As the dust settles after the barrage of gunfire, a smoky haze clouds my vision across the cobbled European streets. Mere seconds ago, I was fighting an onslaught of horrific Nazis, hellbent on ending my life. Now, the cracks in my path are filled with blood, drained from the life-force just taken. Cracks that can only be seen beyond the layers of German bodies which lay draped beneath me, with a cold stare in their eyes. As I breath and recuperate, one of the bodies twitches. Before I’ve even had time to react, so does another – then another – then another. Before I know it, the lives of those hellish Nazis I just took are convulsing in a gruesome fashion. They slowly raise, their gaze fixed upon me. With a deep sigh, I load the gun and prepare for another wave of undead horror. Zombie Army 4: Dead War is a tsunami of limbs and guts – and it’s bloody great.
Starting as a spin-off from the cult classic Sniper Elite, the latest instalment in the Zombie Army franchise aims to build upon its predecessors in satisfying new ways. With a combined amount of instalments to rival the Fast & Furious franchise, it’s evident that Rebellion Developments know how to handle their properties. Each game aims to build upon its previous iteration and craft a pulpy yet graphic representation of the life as a sniper. With Zombie Army, the team aims to expand from that concept in fun and exciting advancements, and Zombie Army 4: Dead War is the best incarnation they’ve managed thus far.
Set across multiple campaigns. Zombie Army 4: Dead War sees Europe heavily occupied by a zombie infested Nazi regime. Make no mistake, this is no historical retelling of those tragic events. If the recent Oscar nominated movie 1917 was a representation of World War I, then Zombie Army 4: Dead War is World War Z meets Blackadder. Each campaign plays across numerous chapters, embracing its B-movie love through cheesy titles and extravagant art work, reminiscent of classic video nasties. None of the narratives are particularly memorable, but possess a tongue-in-cheek attitude to keep them light and breezy.
There are many standout levels from a zombie infested zoo with underwater beasties to give Jaws a run for its money, to close encounter forests filled with dense woodlands lurking with horror. As you progress through, more and more variations of enemies will unveil themselves with some truly crazy creations. You’ll be tasked to take down zombies that teleport, snipe and spit acidic bait at you, ensuring the ante is constantly upped. The levels also manage to differentiate themselves enough to each have their own personality and spin on zombie lore, keeping the campaign fresh through its playtime. Large battlefields involving a zombified tank require strategic cooperation with your partner, whereas the tight interiors call for quick reactions in close quarter combat. The variation in combat encounters ensures that your playstyle never remains the same.
Mechanically though, they all boil down to the same principle of wiping every undead beast in the hopes for survival. Objectives such as defending certain points or activating switches are used to propel the player forward, but ultimately remain the same. Ammo is consistently a problem during each level, which is an issue for a game priding itself as a cooperative arcade shooter. Numerous amounts of times me and my partner would feel penalised for embracing the gruesome destruction on display, when those tools were stripped away from us with such short ammo supplies. It could be argued that these create intense combat moments, but it just ends up being irritating. Some levels are also privy to sharp difficulty spikes, which can create seemingly endless hordes of undead drooling for your tasty flesh. An early level involving multiple generators in an open arena is victim to this and situations like this can cause unnecessary road blocks in what should be an exciting set piece.
These campaigns would lack any incentive to progress if the gunplay wasn’t up to snuff – but boy, it certainly packs a punch. Retaining the kill cam feature from Sniper Elite which showcases the bone crushing, gut squelching destructions a single bullet can do, it still remains visually impressive and graphically gratifying. Not only that, but the selection of assault rifles, shotguns and pistols all carry their own satisfying punch to remain necessary. From the simple clink of a sniper rifle, to the explosion of raining blood from the receiving end of a pump-action shotgun, each kill delivers enough body horror mayhem to feel right at home in an 80’s David Cronenberg movie. Accompanying this are character abilities which enable you to cause carnage through powers such as takedowns on zombies to regain health or a powerful melee strike to punch the daylights out of your foe, meaning you always have a varied arsenal to deliver. Upgrade kits can be found across the levels to progress your weapons further into devastatingly dangerous weapons of Nazi destruction, with explosive rounds and enhanced damage being just a few of the available perks. It not only encourages you to experiment with weapon loadouts, but provides an incentive to explore the environments.
Venturing through each campaign is an absolute joy, especially for any horror enthusiast out there. Within the first ten minutes, a hidden room lay dormant, showcasing nothing but a typewriter. Upon closer inspection, the option to use said typewriter presented itself. The curious player that I am gladly accepted and was greeted with a chilling message saying “don’t turn around”. As I slowly ignored that message, I carefully rotated my character to see several creepy dolls stood behind me – their cold, dead eyed stare fixated on my presence. Zombie Army 4: Dead War is filled with fun little interactions like this. This is clearly a world developed with love for the horror genre and the surge of cheap, straight-to-video gorefests that saturated the movie industry during the ‘70s and ‘80s. It’s easy to plainly sail from point A to B in each campaign, but if you wish to explore the environments more closely, you will find a host of spooky Easter eggs to indulge in.
Zombie Army 4: Dead War rewards players for the time and energy they invest into this world. For the first time in the franchise, a progression system has been incorporated. By levelling up your character you unlock perks and customisable options to personally craft the experience to your playstyle. The variety of kills you perform in each level will determine how much experience you gain; with more inventive kills, headshots and takedowns rewarding you with further points. Maintaining a multiplier is also vital to ensure that maximum points are gained in the more chaotic segments. With a cooperative partner, this enhances the sense of competition, as you compete to see who can whack, smash and curb-stomp the most undead Nazis into oblivion. Levels are rewarded with a bronze, silver or gold ranking, meaning that honing your skills is required for the perfect run through.
Your player is also subject to numerous upgrades, with abilities such as being able to self-revive by killing a zombie when down, or enhanced stamina to increase your chance of survival in tricky situations. Some of these perks can be the difference between life and death. Item mods are also unlocked to gift players with certain upgrades to any pick-ups obtained from the world. Mines can be modded to attract zombies, and medkits can later be used when incapacitated, also causing an electric burst to pulsate from you and destroy any nearby enemies. This means that each level you push through ensures you’re consistently building your character up and giving yourself new toys to play with. When the main aim of the game never really expands from its initial idea, it makes full use of its arsenal to stretch those ideas as far as possible in gratifying ways.
Horde mode returns as another means to level up your character and test your strength. It’s also the most demanding for cooperative play, with increasingly challenging waves of zombies pushing themselves towards your team. Randomised enemy placement means you never feel safe for too long and the enemy variety changes your team’s battle tactics on the fly. Where the campaign retains some downtime as you progress through each story, Horde mode ensures you’re brain is constantly on the agenda for a zombie’s dinner, and if you don’t use it effectively then this could be your end. This mode doesn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to horde modes within video games, but it does manage to provide further incentive to jump back in once the credits have rolled and you’re looking to further drape the streets of Europe in undead blood.
All of this runs incredibly smoothly as one cohesive package. Zombie Army 4: Dead War won’t blow you away in the graphics department, but boasts 4K visuals and HDR for Xbox One X users. The HDR is particularly nice, adding an extended atmosphere to the surroundings with moody lighting effects, a wonderful contrast between the lighter and darker visuals, and punctuating the glare of red eyes from the increasing amount of zombie hordes. As of the time of reviewing, the online servers ran with zero problems and drop-in/drop-out co-op functioned without a hitch. This is an experience specifically catered for cooperative play, so having the ease of access with multiplayer is welcomed with open arms.
In a world where Valve can’t seem to count past two with its Left 4 Dead franchise, Rebellion Developments is out here crafting the fourth entry in their Zombie Army series. It’s gory, gruesome, chaotic zombie killing action and I have loved every second I have participated in laying waste to the undead hordes with the satisfying clunk of a bullet leaving my barrel. Boasting a series of increasingly challenging but engaging campaigns packed with secrets and built with passion, it’s hard not to love Zombie Army 4: Dead War on Xbox One. As I walked the streets of Europe with my partner, decimating the oncoming zombie invasion, I was reminded of how simple games can be so much fun. Zombie Army 4: Dead War isn’t a genre defying resurrection on the zombie formula, but it is a satisfying mutation of the franchise, and I can’t wait to dive back in and tear some guts apart.