Killing Nazi zombies is still a ton of fun.
Zombie Army 4: Dead War

Zombie Army 4: Dead War is a game that is all about killing Nazi zombies. There is no deep, hidden meaning to be found here. There is no subtle nuance about whether or not "we're the baddies." It's just good, messy, Nazi zombie killing fun. Zombie Army 4 does not try to reinvent the genre. It still hangs onto the idea of four-players going up against plenty of zombies. It still contains explicit slow-motion kills. If anything, Zombie Army 4 refines what it offered in previous installments of the franchise and in doing so manages to deliver a great co-op focused experience.

At the time of its release, Zombie Army 4 really did not have much in the way of competition. Games like Left 4 Dead have mostly come and gone. A rumored Left 4 Dead 3 was already shot down from Valve themselves. That really just leaves something like World War Z, which came out back in April 2019 to contend with in the gaming world. While I do find World War Z to be a fantastic game, I would not be comfortable placing these two games against each other in a direct comparison. The similarities stop after you get past the fact that they are both co-op focused shooters that have you taking out a bunch of the undead. As absurd as it sounds, I found World War Z to be more rooted in reality when compared to Zombie Army 4. This is not a slight against either title. Zombie Army 4 leans heavily into the paranormal and the occult. It is more tongue in cheek and campy. Zombie Army 4 is a game that doesn't take itself too seriously.

Zombie Army 4: Dead War's story is, to put it simply, absurd. It is absurd in all of the right ways and it's because of this absurdity that it separates itself from the pack a bit. Groups of occultists have brought back the Nazis from the depths of Hell. The story will take you and up to three additional friends roughly 10 to 15 hours to complete on your first go. This is obviously going to depend on how many players you have, what difficulty you're playing on, whether you scaled the game to have larger horde sizes when playing with under four players, whether or not you are working to complete the assorted bonus objectives, or find all of the collectibles. For instance, there were just three of us playing through the campaign, but we were playing on the hardest difficulty and with the zombie horde scaled up as if we were a four-man team. Thus our playtime was probably much longer than if you had kept the scaling on default or had an extra person. Even with the difficulty ramped up and us missing our fourth, I do wish that there were an even harder difficulty present. With a number of exceptions in the second half of the game, a lot of the game did feel a bit too easy still. This is just a personal preference, but it is one echoed by my co-op partners.

Zombie Army 4: Dead War

If the lengthy campaign wasn't enough for you, there is the included Horde mode. Though the story takes you through a variety of diverse locales, mainly within mid-20th century Italy, the Horde mode sticks you in one location and tasks you with seeing how long you can survive. As you progress through the waves of enemies, more of the map opens up to you. This exposes new weapon stashes to you in addition to providing new environmental kills that will help you achieve victory in a pinch. This mode can get quite intense as more and more enemies that are diverse start attacking from all angles. Horde mode is also a hell of a crash course in getting very familiar with a larger variety of weapons and gadgets than what you may have been used to from the main story mode.

Both modes throw a good number of unique enemies at you as you make progress. As you make your way through the story, you are slowly introduced to zombies that have special abilities. For instance, there are zombies that wear makeshift heavy armor that needs to be destroyed before you can kill them. There are zombies that carry around flamethrowers. The big red gas tanks on their back make for a nice explosion when shot by your sniper rifles. Speaking of flamethrowers, the ones in this game are a ton of fun to use because they actually have a very high range, something you don't see too often in games with flamethrowers in them. There are zombies that jump from rooftop to rooftop in an effort to out snipe you. I won't mention many other zombie types here because encountering them and figuring out how to eliminate them for the first time is part of the thrill.

Combat in this game is a nice blend of long range sniping, up close melee, and everything in between. All players can customize their loadouts but all players must have at least one long-range rifle, a medium to short-range secondary weapon, and a pistol of some type. Though many of the weapons are era appropriate, that era being an alternate-reality WWII setting, there is a healthy dose of sci-fi added into it. All weapons have small skill trees that can unlock enhanced features on them. For example, one sniper rifle has the ability to shock enemies and temporarily stun them. Unlocks for the weapon can increase the damage output and the number of enemies that lightning can jump to. The secondary weapons include a number of automatic weapons and shotguns. I stuck with my double-barreled shotgun throughout the campaign. It was able to set enemies on fire and eventually I unlocked the ability to saw off the end to make it a sawed-off that allowed me to hit more enemies at once with a burst of flame rounds. Grenades and traps also have these modifiers included, and are procured from various stashes in the game world. The healing grenade was great because it both healed you and your teammates while damaging enemies that walked within its radius. My personal loadout was rounded out by my trusty sidearm that dealt double damage for the first few shots of the magazine.

Zombie Army 4: Dead War

There will come a point where the weapon upgrades kind of stop, at least for the weapons you use the most. You will have accumulated enough upgrade kits to max out your weapons with little effort. If you manage to unlock all of the skills for a weapon, which is admittedly quite easy to do, you will get a chance to unlock special Masteries for each of your favorite weapons. Depending on which weapon you're working on, the Masteries can come either naturally as you play or they require you go out of your way to earn them. For example, a shotgun may require you to remove a specific number of limbs. This should just come naturally as you play. However, a sniper rifle Mastery may require that you shoot through the scope of an enemy sniper X number of times. In the heat of a battle, that can be particularly challenging.

If the modified weaponry wasn't enough, your character can also perform special abilities. One ability allows you to carry out a special fatality-like animation kill against a foe. These animations depended on what weapon you were carrying and where the enemy was positioned compared to you when activating the ability. This can provide a nice health boost when you need it most. My personal loadout also allowed me to fire a special shot with my sniper rifle that penetrated multiple enemies at once, making for a quick and easy way to thin out the herd. My character's ability that focused on my secondary weapon allowed me to enter a temporary "berserker" like state. During this time, I was able to fire my shotgun and reload it in a fraction of the time it normally takes. These abilities were not able to be spammed but would come back over time or after you eliminated enough enemies on your own. These special abilities were a lot of fun to use and added just enough variety to the game without feeling like they were overbearing.

Weapons can be upgraded by finding upgrade kits in the game world, reaching certain character ranks, completing all mission challenges, finding all collectibles in a campaign chapter, or by finishing a Sticker Album Page. Sticker Pages are akin to milestone challenges like what you'd find in other games. You earn progress towards these by pretty much doing things you would normally do anyway, like getting 100 headshot kills, or blowing up lots of baddies with grenades. Players can also get special upgrades that can complement their personal play styles. A couple of these upgrades, of which there are many, include abilities like increased melee resistance, or reduced stamina consumption.

Zombie Army 4: Dead War

Collectibles in this game are actually kind of fun to try to find. More often than not, these collectibles will include a decent amount of world building should you take the time to reads through them. Each level also includes a handy counter to let you know how many of these collectibles you found, so that you can easily return later to find the rest. By far, one of the best collectibles in the game are the zombie hands. Most levels have at least one zombie hand that walks around on its own or partakes in a little humorous action. You collect them by shooting them at which point you learn the name of the zombie hand you just found. It's silly and it's stupid, but it provided a good chuckle on more than one occasion. The zombie hands aren't the only amusing aspect in the game. There are references to various movies that you can find throughout the campaign. Maybe you'll come across a couple of zombies just chilling by a river and relaxing in some chairs. Other surprises are more focused on offering up a quick scare and it was always a delight when my friends and I stumbled upon them.

While none of the upgrade systems are necessarily needed in a game like this, they are very welcome inclusions. They add that tiny bit of depth to a genre that is too often just a single note. With these upgrades and customization options, players may keep coming back for more and playing campaigns and levels that have already previously completed. To top it off, there are some interesting weekly challenges that attempt to entice players to keep coming back for more. These challenges will often have players going through a level or an entire campaign chapter with a few modifiers turned on. An example would be going through the game's first campaign but being only allowed to use your sniper rifles. So far, these challenges haven't been particularly difficult. However, like most of the game's added features, they are nice to have. I just have to wonder if these systems and challenges will be enough to keep people playing once they finish the campaign.

The game is supported nicely by a soundtrack that will take you back to the era of campy horror films in the 70s and 80s. This classic synthesized style feels simultaneously familiar yet fresh all at the same time. If you were to take the music from Zombie Army 4 and insert it into old George Romero films or John Carpenter's The Thing, it would be an almost perfect fit in most cases.

Zombie Army 4: Dead War

The entire package for Zombie Army 4 does have a few rough edges. Some of the environmental details were a little lacking at times. For most people this really isn't much of an issue. The fact remains though that I easily spotted a few buildings that had no windows where there should have been windows, and this was without me trying to find stuff like that. The upside here is that while the game may not be a looker and push tech to its limits, it does run incredibly well most of the time. The game is also incredibly atmospheric, which is a huge plus working in the game's favor.

I also wasn't a massive fan of seeing a couple of weapon options be locked behind versions of the game that are between $10 and $30 beyond the base game's $49.99 (USD) price. If these items were just cosmetics, this would be a complete non-issue. However, those without the more premium editions will see these weapons on their loadout selections and they will appear as locked until you pay the price. That's really rather off-putting.

The biggest concern is how replayable the game is. Unless you have a strong desire to max out every weapon upgrade path or unlock every cosmetic skin, many people may just play through the campaign once, maybe dive into the Horde mode for a bit, and stop there. With no venues for custom campaigns like with the Left 4 Dead franchise, players are stuck with what they have unless they spend the near $35 (USD) for the Season Pass One that will add in, among other things, just three additional levels.

A few other minor quibbles I had include the lack of more challenging difficulties. I would have liked to see an option to get even more of the undead horde coming at you at once, or a difficulty that goes beyond hard. Being able to scale the horde size up to what it would be for a four-man team while you are playing with less is a nice feature but when it comes to games like this, even more is always better. I also would have loved to see a dodge roll mechanic included in Zombie Army 4. The developer, Rebellion, also put out a co-op game in 2018 called Strange Brigade. That game featured a dodge roll that I feel would complimented the action and feel of this game perfectly.


Final Say
Zombie Army 4: Dead War introduces just enough to set itself apart from the horde of zombie co-op shooters out there. It came out at a time where it doesn't have much in the way of competition, making it a near no-brainer for those looking for some old-fashioned Nazi zombie killing fun. Each campaign offers a new location to explore, new environmental Easter eggs to discover, new creepy dolls to find, and new challenges to overcome. Rebellion's signature X-ray kills, a staple of their Sniper Elite games, are more visceral than ever before. Delight as heads are blown away, balls are pulverized, and hearts are shredded before your very eyes.

Overall, my friends and I had a blast with the game. I was provided with two copies of the game for review, and I purchased a third copy for a friend because of how much fun the first friend and I were having. That's not something I normally do, which may tell you a lot about the amount of silly fun this game ended up providing us.

I'd also like to give a special shout out to a game mechanic that allows you to spectate your AI controlled reanimated corpse should a teammate fail to revive you in time. Though we were on the same team, you had better believe I was rooting for my undead character to take out my former teammates. It managed to do so a couple of times and it sure made me happy.




Score
4 out of 5 stars



Additional Information
  • Zombie Army 4: Dead War
    • Developed by: Rebellion Developments
    • Published by: Rebellion Developments
  • Price: Starting at $49.99 (USD) via Epic Games Store (timed exclusive; affiliate link)
  • Platform reviewed on: PC
    • Also available on: Xbox One, PlayStation 4
  • Hardware used: i7-6700K at 4.5GHz, 32GB DDR4-2666, Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti, Windows 10 64-bit Version 1903
  • This game was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes.

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