Nazis, zombies, and nazi zombies have popped up as the bad guys in video games quite a few times over the years, so with Zombie Army 4: Dead War, you know exactly what you’re getting into. It knows what it wants to be, what it wants to do, and doesn’t over-complicate things- here’s a gun, here’s some zombies, now go have fun. Sometimes you just want to kick back and mow down zombies in a bloody, gory fest of viscera and carnage, and there’s no shortage of that in Rebellion’s latest shooter.
That fundamental simplicity is the game’s biggest strength, and it backs that up with solid execution, challenging combat, and oodles of replayability. Zombie Army 4 probably won’t win any awards for telling a riveting story, or for looking spectacular, or for having a deep progression system- what it does deserve plaudits for is being pure, unadulterated fun.
What makes Zombie Army 4 work so well, though, is that it isn’t mindless fun. Going in all guns blazing and emptying your magazine into an oncoming horde of zombies is never a good strategy, and there’s a lot that you usually have to be mindful of. A lot of that comes down to how maps and levels are designed. When you’re in tight corridors, zombies come at you in numbers, and can easily overwhelm you if you’re not smartly using the tools at your disposal, or if (when you’re playing co-op) you’re not working well with your squadmates. In maps and areas that are more open, the undead can come at you from several different directions, so you always have to be on the move, always be aware of your surroundings.
"Zombie Army 4 knows what it wants to be, what it wants to do, and doesn’t over-complicate things- here’s a gun, here’s some zombies, now go have fun."
The aforementioned making smart use of your weapons is also crucial, most importantly because ammo can run out quickly, which means you can’t rely on a single weapon too much, and need to properly use your full arsenal. That arsenal also includes various grenades, mines, traps, and more- and a well-placed trip mine can truly change the tide of a firefight. Then there are weapon mods and perks, which come with nifty advantages of their own, and if used properly, can come in incredibly handy. Meanwhile, you can also find special weapons like rocket launchers or heavy gatling guns in the field. Using these to mow down entire scores of zombies is an absolute blast, and since they come with limited ammo and as such don’t stick around for too long, finding and being able to use one always feels like a special treat.
More than anything else, the thing that keeps combat in Zombie Army 4 constantly exciting is the variety of enemy design. From regular mindless, slow moving zombies to ones that move about on all fours and are surprisingly agile, from suiciders that run straight at you with bombs strapped to their chests to hulking, armoured monstrosities that can take a lot of punishment before going down, from commanders with specific weak spots and occult abilities to actual zombie tanks, from zombies equipped with gatling guns to those equipped with flamethrowers, Zombie Army 4 throws loads of different enemies at you, each with their own unique strengths and weaknesses. And when multiple different kinds bear down on you at the same time, those are some of the most intense and enjoyable encounters in the entire game.
All of that combined together ensures that Zombie Army 4 never feels dull or repetitive. On paper, you’re only ever doing a single thing- killing zombies. But the variety of different enemies, the design of the locations you keep finding yourself in, and the way the game forces you to use everything you have at your disposal makes sure that you’re always engaged, and always properly thinking about your next move, even in some of the most intense moments. In that, the game retains the tactical nature of Sniper Elite – the series it originally spawned from – to a great extent, even though it goes about doing so very differently.
"The variety of different enemies, the design of the locations you keep finding yourself in, and the way the game forces you to use everything you have at your disposal makes sure that you’re always engaged."
Something that I found to be a bit of a letdown during my experience, though, was the movement, which can be a bit too jerky at times. Jumping across gaps or quickly turning around or even turning while running feels too weighty, which is obviously not ideal in hectic situations where you’re surrounded by the undead and need to be moving around quickly. This slower and more tanky movement works well in a game like Sniper Elite 4, owing to its very methodical and deliberate nature, but in a frantic experience like Zombie Army 4, that does tend to get in the way of the action at times.
There’s a progression system in place as well, which encompasses both, the campaign and the horde mode. Actions like killing zombies or assisting your squadmates (if you’re playing with others) or completing objectives nets you with XP that contributes toward this unified progression, which in turn unlocks more new upgrades, perks, and what have you. It’s not the deepest system, and you can jump in and enjoy the game without ever paying too much attention to it. Though some of the upgrades and perks that you can unlock do come in pretty handy at times, I do wish there was more to it that made it feel like a more meaningful and rewarding experience. As it stands right now, owing to how incremental of an impact it has on the whole experience, the progression feels a bit tacked on.
Even in the absence of a more rewarding progression system, Zombie Army 4 isn’t lacking in the replayability department. Getting through the game’s campaign is a lot of fun (much more so co-operatively than it is as a solo experience), but I found myself revisiting some of its chapters and still enjoying myself. That said, what contributes even more toward the replayability is – unsurprisingly – the horde mode. Just like the campaign, you know exactly what you’re getting into here- you and three other players make your way through a constantly expanding map against waves of progressively more dangerous zombies, starting with a regular old pistol and working your way up to better weapons. It’s a tried and tested formula, and even though Zombie Army 4’s horde mode doesn’t really do anything new with it, the pure strength of its execution ensures that it feels like a crucial component of the experience.
"Owing to how incremental of an impact it has on the whole experience, the progression feels a bit tacked on."
The one area where Rebellion’s zombie shooter is quite lacking is the visuals. This was a complaint I had with Sniper Elite 4 back in 2017, and it’s one that I have with Zombie Army 4 as well. Don’t get me wrong, the game doesn’t look bad– but it doesn’t really look great either. It looks serviceable- the environments aren’t the most detailed, the characters’ faces have a weird plasticky quality to them, and animations aren’t always the smoothest. It just feels like it’s time Rebellion updated their engine, especially as we head into the next console generation.
What Rebellion have developed with Zombie Army 4 is the video game equivalent of nice bowl of oatmeal- it won’t blow you away, it’s not the most stunning thing you’ve ever tasted. If you’re going into it, you know exactly what you’re looking for, and that is exactly what you’re going to get. Zombie Army 4 makes modest promises, and it delivers on those promises confidently. Thanks to its meaty campaign, an enjoyable horde mode, and varied and exciting combat, Zombie Army 4 ends up being a worthwhile experience on the whole.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Exciting and varied combat; Loads of enemy variety; Solid map design; Enjoyable campaign; Horde mode is a lot of fun.
Shallow progression system; Stiff movement; Unremarkable visuals.