NOTE: I am friends with staff working at Rebellion and Sold Out. While this has not impacted this review of the game, I feel this needs to be clarified up front.
Zombie Army 4: Dead War is the latest entry in Rebellion’s successful Zombie Army franchise. Featuring many of the same game-play mechanics of their other action titles, Sniper Elite and Strange Brigade, the game’s irreverent, B movie-inspired humour and imaginative location and enemy design sets it apart. With a focus on arcade-like scoring, over-the-top violence and horde management, Rebellion have delivered an incredibly fun co-operative shooter that may feel familiar but always engaging.
• Publisher: Rebellion Developments, Sold Out
• Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
• Also Available On: Xbox One, PC
• Release Date: Available Now
I first got my hands on Zombie Army 4: Dead War during last year’s EGX in London. Unfortunately, the demo at the time was a solo experience. Regardless, I still came away enjoying my time with the game and hoped the multiplayer experience I had become used to in Sniper Elite and Strange Brigade returned.
Well, I can now happily report that it has. The game is incredibly easy to jump into with friends and it is even easier to customise your experience to how you like it. For instance, the default setting for zombie population at the beginning of the game felt low for us, so we simply increased it, without needing to also affect the difficulty setting. This meant that the challenge was still manageable but we had even more zombie heads to explode.
These personalisation options extends to your characters too. Not only is there a full cast of characters to select, each with their own specific abilities, perks and weaknesses, you can also tailor their loadout to exactly the style of game-play that suits you. For instance, my loadout normally featured the Mosin Nagant M91/30 sniper rifle for picking off enemies at a distance, a Trench Gun shotgun for close encounters and a Webley MKVI pistol for when it all went wrong.
The campaign spans nine massive levels, most of which are broken into four sections separated by safe rooms. Here is where you will restock your ammo, refill your grenade or medikit pouches and upgrade your weapons and items. All of these customisation options mean that progression in the game is always marked with new unlocks to test out and alternative item mods to trial. This all ensures that you never feel bored (not that the zombie slaying would allow you to anyway).
The game is set in Italy, similar to Sniper Elite 4. However, as this is essentially an apocalypse, the level designers can have a lot of fun. For instance, one campaign area is located near a newly erupted Mount Vesuvius, meaning that as well as avoiding the horde of undead after you, you also need to worry about lava. There are also numerous examples of environmental story-telling, as you end up stumbling upon rooms where clearly the feces has hit the proverbial fan.
There are numerous documents and collectibles that also add to the world but overall, the story is in keeping with most B movies—fun but largely forgettable. Previously in the franchise, Hitler was defeated and sent to hell. Unfortunately, this did not stop his zombie army from taking over most of Europe. When you begin Dead War, it looks like a new force is guiding the army and mysterious ‘helltowers’ are spotted across numerous cities. What could it mean? Well, the answer will not shock you but it’s a fun romp in any case.
In terms of moment-to-moment play, Zombie Army features all of the staples of Rebellion’s action games. The genius traps from Strange Brigade return as well as the often gruesome slow-motion sniper shots of the Sniper Elite franchise. Most of the objectives involve withstanding a torrent of zombies until enough die that the game deems it acceptable to move on. As the zombie killing itself is fun and the enemies are so diverse, this is absolutely not a complaint.
I mentioned that the level designers were able to have fun. This must also have been the case for whoever got to design the enemies. Standard zombies are fun but what if they are covered in head-to-toe with armour? Or dynamite (and decide to run at you screaming)? How about officers who summon frenzied troops and must be defeated with shots to their hearts? If all of that is too easy for you, the developers also decided to strap turret guns, flamethrowers and rotary saws to some of their bigger zombie designs and throw them at you too! Thankfully, the audio design is top notch, meaning that thanks to audio cues, like panicked shouts from your character or distinctive zombie screams, you can always tell what monstrosity is about to jump up your zombie killing priority list.
In terms of supplemental content, there will be weekly challenges available (though I wasn’t able to try this out pre-launch), but the mode I see myself jumping back into most is Horde. This is not simply taking sections of pre-existing levels and pumping in enemies at an increasing pace. Instead, each level is designed specifically for this mode, with the completion of waves unlocking new parts of the map. It is even more frenetic than the campaign and ideal for when you have short play-time windows.
My only complaint about Zombie Army 4: Dead War is the fact that it is becoming more and more clear as the generation has gone on that Rebellion’s engine needs a boost before it can successfully move to the next generation. While never ugly, the game is visually behind too many other titles. There were also a few too many instances of graphical glitches to ignore. Hopefully, whatever they plan on doing next includes a robust engine upgrade too.
Zombie Army 4: Dead War is one of Rebellion’s best games and they continue to impress me with the improvements they are making to their own formula. The campaign is solid, the horde mode adds even more game to an already packed title and the fun of killing zombies in their droves has yet to be diminished. In a year that promises some exceptional single-player games, it is nice to see multiplayer co-op games getting the love they deserve.