By Evan Norris 03rd Feb 2020 | 3,556 views
There's not a shred of pretense in Zombie Army 4: Dead War. An online cooperative third-person shooter, it knows and advertises exactly what it is: an over-the-top adventure with B-movie tropes and grindhouse sensibilities. Filled with undead Nazis, portals to Hell, and—believe it or not—zombie sharks swimming through the canals of Venice, it provides memorable set pieces, enough exploded organs and broken bones for a lifetime, and, ultimately, some good, unclean fun with a group of four like-minded players. It suffers somewhat from overlong and repetitive levels and an inferior single player experience, but it represents a fair investment for fans itching for a slower-paced, more twisted take on the Left 4 Dead formula.
Zombie Army 4 follows a crew of freedom fighters pushing back against a wave of zombified Nazi soldiers around the Mediterranean in the aftermath of World War II. Although the resistance defeated Hitler and halted his insane plan to raise the dead in the previous installment - Zombie Army Trilogy - most of Europe remains overrun with reanimated corpses. Now, with the undead horde pressing its advantage and strange "hell towers" popping up in Venice, Milan, and Rome, it seems like an unknown intelligence is leading the zombie army toward victory.
An over-the-shoulder third-person shooter, Zombie Army 4 combines arcade action with the realistic ballistics of Sniper Elite, another property from developer Rebellion. Players can outfit each of the game's four main playable characters with a sniper rifle, a secondary weapon, and a sidearm. Using these weapons, several grenade and mine types, and a host of environmental traps and hazards, players will cut through legions of zombies either in the main campaign or the wave-based horde mode.
Due to the title's connection to Sniper Elite—Zombie Army began as an occult spin-off from that franchise—things unfold a little more slowly than in co-op zombie shooters like Left 4 Dead or Killing Floor. You'll often have the time and the physical distance from the front line to prepare and execute a long-range sniping shot. In true Sniper Elite fashion, you'll need to adjust for the elements. On medium difficulty, for example, bullets are affected by gravity; on hard difficulty, both gravity and wind influence the trajectory of a bullet.
Don't mistake Zombie Army 4 for a realistic tactical shooter, however. Ultimately, it's less a game about lining up the perfect shot and more a game about destroying zombies in the most violent and spectacular ways imaginable. Thanks to responsive aiming, accessible controls, several weapon types, and some outrageous, inventive set pieces, Rebellion delivers on this front. Popping off headshots, felling a hulking iron-clad giant with a single takedown, or trapping a line of shambling zombies on an electric trip wire—these are only a few of many visceral, cathartic moments in the game.
The joy of zombie destruction is multiplied for every human player added to the mix. Alone, the game can be lonely, unfulfilling, and, at times, taxing. Add a single friend to the mix and everything becomes more viable and more entertaining. Reach a full complement of four and Zombie Army 4 achieves its full potential. With its large maps with several vantage points, and enemy ambushes that demand a combination of long-range and short-range firepower, this shooter was clearly designed with four players in mind. Playing solo is doable, but with zero partner AI, no teammates to revive you when downed, and no friends to see your victory dances and taunts, it's a decidedly inferior experience.
Even with four players, the action can turn stale, particularly in the campaign's middle chapters. While Rebellion infuses the action with inventive set pieces and varied level designs, the rhythm of each of the game's nine four-part levels is almost always the same. You'll set out from a safe room, travel to a point of interest, and then, more often than not, fend off a swarm of zombies until a door opens or bomb activates. Then it's on to the next safe room to repeat the process in another area of the map. There are highlights throughout, of course. Death Canal features a perilous boat ride down zombie-infested Venetian canals, Meat Locker includes claustrophobic corridors filled with crawling "creepers", and Hell Machine, the game's final chapter, boasts a boss fight with what could best be described as a satanic Nazi sandcrawler. Still, much of your time will be spent traveling from point A to B, chasing a MacGuffin, defending a point of interest, and repeating.
Repetition creeps into the game's Horde mode as well, although Rebellion mitigates this with expanding environments, chaotic 360 degree battles, and supply drops with different, more powerful weapons. As with the main campaign, Horde support drop-in, drop-out four-player online multiplayer and is best experienced with friends.
The area in which Rebellion has improved most sharply on the Zombie Army formula is character progression and customization. When you create a lobby you'll first have the opportunity to choose from four custom loadouts, which include a rifle, secondary weapon, pistol, melee move, a set of up to five perks, and item modifications. As you defeat monsters, level up, and discover upgrade kits, you'll be able to trick out your weapons with better scopes, electric and explosive mods, larger magazines, etc. The only downside: as you invest heavily in two or three guns, you're less likely to experiment with basic models found in weapons racks or on dead bodies in game. Zombie Army 4 also includes many unlockable cosmetic items, including weapon skins, character headgear, emotes, and taunts.
When you factor in dozens of skins, upgrade paths, and perks, plus four Horde maps, nine lengthy single-player chapters (with four stages apiece), and four playable characters, it's clear Zombie Army 4 is not lacking in content. There's a lot of value in this blood-soaked package, particularly for groups of four. There's also a lot of replay value, as each chapter hides collectible journals and comics, locked safes, stage-specific challenges, plus weird stuff like animated zombie hands—shoot these when you see them.
The caveat here is that many campaign chapters are overlong and, as mentioned previously, stuffed with repetitive horde-style gameplay, which might prevent repeat playthroughs. Luckily, you can create a lobby from scratch and start at individual stages within your favorite chapters.
Just as Rebellion improved on its predecessor's upgrade and progression systems, it raised the bar in a big way with graphics. Zombie Army 4 is a good-looking game with sharp graphics and some extraordinary art direction. You'll fight through a forest of twisted trees, a bubbling bog filled with water-logged corpses, an ancient city crumbling into rivers of lava, a zombie zoo, and even Hell itself. For Sniper Elite fans, there’s also the gruesome X-ray kill cam, which captures particularly gory long-range shots in slow motion. Sound design is another victory. The noises of the reanimated dead will send shivers down your spine long before you see them shuffling toward you.
On the technical front, the game performs well, with few performance issues. Connectivity was spotty at times—I found it easier to join a game in progress than create one from scratch—but Rebellion has promised a day one patch to improve network stability.
Zombie Army 4 is refreshingly guileless. It wears its schlocky, B-movie heart on its sleeve and delivers a gratuitous, exaggerated action-horror experience for up to four players online. Some of the campaign's chapters are overlong and overfilled with tedious horde-style scenarios and the solo adventure pales in comparison to the cooperative experience, but in general—thanks to loads of content, a revamped progression model, and visceral gameplay—the game offers a reasonable investment for aspiring zombie hunters.