You just can’t keep a zombie down, can you? I mean, that’s kind of the point, but there’s a good reason why they’ve remained some of the most eminently shootable enemies in video games over the last few decades. So if you thought killing undead Hitler was going to be the end of the Zombie Army series, you’ve got another thing coming. Not only are they back, but they’ve picked up a few new tricks along the way.
As with previous Zombie Army games, this isn’t a particularly high octane zombie battler – World War Z or Left 4 Dead, this is not. As the undead shamble their way toward you, emerging from the mist, you have plenty of time to line up a headshot, then another, then another. Each shot you take, they come inexorably closer, gradually ramping up the pressure on you until they’re close enough to take a swipe at you. Or you’ll be having to defend from multiple directions, take down hardened enemies, dragging you and your co-op partners’ attentions.
Alongside the regular shuffling grunts, you have suicide explosive zombies and new Creepers, who get a great Aliens-esque introduction. Classic Heavy types with machine guns, buzzsaw and flamethrower often hold the roll of mid-bosses, demanding that you land repeated shots on weak spots to take them down, while snipers and rocket snipers leap between rooftops and need to be offed as soon as possible. Oh, and there’s now zombie tanks, their metal carcasses filled with flesh and bones, and giant glowing weak spots to continually plug away at until you expose their hearts. It’s as grizzly to think about as it is wonderfully silly.
The zombie shooting is as good and as satisfying as ever, whether you’re aiming down scopes and trying to land headshots on the staggering, lurching undead, pulling back to an over-the-shoulder view as the hordes start to close in, or switching to a shotgun or SMG. You can play conservatively, hanging back and letting them come to you, or rush in aggressively with your secondary. Put the difficulty up on Hard and the latter option might be a costly mistake.
Thankfully, you’ve got a good few more ways to deal with them, as each level’s set piece defensive areas tend to have traps to help thin out the numbers, whether electric grids or airplane propellers rigged to trigger with a sniper shot. Speaking of electricity, there’s now elemental damage to consider as well.
You can find temporary attachments that give you explosive, arcing electricity, and divine ammunition or fire for a certain number of shots, but there’s also a new weapon upgrade system to augment your guns across the board. There it depends on the weapon – the M1 Garand gets fire damage, while the Trench Gun gains electricity – but you can also upgrade the magazine size, improve the scope, shotgun spread and so on.
The one problem with this is that you can feel pigeonholed into using the loadout that you first started putting unlock points into. You can put your upgrade kits into any weapon you want, but if you’ve got explosive bullets and an extended magazine on an M1 Garand, you’re probably going to want to keep beefing it up instead of shifting over to a Gewehr 43. That’s especially true when you’ve got your sniper, secondary and sidearm all wanting to be upgraded. Oh, and then, once you’ve earnt all of the upgrade nodes, you’ll be working toward weapon mastery as well, chasing long-term stats to do so.
That’s not the only new progression system in the game. Levelling up through experience will unlock new character perks (and more perk slots). You might want to be able to self-revive through killing a zombie while downed, reduce incoming damage, or be able to use Divine ammo to heal allies, and all of these can then be upgraded and bettered through further levelling or performing certain feats. You also have item modifiers that add one of two behaviours to medkits, grenades and traps.
With the four characters having their own innate perks, all of this lets you pick and tweak your character in different directions. If you’re playing solo, you’ll definitely want to be able to use a medkit to self-revive, for example, but in co-op, it could be better to have it heal nearby allies. It’s also one of a few ways you can live more easily with the occasional frustrations of playing with randoms as opposed to friends, though there’s a bit too much reliance on all players gathering up for checkpoints that can still be a touch annoying.
Zombie Army 4 takes us out of Germany and down to Italy and Croatia, getting some great variety from one level to the next, even if you’re basically doing the same thing wherever you go. There’s canals with a zombie shark, there’s a zombified zoo, there’s Mount Vesuvius belching smoke into the sky and lava through Naples. The story is classic B-movie fodder, on the trail of zombie cultists stirring up all sorts of undead trouble, while the game continues to borrow heavily from 70s and 80s video nasties for its visual style, but drops in plenty of other film references alongside.
Once you’re done with the campaign, or if you just need a little break from the collectibles hunting, a Horde mode is there to just throw tons of zombies at you. There’s a little more ingenuity to it than in Zombie Army Trilogy, with maps that open up after a few waves and have a bit more variety in how they send the undead at you, but it’s not as involved as Horde modes in other games.
The game’s overall replayability might not be up there with the likes of Destiny and The Division, but if you want reasons to go back in and pop more zombie heads, then you can find them. Step the difficulty up, chase after each chapter’s challenge, or take on the weekly mission that adds modifiers like restricting you to only using a main sniper rifle. The game’s longevity will really depend on if Rebellion can keep mixing up the challenges – something like World War Z’s Challenge Mode would be great – and how the season pass plays out.