filling up the screen. The art direction is solid too – it’s not the most colourful game but the run-down, occult flavoured locations all look the part.
And while there’s heaps to do right now, Rebellion have committed to providing heaps of updates post-launch, which we can only hope will mean Zombie Army 4 will only get better.
THE XBOX ONE VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED ON AN XBOX ONE X FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Zombie Army 4: Dead War builds upon the original trilogy of games to offer a robust zombie-killing experience. While what’s here is enjoyable, and the combat is as satisfying as ever, it doesn’t quite step out on its own into something truly unique.