Surviving a zombie apocalypse requires wit, intelligence, speed and strength. I know these things because I have survived many an undead doomsday scenario. Left 4 Dead, Dead Island, The House of the Dead, Deadrising, Resident Evil, The Last of Us, Telltale’s The Walking Dead, and – still my favourite – Dying Light (which gets extra props for using ‘dying’ instead of ‘dead’ in the title): all bested with adrenaline pumping and restrained jubilation [a random Seinfeld reference, because *shrugs*].
You might have thought I was too numb and cynical to enjoy a ridiculously over-the-top horde-infested third-person shooter like Zombie Army 4: The Dead War. I thought so too, especially after standards were bumped astronomically high with The Last of Us and Dying Light. You were wrong. I was wrong. This is some of the most fun I’ve had with a zombie game in years.
See, I’d never bothered with Zombie Army Trilogy. I know, and trust the hell out of, Rebellion given my undying love for their Sniper Elite titles, but the idea of barrelling through hordes of zombies on the same engine just never appealed to me. I’ll be downloading my copy of ‘Trilogy’ right after I finish writing this review. I want more. I need more.
The story of ZA4 itself is even more ridiculous than the gameplay. Staying consistent with the series, these aren’t just zombies. They are Nazi zombies. In fact, the entire Nazi army was pulled from the grave by occult forces, raising literal hell and causing the kind of wild and reckless chaos a trained sniper is best equipped for.
Sniper Elite’s slow-mo x-ray kills are, of course, replicated here. And it’s precisely what you’d expect if you, like me, gleefully played your way through 2017’s outstanding Sniper Elite 4. The visceral and taut gun mechanics that define Rebellion’s mainline series work well against the undead, but instead of tactical soldiers and requisite stealth, you’ve got in-your-face, shoot-em-up gore and adrenaline-inducing situations that can clearly overwhelm you in a second.
Doubling Down on Insanity
Truth be told, I hated ZA4 for the first hour or so, longing for that said stealth and wishing these enemies would just shoot back (although you do zombies that can clumsily shoot guns Land of the Dead style). The further you get into the game, the more batshit scenarios are thrown at you. Rebellion clearly anticipated all possible criticism, and doubled down on the insanity. In fact, the game doesn’t stop improving until the very end – a rarity, across all genres.
Key to this steady improvement throughout the game is the retooled levelling up system, which rewards you by tallying points from combo kills and secret items found during each chapter, and converting them to XP. Your profile moves up in rank as you barrel through the campaign, unlocking skill points you use to unlock perks. You can even duck out of the main game and try your luck with horde mode, essential for the game’s high replay value, which is the fastest way to move up in rank.
Although the biggest issue here is that many of the perks just aren’t that great. Combined with upgrade kits found in each chapter, you’ll add some minor incendiary damage here, maybe increase a magazine there, but for the most part it doesn’t match up to the oddball fun of the actual gameplay. I’m not expecting Borderlands here, but at least give me buffs worth striving for.
Zombie Shark (doo, doo, doo, doo-do-do)
Much more successful is the prevalence of fun environmental kills, accessed via shooting spinning fans on highlighted parts of a map. Luring a horde of zombies into line with a huge carbine and then watching as they all get sucked in and minced is a genuine pleasure, as is the most ridiculous process of activating massive undead sharks to help you out of a jam.
The environments themselves are also well thought it. They aren’t stunningly detailed or inventive, but instead find their strength in faithful reproductions of themes. One early chapter has you ferrying through the canals of Venice, while another takes the rooftops of Naples where ninja zombie snipers (yes, ninja zombie snipers) become a clear nuisance, alongside butcher zombies which could give Leatherface a run for his money.
Death for Life
Although the smartest thing Rebellion has done here is borrow a little inspiration from Doom and open up a mechanic by which you can occasionally melee kill a zombie for health and ammo. Mastering this technique, available after a certain number of kills, becomes crucial to surviving hordes in the latter stages of the game, which introduces a really fun and rewarding slice of strategy that’s unexpected from a seemingly mindless horde shooter.
Then you have the whole multiplayer thing, where this game’s replay value will really be tested. Admittedly, my PS Plus subscription was expired during my playthrough so I can’t comment on the online multiplayer aspect. I can imagine though, and I imagine that played this co-op with four others would be a delight – masterfully executing plans to take down overwhelming hordes in decaying European settings. I’m giddy just thinking about it.
All up, ZA4 is so successful because it flat out refuses to take itself seriously. A giant zombie that runs at you with a flamethrower and knows how to use it? A commander zombie that can uproot a bunch of suicide bomber zombies just to mess your entire plan up? Fucking zombie sharks. It may be B-movie schlock, but it sure is fiendishly fun B-movie schlock. This isn’t even a full-priced game. Get it, get it now.
Now do note that there I did encounter some rather unfortunate bugs during my play. You know the kind that sometimes confuses the system and doesn’t let it register a mission as complete? Yeah, those ones. Twice actually. These were only minor inconveniences as checkpoints were nearby, and restarting was an easy fix (hint: as soon as the game introduces necromancers, make sure they all register as defeated before moving on). I imagine this is something that will be quickly patched seeing as ZA4 was only released earlier this week.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Great replay value; plenty of action; sweet environmental kills; deliciously gory; doesn’t take itself seriously; gets better and better as the game goes on.
Lowlights: Zombie sharks underused; largely boring perks to unlock
Developer: Rebellion Developments
Publisher: Rebellion Developments
Platforms: Xbox One, PC, PS4
For more information on the game head on over to the official website HERE.
This game was reviewed using a PS4 code provided by the publisher.