Zombie Army 4: Dead War is only a few weeks away, and feels like another solid outing from Rebellion. It takes the shooter blueprint of Sniper Elite 4 and applies it to a bloody, charming and firmly chaotic spin on the series' formula. If you're after a co-operative shooter to play with friends, this is the perfect way to kick off 2020.
- Review Price: £49.99
- Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
- Genre: Shooter
- Developer: Rebellion
- Release Date: February 4, 2020
Zombie Army began life as little more than an ambitious side project, developed alongside Rebellion’s Sniper Elite series as a way to experiment with more playful, outlandish ideas. But after making its budget back in under 24 hours, it was clear something far greater sat amongst the hordes of undead fascists that players adored blowing to pieces again and again.
From this spawned a franchise which is bigger and better than ever, abandoning the Sniper Elite name in favour of its own lineage – one that’s delightfully wacky and revels in its own gruesome campiness. While its execution is undeniably generic, the mechanical workings of Zombie Army 4: Dead War are compelling enough that it’s easy to look past such shortcomings.
Rebellion has crafted yet another solid third-person shooter that’s best played with friends as you tackle a series of increasingly difficult levels and modes each with something wonderfully unique at their core. A vast array of characters, weapons and locations combine to make an outing I’m very eager to slice into, even if at times it feels a little too familiar.
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Zombie Army 4 uses Sniper Elite 4’s shooting mechanics as its blueprint, taking Rebellion’s latest refinements and pouring them over the zombie formula like a bloody syrup. It translates well, although largely abandons the slow, stealthy pace of its sibling in favour of a faster, more chaotic style of gunplay.
The ultra-violent slow motion killcam of previous games return, but sadly doesn’t pack the same punch when things move a million miles a minute. Constantly diving between firefights across tight, claustrophobic environments doesn’t give this mechanic a chance to shine, oftentimes feeling like a needless distraction when every second is a fight for survival amidst endlessly shambling hordes.
I played through a selection of modes during my brief time with Zombie Army 4: Dead War, including a handful of traditional missions and a large, objective-based horde mode set across an arena packed with disgusting trenches and rusting transmission towers. One stage saw us tasked with assembling and refueling a rocket, fending off hordes of advancing enemies as we completed each new task.
Things began at the edge of the battlefield as a trio of identical soldiers and I marched towards certain oblivion. The atmosphere is palpable, spooky music and environmental shrieks indicating nearby threats, most of which we can choose to take out stealthily or begin a brazen approach of all-out war. I was playing with a bunch of other journalists, so my idea of taking out zombies like a systematic spy didn’t last long.
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That, and stealth is only ever a temporary solution. The majority of missions will inevitably conclude with you defending a specific point on the map, with foes swarming in from every possible direction. In fact, this happened multiple times during this mission. Its opening moments saw me and my friends moving to different points across the map to refuel tankers to gain access to a facility hoping for temporary respite against the undead hordes.
After doing so, we had to hold off enemies before the agonizingly slow door crept open. It’s tense, but somewhat repetitive until new enemy types begin rearing their heads towards the end. After that, it’s both hugely satisfying and frustrating as you try and hold off an assortment of bullet-sponge creatures who will stop at nothing to put you in the ground.
The cast of Zombie Army 4 is charmingly macabre, pulling liberally from years of horror films and literature, particularly the likes of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead and similar stylings of low-budget horror cinema. Aside from the usual suspects of zombies clad in Nazi uniforms, you’ll stumble across towering behemoths covered in metal plates and razor-sharp spikes, impervious to normal bullets and requiring a specific strategy to take down.
Fat, lumbering creatures wielding chainsaws will sprint towards you alongside skinny spectres wired with dynamite. The range of variety is fairly staggering, reinforcing the foundation of Zombie Army 4’s otherwise passable gunplay. At times it becomes clear the stealthy nature of Sniper Elite 4 doesn’t always translate perfectly to quick, reflex-heavy situations, especially when you’re clambering across cover and up structures to escape hordes. It’s enjoyable at its core, but clumsy around the edges.
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You’ll come across a bunch of new and familiar weapons throughout your time in Zombie Army 4: Dead War. Classic military firearms are accompanied by melee weapons inspired by the occult, many of which can be made even more outlandish with the help of an extensive customisation system. For example, I turned a boring old bolt-action rifle into an automatic beast of a weapon with lightning-infused rounds, shocking zombies so hard they couldn’t even move.
It was badass, and only small sample of the wild combinations players will uncover across the game’s four characters. Boris, Shola, Jun and Karl Fishburne make up Zombie Army 4’s main cast, with more set to be introduced in the form of downloadable content going forward. Each of them has a distinct loadout of weapons, items and abilities you can alter to fit your playstyle, or make it so one is curated to each playable hero.
In terms of personality they’re all fairly stereotypical, drenched in archetypes we’ve seen the genre explore countless times before. But Zombie Army 4 isn’t about pristine character development and heart-wrenching narratives – its characters are little more than an aesthetic shell for the oncoming slaughter. Chances are much of the dialogue will be drowned out by your friend’s banter during co-op sessions anyway. However, if you’re a fan of kooky, tongue-in-cheek antics, there’s a lot to love about what’s being explored here.
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While the third-person shooter mechanics don’t break any new ground, all of the aforementioned elements combine to create a genuinely compelling whole, especially in horde mode. You’ll start in a small arena with nothing but an ammunition box. Each wave will see you unlock new weapons and areas, widening the map until its overwhelming in scope.
Working with friends as you guard different directions with an increasing range of deadly weapons and traps is thrilling, each round forcing a distinct change in strategy to stay alive. If the full package can maintain this sense of addictive momentum and worthwhile teamwork, we’re in for a treat. Rebellion told me that all modes will be playable on your lonesome, although I can see certain parts being far more challenging and less fulfilling as a result.
Zombie Army 4: Dead War is only a few weeks away, and feels like another solid outing from Rebellion. It takes the shooter blueprint of Sniper Elite 4 and applies it to a bloody, charming and firmly chaotic spin on the series’ formula. If you’re after a co-operative shooter to play with friends, this is the perfect way to kick off 2020.
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