There’s a saying that is frequently used in gaming when describing something that is more of the same: You’ve played one, you’ve played them all. There’s perhaps no more succinct way of summarising the Zombie Army entries than that because Zombie Army 4: Dead War is simply more Zombie Army despite being a fully-fledged title. While it’s hard to argue that gunning down hordes of zombie isn’t fun, especially when playing in co-op, this fourth instalment does highlight an element of fatigue that is starting to kick in when it comes to slaying mass zombies.
Bring out yer dead
If you’ve never heard of the Zombie Army games, they’re a spinoff series in the popular Sniper Elite franchise where Hitler has danced with the devil and summoned an army of zombies to help him avoid defeat in World War II. However despite tasting defeat in previous games, Zombie Army 4’s premise sees Hitler’s undead military rising once again and overpowering most of Europe’s forces, leaving the Survivor Brigade to once again save the day.
Developed again by Rebellion Developments, who have priors in delivering fun co-op shooters with 2019’s enjoyable Strange Brigade, Zombie Army 4 is less about fighting for survival and more about having a grand old time racking up zombie kills and points. Much like Strange Brigade, you can go at it as a lone wolf or you can join a party of four to take down Hitler’s decaying soldiers.
After choosing from one of four characters (two males or two females) to embody, the fightback against the dead starts in Venice (a damn cool setting for a zombie apocalypse I must say), with our hero(es) immediately having to put the tools of their trade to work. Right from the get-go it’s obvious that Rebellion knows what Zombie Army does well, as throngs of zombies rush your position, so why change a good thing?
The death canals of Venice
The combat in Zombie Army has always been the series’ crowning element, and as repetitive as it may be, there’s something addictive about watching your kill count skyrocket as you incinerate enemies with a flamethrower, see their limbs explode off courtesy of a shotgun blast or watch their insides burst thanks to the game’s brutal and iconic kill cam.
Players have access to a decent array of weaponry as they progress through Venice and beyond, with shotguns and rifles always a trusty choice. Each weapon can be upgraded too, with upgrade kits either earnt or found during the game. Thankfully these upgrade kits aren’t pre-fixed, instead players can choose which upgrade they’d like to activate, whether it be explosive rounds or enhanced scope zoom.
There’s also a good variety of explosive ammunition such as electric grenades, tripwires and healing grenades, which help spice up the action or get you out of a tight place from time to time. Furthermore, players can unlock perks, including melee attacks such as an electric punch that charges up over time.
As far as the narrative goes, it does a surprisingly decent job of keeping things interesting without becoming tacky, and the voice acting and writing isn’t too shabby either. The story will have you fighting in some generic locations but it all works well together and the 80s-inspired aesthetic, including the soundtrack, helps sell the game’s B-grade movie plotline.
Take a bite of this
The problem with the Zombie Army series – and games of this ilk – has always been about how long it stays fun before becoming a slog. Thankfully playing in co-op assuages any feelings of repetition, as it is genuinely a fun time. Tackling Hitler’s undead army with mates is both a laugh and hectic, and it’s easy to get caught up in trying to outscore your partner(s). Enhancing this is the game’s difficulty, which provides a decent challenge thanks to the varied design of the undead. With everything from your run of the mill zombies, heavy armoured zombies and zombie sharks all itching to get a bite of you.
There’s also a range of customisation options for how you can play co-op too. You can choose which level or chapter to play (as long as it’s unlocked), how difficult you want the challenge to be and how many zombies you’ll come up against. For those that can’t get enough of slaying the undead, there’s a Horde mode that will allow you to take on waves of zombies until your heart’s content.
Despite all the enjoyment to be had in Zombie Army 4, there’s a number of frustrations that hamper the experience. The controls are the main source of annoyance, with movement not feeling fluid at times. It results in little things such as overrunning item/ammo boxes or even objectives (like fuse boxes), getting stuck in doorways and generally running like a headless chicken at times. It may not seem like much on paper but the frequency of it makes you wonder how Rebellion didn’t pick this up in QA testing. Another irritation that occurred is that while playing the campaign in co-op the progress didn’t save or carry over to my solo campaign, despite launching the game from my most recent solo save point. It could have been a glitch and simply not saved, but after losing over an hour of progress I wasn’t going to risk it. If save progress does not carry over (even for the host) then it seems like a fair oversight.
Are you dead and possessed or just happy to see me?
Visually, Zombie Army 4 is solid. It supports 4K and HDR and generally runs without much of a hitch. Environments all look well designed and full of detail, and the zombie designs have enough variation that you’re not worried about fighting the same model all the time (though being an army of undead helps disguise this). There’s also a photo mode included which can make for some pretty good screenshots. I spent more time than I should playing with this.
In what’s almost the Sharknado of video games (who asked for more than one?), Zombie Army 4 manages to largely succeed at being a fun, zombie-slaughtering affair despite it becoming fairly repetitive. It’s best played with mates, although going at it alone is still a good time, creating moments of true chaos and highly visceral carnage. If massacring waves of the undead is your thing, then you’ll struggle to find a game that does it better than Zombie Army 4: Dead War.
Reviewed on Xbox One X // Review code supplied by publisher