Zombie Army 4: Dead War PC Review
Killing zombies is not exactly original, but there is a fan base for that kind of stuff that keeps the genre alive. Rebellion tested the waters with this with their initial release of Sniper Elite: Nazi Zombie Army for PC, a stand-alone game based on Sniper Elite V2‘s engine that had a world where Hitler’s fascination for the supernatural led to the dead coming back to life, making the war rather tough for the Allies. It was a dumb premise, but that did not stop the game being a tremendous amounts of fun.
Sniper Elite: Nazi Zombie Army must have done well enough for the British developer, because it gained two sequels, which were eventually bundled together into the package on PC and consoles dubbed Zombie Army Trilogy. Rebellion took a break from zombies with Strange Brigade, a game that was structured similar but switched up the zombies for mythological creatures, while making improvements to the gameplay and level design. Zombie Army 4: Dead War is Rebellion returning to zombies again, but this time it comes with what was learnt in development with Strange Brigade to make this latest Zombie Army the best one yet.
Following on from the events of the third game, a year later has passed after possessed Adolf Hitler was sent to hell after unsuccessfully taking over the world with his undead army. Things should have stopped without a leader, but the dead kept on rising, more and more, and worryingly getting stronger, so now it is down to the resistance to travel across Europe and put a stop to any cultists who are trying to carry on Hitler’s undead legacy. What that means for the player is a silly throwaway story that is totally B-movie campiness, but enjoyable, and of course, it’s a fine excuse to kill more zombies.
Once again the campaign acts as the main feature of the game, but unlike the previous three titles in the series, the fourth entry steps the campaign up a notch. Previously, each game’s campaign contained five chapters split into five stages (stages are split by safe houses to act as the gap between each one) set across areas of Berlin and Germany. This gave the game a feeling of being small in scale, since environments were similar to each other, not often experimenting with the themes of levels, and so the game became limited to villages, cities, large buildings and occasionally forests and castle. Zombie Army 4 manages to get rid of that limitation by taking the game’s story and its nine chapters, which are split into four stages (apart from the first chapter, which is three and the last one, which is more of a showdown stage), across various places in Europe.
The first chapter, Milan, isn’t the best example of this, as being the introduction to the game, it sets its location in and around a large train station, as the task is to get through the zombie heard and grab a train to get out of the Italian city. Once past this, though, things become much more interesting. Venice is the next location, which features surviving on a boat down the canal against the zombie threat, and later on there is even a visit to a Croatian zoo. The levels feel better designed and offer a wider sense of scale, much improved over the trilogy. That said, while the environment selection is more complex and more engaging to explore, with better set-piece scenarios, there are some missed opportunities here. For example, the zoo does not feature zombie gorillas, crocodiles or elephants, rather, there are no animals here, just lots of different zombie types, and that is a shame, because the idea of a killer Nazi zombie giraffe makes me chuckle. There are zombie sharks (not as actual enemies, but abused as a trap, more on that later), which got a lot of press, and even the collector’s edition has a model of the shark, so just imagine how popular having other zombie animals would have been, but sadly, sharks is about as adventurous the game gets with animals.
That is not to say the game’s foe lack variety. The developers have gone deeper into offering a wider selection of enemies to kill. Various takes on the foes of the original trilogy all return here with new make-up, but now a bundle of new ones are added that make encounters more exciting, less stale and less predictable, as enemies end up coming from all sides of the battlefield.
Coming with the standard zombies, summoners, snipers, suicide runners are more heavy zombie units, featuring such weapons as flamethrowers, turret guns and even one that carries a buzz-saw. These do sound rather standard so far, but things get interesting when you begin looking at some of the other types. Screamers are heavily inspired by The Last of Us‘ fungi monsters, hunting by sound rather than sight, poison zombies launch bile arcs to inflict long range damage and creepers are zombies that crawl on all fours and often come in huge groups. Lastly, there are some mechanical demonic infestations that come in the forms of demon tanks and armoured personal carriers to add some tougher mini-boss fights to the combat. It’s good to see that the developers wanted to push for more variety in enemies, and having vehicle-based enemies is a good start, but I still cannot help but wish they pushed for other none human varieties. I guess I am just disappointed in having a zombie zoo level but without actual animals.
Objectives are given to complete in each level, and these are rather simple and straightforward to accomplish, since they usually fall into one of a small selection of tasks – go to a point, find items, activate switches, survive a horde, kill enemies within a target area to fill up a blood fountain, and of course, kill mini-bosses and bosses. There are never any puzzles to solve, something, while in small amounts, gave Strange Brigade a breakup of the flow, but it did fit with that game’s Egyptian aesthetic. What fascinates me about this game is even though its very action oriented and the objectives are nothing too inventive (some are hilarious though), it is that I never once felt bored playing Zombie Army 4. It helps that each chapter is so distinct that they do not blend together, but also, there are so many Easter eggs and secrets stuffed into each level, yes, even the doll returns to freak players out again. You thought the bottles and gold bars were enough to find in the trilogy? Well, now there are comics, zombie hands, skill upgrades and many challenges to do to get 100% in a stage that makes the game great for multiple playthroughs until you are good enough to beat hard (the game features easy, normal and hard).
While on difficulty, I do have to wonder why the developers have left the fourth difficult out. The previous Zombie Army games came with Sniper Elite difficulty, and allowed the modification of enemy count (still featured in Zombie Army 4) based on default (dynamically adapts to how many players are playing) or force the game to either set them for one, two, three or four players, which the latter you can imagine is insane to try on solo, it is so easy to be overwhelmed by enemies or taken down by those bastard snipers – just madness – but I did manage it with a group of friends. The menu clearly has space for this fourth difficulty as there is a perfectly missing column that fits the graphics for the different difficulty settings. The developers also did this for Strange Brigade, but was later patched in as a free update. I hope this the same for Zombie Army 4, because while hard is a challenge, there is no harm in giving the ultimate difficulty to try prove oneself.
Playing on your own is not as bad as one might think for a game that clearly is aiming for people to play together, which I feel is mainly due to the constant action and switch up of the environment. As the saying goes, though, everything is usually more fun in cooperative, and this game is enhanced by inviting a few friends or online strangers to join in the action, who can join in at any point. Even though I was reviewing the PC version – only available on Epic Games Store at the moment – the online was busy enough that people were joining my active game as I was playing. Nothing changes due to the inclusion of more players outside of the enemy count if it is set to default, it’s that the added players make is easier to help one another in the increased enemy count and make more planned use of stage’s traps that are scattered across levels.
Traps featured within the environment have a bigger focus than previously, and they are incredibly helpful in causing massive zombie eradication. Traps are either activated by shooting a target or by interacting with them. There are the standard electrical fences and floors, but things go wild when zombie sharks appear beached and dead on the canal sides of Venice, only to wiggle and chomp enemies in half once its shot. Other entertaining deathtraps are spinning blades that decimate zombies to pieces, or the giant plane engine that sucks anyone close to it… something I experienced when I was vastly outnumbered, only to be sucked in along with the undead and turned into dog meat for instant death… whoops. All these traps add to the fun carnage between friends and foes.
The biggest influence that Strange Brigade brings to this game comes in the form of the skills, traits and the experience system. The old games let you pick characters, but they were for aesthetics, since each character’s loadout was set by the player that included one sniper rifle, one secondary weapon (machine gun, shotgun) and a pistol, with four item slots reserved for various types of grenades, mines and tripwires. The gear amount carried into a level is still featured, but now weapons, through the account level up system that rewards experience for kills and successful level completions, along with finding hidden upgrade points, enables weapons to be customisable. The M1 Garand can shoot incendiary rounds, lightning can be added to the Gewehr 43, clip sizes can be bigger, and you can turn a pistol into a small automatic uzi. Once all the unlocks for a weapon are available, mastery becomes the next challenge, where accomplishing what is required gives a new skin for the gun, but also some bonus trait, such as extra damage, but the challenges are time consuming – Mosin-Nagant wants 200 head shots at over 50 metres, but thankfully this is over the lifetime and not in a single level.
Item mods are unlocked depending on what level your account is at, and these come in version A or B, which only one can be activated at a time for the item. An example is the medikit. On the A side, it enables self-revive, but on the B side it allows for everyone close to be healed and also damage enemies close by. Lastly, perks are available, up to five can be equipped, and again tied initially to levels, but to upgrade them requires meeting the challenge. Want better defence against melee? Then get 350 melee kills, more grenade damage and range? Then blow up 500 enemies with them. Perks are a good way to alter play styles and give characters extra abilities, so you can still play your favourite hero and make up for some of their weaknesses, since characters now have positive and negative traits. Karl (from Sniper Elite) is, unsurprisingly, great at using sniper rifles, able to steady aim for longer and has a higher critical hit chance from far away, but he has slower health regeneration. Jun, on the other hand, moves faster and can sprint for longer, but sucks at melee. Adding levels, perks and mods is such a simple thing, but for this series, it allows it to add fresh modifications to the combat to buff up the reasons to want to replay. I do wonder if the developers planned this with the fourth difficulty, so when that eventually releases, players have unlocked all these buffs ready for the ultimate challenge.
Once the campaign is over, two other modes are left – Horde and Weekly Events. Horde mode is similar to other video games that include it in that it is about surviving waves of enemies in a set location. There are four maps available taken from the campaign, including the similar traps and in the same three difficulties. Depending how far into the waves people managed to get, new areas will open up, supply creates will teleport in with improved weapons, but of course the zombie waves become larger and stronger. After beating the 12th wave, the option to escape is available to “complete” the level, but if you feel brave, you can try continue on to see how many waves you can do before leaving. Weekly events are a set level with modifiers, but offer more experience and unique unlocks making it a desired thing to attempt each week. Hopefully Rebellion can keep these inventive, because while at the moment they have done things like take more damage and have unlimited shotgun ammo, I hope they go stupid and include things like all zombies are tiny (with high pitch groans to boot), making them hard to hit.
Future support has already been announced through a season pass that comes with three new campaign missions, four new characters, new weapons, and skins for weapons and characters. The new horde mode maps have been reported to be coming as free updates, which is nice. If the campaign missions are as good as the ones in the main game, then this season pass might be a worthwhile investment, but either way, it seems the game is set to have legs over the rest of 2020.
Zombie Army 4: Dead War is a great follow up to Rebellion’s Zombie Army Trilogy. Everything not only looks better, but feels better and comes with tons of replayability. Fans will enjoy the improvements to the core gameplay, and it’s good that Rebellion managed to add things to the game that does not take away the identity of the series – the sniper rifle focus brings something a little different to the pacing of the game that is not seen in other zombie shooters. The name might be generic, and sure, the game is not exactly doing anything new for the genre as a whole, but Rebellion has made sure its series got the improvements it required – the level themes, great feeling gun combat, and plenty of content to beat – to take it to the next step to deliver something extremely fun and enjoyable to play, to the point where I feel the series has jumped up a notch from being good fun to a great bit of entertainment.