Having finally killed Zombie Hitler once and for all, the war for Europe was finally one… Except it seems that nobody told the zombies. Somehow in Zombie Army 4: Dead War they’re back to doing all the things that Nazi Zombies do, and you’ve got to stop them all over again.
In truth, Zombie Army always felt like an April Fools gag played out to its completely illogical conclusion. Taking all the maps from Sniper Elite V2 and throwing zombies and spookier lighting at them was a decent co-op diversion, but it was popular enough that Rebellion would come back and pull the same trick a second time, and ended up as Rebellion’s first self-published title with a third campaign built from the ground up.
It’s safe to say that Rebellion’s game craft has evolved a great deal since 2013, when that first campaign was released. Through Sniper Elite III, Sniper Elite 4 and Strange Brigade, we’ve seen the growing company create larger, more freeform games, adding more depth and gameplay options around the core sniping gameplay that they have always excelled at.
Zombie Army 4 throws quite a few more ingredients into the pot, but at it’s core it’s still the same game. Whether you’re playing on your own or in four player co-op, you’re working your way through levels, trying to land your headshots and fight off the waves of zombie swarming toward you on the way to the next safe house.
The campaign takes you outside of zombified WW2-era Germany for the first time, with the original trilogy having focussed solely on Berlin (thanks to the Sniper Elite V2 origins) and a few deviations outside the city. Catching a boat down to Sardinia, you’re chasing after a Dr. Schweiger, an occultist working to gather the data needed to stop the zombie menace… again.
Right off the bat you encounter the much more extensive customisation and loadout options. Each gun has new barrel, magazine and scope mods which are unlocked by spending upgrade kits, and offer some interesting perks. The M30 Drilling shotgun, for example, can have a flame barrel that heats up over time and glows red hot when the next shot is boosted to become an incendiary round, while you might gain a similar electrified barrel end for an M1 Garand rifle.
Items also have multiple modes, so Medikits can be used to revive yourself when downed or be used as an area of effect to heal you and your buddies, and so on.
As in Strange Brigade your characters now have special abilities, giving you a boosted special melee attack that could be an electric fist or a divine blast, and perk slots as you level up your characters. With offensive, defensive and some more general purpose perks to unlock and equip, you can gradually lean into a particular roll as a player. If you’re a crackshot sniper playing solo, you might want to get the Combo King perk to heal you up for every 50 combo and combine that with the ability to revive yourself by killing an enemy while downed, but as part of a group, being able to heal your buddies with divine ammo might be a better bet.
You’ll want every trick in the book, because there’s all sorts of new zombies coming at you. That includes zombie tanks – well, a half track, but I’m sure there’s tanks as well – which have been made all kinds of fleshy in a way that Warhammer 40K Nurgle fans dream of, shoving rib cages inside the hulls, having muscles wrapped around the wheels of an APC. It appears in a tank graveyard of sorts, as we’re trying to break into a bunker, rampaging around as we try to take it out by plinging away at some armour panels to get at the squishier innards.
But it’s what’s inside the bunker that let’s Rebellion really start to pay homage to horror film classics. Having busted into the bunker, taken down some Gunners and grabbed their machine guns, we waded into cramped, poorly lit underground corridors, encountering Creepers, fleshless zombies that skittered around on the floors and walls in a manner all too familiar from Aliens. There’s also zombie sharks in the game, just to give you a hint of the tone, and you’re always chasing after the next macguffin to try and save the world, in this case trying to set up and calibrate a rocket to destroy the Hell Storm, a big zombie Eye of Sauron that’s creating and controlling the zombies.
Mission successful and we hopped over to the game’s straight up Horde Mode, battling wave after wave of zombies and trying to grab new guns and ammo as we go. It’s a step forward from Zombie Army Trilogy, with areas to unlock by completing waves, enemies coming from multiple directions, and weapon drops to trade guns at, though it stops well short of the maze-like nonsense of Call of Duty’s Zombies modes.
Zombie Army 4: Dead War is going to be exactly what you expect and want it to be, a B-movie zombie killing romp across Europe. There’s more depth and options to the gameplay, new types of enemies to battle, a little more finesse to the horror film references, but when you get right down to it, it’s still all about shooting zombies in the noggin with your mates.