Rebellion’s long-awaited return to the Zombie Army franchise is here with the release of Zombie Army 4: Dead War for the PS4, Xbox One and PC. We played the PS4 version to see if this was a worthy resurrection.
The Zombie Army franchise never really started as its own thing, but rather as a spin-off for the Sniper Elite games – much like zombie mode in the Call of Duty franchise. Initially just a set of DLC addons, the release of the Zombie Army Trilogy finally marked the first bona fide standalone package. And even though it’s only coming to the Switch this year, that one’s five years old already, and we’ve had a new entry in the Sniper Elite series as well as Strange Brigade in that period.
Despite the time that has passed, however, the core of Zombie Army 4: Dead War is still something that fans of the previous games can easily jump into. As with the Sniper Elite series, Hitler features prominently once more – and in the case of Zombie Army 4 he’s betting it all on a last ditch effort to win the war using an army of the undead.
The story is then quickly forgotten, because although Sniper Elite can be about careful planning and sneaking about, Zombie Army is a lot more action-oriented. Both games feature a similar visual and gameplay style though, with (elements of) the same engine no doubt driving them (as well as Strange Brigade). Zombie Army doesn’t take itself too seriously though, and it times it can feel like Doom meets Wolfenstein as you plough through zombies using weapons as well as the ability to stomp on their faces while they’re down.
Gunplay is what’s most satisfying though, and a large part of that is that the “kill cam” that’s also in the Sniper Elite games makes a welcome return here. If you’re not familiar with it – it’s where a slow motion view of your bullet starts when you fire a successful shot. The camera follows the bullet, sees it entering an enemy’s body, and there you get gory x-ray close-ups of the bullet doing serious damage to bones and tissue. You’ll see skulls shatter, parts of limbs being taken off – even testicles aren’t safe – and you get rewarded in kind depending on what kind of (and how much) damage you deal.
With zombies, a hit might just mean that they keep coming despite being an arm or a leg short, making the action more frantic than what you’ll encounter in a Sniper Elite game. The moments where the kill cam gets activated are short breathers in between the action, and the system has been refined for Zombie Army 4. There is more diversity to the shots you land, the damage model feels more detailed, and successfully landing a shot feels all the more satisfying for it.
As with the story, it’s hard to notice the gorgeously detailed backdrops against which you’re fighting, and it’s mostly because the game keeps you caught up in the action. Creativity is rewarded, and using the environment against your enemy yields extra points. You can set them on fire, electrocute them, and killing multiple zombies in a row (or at once) also nets you bonus points. This keeps the momentum going, and the diversity of the kills brings a nice flow to otherwise fairly basic and perhaps even repetitive zombie violence (since there’s a limited range of weapons and no real tactical depth to the combat).
In addition to executing different types of kills, the action also gets mixed up by a variety of zombies, ranging from relatively simple cannon fodder to boss-like titans that seemingly soak up bullets after they generally make an impactful entrance. You can make things easier by upgrading your loadout at the workshop at the end of each chapter, but character progression isn’t as significant as you’d expect when looking at your choice of four heroes at the start of the game. They appear to have different perks, but in practice they feel more or less the same – your weapon choices having a far greater impact.
The best way to play Dead War, however, is something I haven’t touched on yet. Taking a page from their own Strange Brigade playbook, Zombie Army 4 lends itself extremely well to online cooperative play. This also gives the game some welcome replayability, as you can dive into any chapter of the campaign with friends and turn it into a co-op scenario. Besides working as a team to complete the chapter, you’re also scored individually on your kills, creating a bit of competition and stimulating creativity.
Zombie Army 4: Dead Wear is a fun sequel to the trilogy we got a few years ago, with my biggest ‘issue’ being that the core concept wasn’t really expanded on. It didn’t have to be for it to be a great time – especially with friends – but I had hoped for a bigger leap forward. At the same time, the game shows that the formula hasn’t grown stale – this is an excellent third person shooter to start the year with.