Initially conceived as DLC for veteran developer Rebellion’s Sniper Elite series, Zombie Army got its first standalone release back in 2015 when Trilogy bundled together the first two add-ons with all-new content. Now, we’re getting a more fully formed experience with Zombie Army 4: Dead War, a third-person shooter that looks to tap into the gamers’ seemingly insatiable appetite for killing Nazi zombies.
If you’ve ever played the Sniper Elite series you should feel right at home with the basics of aiming, cycling through weapons and so on. We’d always found the sniping elements to be a clear highlight of that series relative to the shaky close-range gunplay, and while some of that awkwardness remains it feels crisper and more viable — likely due in large to the fact that most zombies use melee attacks so you rarely have to account for cover from projectiles while aiming.
It’s a simple setup. You carry three guns: a rifle, a secondary weapon such as a shotgun or machine gun, and a pistol. You also carry a combination of grenades and mines for crowd control. Ammo is plentiful, and you’re seldom far from a chest to refill your bullets or enemy corpses that can be stomped to send boxes of ammo scattering across the ground. Health is much rarer, though melee kills will heal you a bit, similar to DOOM.
Movement can feel a little clumsy, and characters lack any real evasive actions other than a slide after sprinting, which feels awkward and drains stamina. You do have some tricks up your sleeve at least as various meters get filled, typically by killing enemies, that allow you to do some attacks that help create space, such as one-hit melee kills and slowing time to repel zombies. While it has some shortcomings, the controls ultimately hold up well enough.
Visually, Zombie Army 4 looks dated, especially for a third-person shooter where pixels don’t need to hold up to the same level of scrutiny as a first-person title. While you’d never confuse the game for an open world, there always seems to be some alternate pathway or abandoned building to explore, even if the rewards are rarely significant. Most of the zombie archetypes are represented here, ranging from basic bullet fodder to explosive-laden suicide bombers, poison-belching shamblers and so on.
There’s some serviceable voice acting on the dialogue, but the story is completely tacked on and feels only slightly more viable than the insanity found in Call of Duty‘s Nazi Zombies mode. Music is alright though somewhat muted, while the sounds of the undead are fundamentally solid but fail to really provide any feedback as to where they’re coming from or how large of a pack.
There’s a basic backstory in place: with Germany’s defeat at the end of World War II all but assured, Adolf Hitler initiates Plan Z to summon the dead soldiers to rise from their graves and crush enemy resistance. Hitler is eventually killed and returns as a zombie before finally being defeated at the end of Trilogy. Hitler’s defeat did not end the threat, however, and zombies continue to overrun Europe. And that’s where you come in…
As one of four playable characters you’ll be charged with turning the tide, wading through hordes of the undead across nine missions, each of which takes place in a new location. Completion time will vary based on your skill, the difficulty setting and how many players are with you, but for our purposes it took 10-plus hours to wrap things up alone on medium difficulty. It’s a substantial, albeit largely repetitive campaign.
Zombie Army 4 offers the opportunity to upgrade your character and loadout via a mix of finding items, fulfilling goals (i.e., kill X number of zombies with Y weapon) and general progression. Upgrade kits are used to beef up your arsenal as guns deal more damage, can hold more rounds in a clip and add secondary elements like electrical or fire to your attacks. It’s an alright system, but it sure felt to us like the game was built for a shotgun, and once you’ve fully buffed a gun there’s little reason to change things up.
Without that incentive, the hours eventually start to feel like extended cases of deja vu, raising some questions about the game’s long-term appeal. Playing with others certainly helps the cause as it functions as a fun, low-intensity (at least in regards to tactics) experience that should give Left 4 Dead veterans another four-player co-operative outlet for that style of play.
Beyond the campaign, there’s also Horde mode, which challenges you to hold the line against increasingly difficult waves of zombies. There aren’t any notable bells and whistles here, but it offers a place to jump in and just fight minus the trappings of the campaign.
Zombie Army 4: Dead War mostly hits the mark for what it wants to be, offering massive body counts and accessible action that’s best experienced with others. If you and your friends have been looking for a shooter to tackle, this should definitely be on your radar.