With a title like Zombie Army 4: Dead War
you sort of know what to expect, or not to expect. Even if you didn’t play any of the first three Zombie Army games – of which two were standalone downloadable expansions for Sniper Elite V2
and the third an unreleased entry that made up Zombie Army Trilogy
- there’s an air of simplicity to its descriptive power. Zombies, war, armies, four. Add in necrotic Nazis walking all slow-like, throw in some co-operative action, and it won’t be long until you begin to utter the title Left 4 Dead
Is this that? A co-op shooter in the mould of Valve
’s classic? Sure, Zombie Army 4 is a co-operative zombie dealy with the same episodic structure and cadence. Set during World War II times in a fictional and very silly alternate timeline where Hitler’s obsession with the occult led to him becoming a lord of hell, Zombie Army 4 goes so far as to attempt a single narrative spanning an impressive nine campaign episodes playable with up to four people. Broken up into thematic grindhouse-movie like chunks, ala L4D.
Where it sets itself apart comes from the source material, developer Rebellion
’s third-person Sniper Elite series which focuses on long-range shooting that blends semi-realism with comic x-ray execution sequences. These elements can still be found in Zombie Army 4, and in a lot of ways make-up most of the variety. Sniping hordes of distant zombies has a different feel to the close-quarter combat usually associated with this style of game. The introduction of a kill-count combo system adds an arcade flair that encourages the alternating of taking care of threats on the horizon with a rifle as well as those up close and personal with a well-placed buckshot. And all without taking a break.
“There’s an air of simplicity to [the title's] descriptive power. Zombies, war, armies, four.”
Without the combo system the predictable, scripted, and at times slow pace would be brought to the fore – but adding in the additive alongside the silly premise, it all begins to take on a comic and light tone. One that carries across to the set-pieces, and the mostly intuitive and in-depth progression system. Even if the weapon upgrade system deters you from mixing things up due to it being a slow process. There’s a lot on offer, especially for those with a regular co-op crew, or for fans of challenging shooters and well-executed horde modes.
Where things falter, and this is a weird problem to have with a game called Zombie Army 4 – comes with the overall lack of visual or level variety across the nine episodes. Even when you venture into hell, there’s very little to let you know you’re in an alternate dimension or plane. Level-design is not one of Zombie Army 4’s strong suits. Overcast nights, foggy horizons, old European buildings, sometimes a path through a forest, or sometimes a factory of some kind laid out in a very videogame way.
In the quest to offer enough to provide several nights and sessions of things to see and do, Rebellion forgot to add in more than maybe one or two memorable moments or distinct visuals changes. The visit to a creepy zoo being one of the few standouts. Zombie Army 4, on a pure technical level, looks like Rebellion’s Strange Brigade
– but without the bright vibrant glow of sunlight and a fun archaeological vibe, the engine’s limitations make everything from zombie models to animation to environment detail look functional at best.
That is, until you see the impressive amount of gory detail in one of the giant zombie sharks. For a game full of enemies with eyes that glow in the dark perhaps the most impressive feat by the team at Rebellion is with how it maintains the feeling of being in the midst of a B-movie with over-the-top action as opposed to a horror. But even here it would have been nice to see Rebellion lean a little more into the sillier side of the premise.
“The introduction of a kill-count combo system adds an arcade flair that encourages the alternating of taking care of threats on the horizon with a rifle as well as those up close and personal with a well-placed buckshot.”
Going back to Left 4 Dead, which only had a handful of episodes at launch, you could very easily tell them apart. Not so much here, to the point where the entire Zombie Army 4 campaign playthrough feels like one big blur. Fending off waves of zombies and walking along linear pathways broken up by the odd surprise of seeing an undead tank. As in a tank tank, not a heavy zombie to take out. It’s a shame because this in turn will factor into the need or want to replay it all at a higher difficulty level or simply to level-up rankings to unlock skins, perks, and other elements. ‘Let’s do that again’ plays an important role in the perception and longevity of a co-op game, and on that front Zombie Army 4: Dead War falls short.