There are two things in life which people love to shoot the hell out of (in video games), Zombies and the Nazis. Rebellion has provided an answer to this strangely satisfying urge for a while now through their Zombie Army games, games which borrow a lot from their Sniper Elite series but with more of a survival and arcade-like approach. The latest game in the series, Zombie Army 4: Dead War, is finally here, borrowing from not only the aforementioned realistic Sniper Elite 4 but also the fantastical Strange Brigade.
Whether you’ve played the original trilogy last generation, on PC, or via the remasters on all systems (including the Nintendo Switch), or this is your introduction to the series, Zombie Army 4: Dead War requires no prior knowledge in order to enjoy. That being said, just like the previous games, and Strange Brigade, this game is best played with other people in either of the modes on offer. I’ve played through as much as I can on my own but once the game is officially out tomorrow, I’ll be joining random people and playing as an open host – basically playing the game as it’s meant to be played.
I know we’ve barely stepped foot into February but read on to see why this game is currently one of my GOTY titles which raised the bar on the quality I’m looking for over the next twelve months…
Zombie Army 4: Dead War takes place shortly after the events of the previous three games, Hitler had summoned a horde of zombies to stand by him during World War II and used them to effectively cripple the world with mindless bloodshed and pain. However, thanks to the Survivor Brigade, the resistance who stood up against him and his undead minions, Hitler was sent on a one-way trip to Hell. Unfortunately, killing the Fuhrer didn’t return the demonic undead back to whence they came, they remained upon the Earth with no leader or guidance, only a thirst for blood and flesh.
So, with the living population of the Earth diminishing as the number of the active undead rose, it’s time to set back out once again and find the source of the monsters and try to figure out a way to put an end to the invasion once and for all. As a member of the Survivor Brigade, you’ll be travelling across the world and through a number of very unique and original locations, some in open outdoor locations and some within claustrophobic corridors, as you slaughter the animated undead Nazis.
Although this may sound like a generic Zombie game, it really isn’t. The creatures within Zombie Army 4 are very diverse and intelligent – sure, there are ones that will run at you and act as cannon fodder, but others are wearing armour, have flamethrowers, use shields and throw grenades, and even resurrect other undead enemies from their second death in order to fight again. You may have a lot on your mind, with the discoveries you make and ungodly things you witness, but the enemy can only think of one thing – your brain on a platter surrounded by your guts!
Unlike Sniper Elite, the realistic sniping-focused series, Zombie Army is more akin to Strange Brigade as it’s much more action-orientated and fast-paced. However, just because this series would rather have you running around like a headless chicken as you shoot your secondary weapon at anything that moves, without caring who you alert, it still features the infamous x-ray camera when you do decide to use your sniper rifle.
For those who don’t know, the sniping mechanics are second to none, having you adjust your aim to compensate for the wind on harder difficulties and being able to hold your breath to line up the perfect shot. But, the most satisfaction comes from the glorious x-ray camera moments when you fire a deadly shot. Just like in Mortal Kombat, you’ll see the bullet satisfyingly penetrate your foe whilst you see their skeleton – vital organs, bones, or even the testicles will splat, break, or painfully get removed from the impact, all in slow motion. As your enemies are all the undead, causing this kind of damage may not seem beneficial, but removing their head above the jaw, causing their whole skull to explode, or, once again, blowing off their testicles, is so much fun!
To further differentiate this game from the realistic Sniper elite series, in Zombie Army 4 you get a number of fantastical add-ons which you find throughout the levels, such as lightning and incendiary modifications for your weapons. You also have access to a number of special throwables which will cause the zombie’s heads to explode or cover them in some sort of flesh-eating plasma. Although the main weapons themselves are all fairly normal, and not very special, in comparison to the add-ons you find, you can unlock perks that charge over time, such as allowing your sniper to shoot an explosive round once it’s charged up, and target multiple enemies heads then blow them all off at once with your pistol.
The whole experience is very surreal, it looks and feels real but has a few fantastical and extraordinary mechanics which reminds you it’s not. Oh, and there are a bunch of zombies running around, so that also reminds you it’s not a realistic game…
The zombies within Zombie Army 4 come at you fast and thick, you’ll often find yourself overwhelmed by the sheer number of monstrosities that are coming towards you in hopes of a nibble or two. Thankfully, there are a decent number of bottomless ammo crates scattered around the level, usually when a horde attack is about to happen. So, you shouldn’t find yourself without bullets or means of defence, but it’s still a rather intense situation. I actually found that sometimes the best way to deal with a horde is to run away and find a safe room to hide in – unless if the room is locked until you’ve killed everyone…
Just like any game, the initial cannon-fodder enemies are easy to take out, a single shot to the face or a few to the chest should knock them down. Then you’ll start to see zombies with helmets on which require you to be a good shot or knock their headgear off first. Eventually, you’ll see the more dangerous and ‘clever’ foes, big beefy giant zombies covered in sheets of metal, strong ones with flame throwers or mini-guns, creepers who hide in the trees or darkness who crawl at you faster than a dog running, and let’s not forget the suicide bombers which have TNT in their mouths as they run towards you!
The majority aren’t too bad, especially when you use them to your advantage – such as blowing up the suicide bombers in crowds of the undead and hiding behind other zombies so the armed ones accidentally kill their own kind. What surprised me was the number of zombies I actually slaughtered. I’ve not completed the game fully yet but I’ve already killed over 5,000 of the undead – it’s like Dynasty Warriors, more and more enemies come at you and before you know it, you’ve taken down the population of a small town!
I have to say though, the amount of detail that has gone into each and every zombie is incredible. I’ve spent a lot of my time taking pictures in and out of the Photo Mode and the quality displayed is amazing. Not only do each of the enemies have their own programmed personality which affects how they react to you, your attacks, and others around them, but they all look fantastically horrific close-up. I especially love the standard zombies as they’ll flop over waist-height barriers, flat on their face, then get up and continue towards you! They’ll even throw themselves off roofs and high-up platforms just so they can get closer – it’s like it’s raining zombies on some stages! Also, there are zombie sharks… ZOMBIE SHARKS!
When I first started playing Zombie Army 4 I thought it was very brutal and hard due to the scarcity of health kits within the game. You get the chance to pick one up at the checkpoint whilst you’re within the safe room, but after that, I wasn’t finding any in the crates I opened. However, this is because I wasn’t utilising two mechanics which are essential and have converted me from a guy running and hiding all the time to one who confidently stands up tot he hordes and takes them face-on. I shall call these two mechanics the Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine and the Dead Space 3…
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine – After you’ve taken out a number of enemies, an icon will appear at the bottom of the screen in red, this is your Takedown indicator. if you run up to any enemy which is weaker than you (so not the big guys covered in armour) and hit Cross, you’ll do a fancy takedown. Why is this called the Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine? If you perform this special takedown, rather than a standard kill, then you’ll harvest health from the enemy and heal yourself, just like you do in the aforementioned game when you kill the small enemies. It took me so long to realise this was actually a thing!
Dead Space 3 – Have you played Dead Space 3? If so, what’s the one key mechanic which never grew old… That’s right, stomping down your right leg and crushing the poor soul beneath it! Zombie Army 4 has the stomp mechanic, allowing you to not only take out enemies who are grounded but not dead, but you can literally smush their brittle bones into a pulp. But why would you want to do this? Well, other than it being lots of fun and satisfying as you hear them splat beneath your feet, some of the zombies are carrying ammo and heath packs (although the latter is very rare). So, whereas normal zombies fade away, the ones with a ‘prize’ remain until you literally beat the item out of them like a fleshy piñata.
Personalisation and collectables
There are four characters for you to choose from, all with various emotes, hats and taunts which can be unlocked and equipped as you increase your rank. Also, as your rank increases, you’ll gain access to new weapon modifications, special melee attacks, perks and item mods, all of which are a nice bonus for simply playing the game and progressing. The great thing is, no matter what mode you play in (campaign, weekly or horde) and whether you play solo or with others, your player rank will continue to grow, allowing you to share the rewards and unlocks you earn in any subsequent mode you wish to play.
Now, one thing which I’m not a fan of is day-one DLC as I believe that if it’s completed, it should be in the game. Today is pre-launch so I can’t access the shop but there are characters and weapons currently in the player setup which clearly state that they are DLC only, meaning they’ll most likely be on sale tomorrow. They aren’t a big deal, and the DLC weapons don’t seem as good as some of the in-game ones, but it is a little annoying that they’re there.
In regards to collectables, you have an in-game sticker album and performing various tasks will allow you to unlock various stickers. Some of these tasks are easy, such as ‘kill X amount of a certain enemy’, but some are more specific, such as ‘destroy an officer’s heart at over 50 meters’. Each chapter within each stage also has a number of secondary collectables such as comic book pages, documents and upgrade kits. Each one also has a single ‘heroic action’ for you to try and achieve by saving someone’s life before a creature kills them.
However, the best collectable has to be the Zombie Hands. Have you ever seen The Addams Family? Well, remember Thing? If not, he’s a disembodied hand that walks around on his fingers – these are like him only they are generally doing strange things such as sword fighting with a doll.
If you’ve finished the main campaign, which is quite long if playing on your own, or you want to try something different, then Horde Mode is for you. Pick whichever stage you want (providing you’ve completed it in the campaign), the difficulty of the zombies, how many public slots you want for people to come and join you, and what wave you wish to start at. Interestingly, you can also pick the number of enemies who appear. Usually, as the number of players goes up, the number of zombies who attack you also goes up. However, you can manually choose the number of zombies based on one, two, three or four players (or leave it on auto), allowing you to increase or decrease the difficulty when playing with a team.
If you want to join, and not host, you can either use quick play or browse the available games which you can jump into. This reminds me of PC gaming where you have a list of all the hosts, the event details, how many players, and even their connection quality. It’s all rather in-depth for a console game. This same search process can also be used if you’re looking to jump in and help someone out in the campaign or the Weekly Event…
The weekly event changes every Tuesday, offering you a set of rules which you have to follow in order to complete the challenge successfully. This week you had to complete the first stage, Dead Ahead, on medium difficulty with no secondary weapon (only sniper rifle and pistol), infinite sniper rifle ammo, and an increased critical hit chance. I completed this goal and was rewarded with a white skin for my rifles and 2k experience points. This, just like the main game and the Horde Mode, can be played either solo or with others.
Accessibility and options
Rebellion have always gone above and beyond with the options within their games on consoles. Sniper Elite 3 had support for both Vsync on or off and 3D TV support, and Sniper Elite 4 had similar options if I recall correctly. As such, they weren’t going to stop with Zombie Army 4, they’ve added a few options that very little developers offer these days, things that allow you to play the game how you want to play it, not how the developers force you to. These are:
Controls: Zombie Army 4 supports both the DS4 and keyboard and mouse. That’s right, if you want to play the game with the best accuracy, you can simply plug in your keyboard and mouse and away you go. It doesn’t stop there though, you can also fully remap the keyboard controls just as you would on a PC. It does offer a customisable controller but it only lets you pick from two predefined setups. With regards to the mouse, you can toggle Mouse Smoothing, Mouse Acceleration, and Auto Centre after a set time – again, settings you’d usually only see on PC. Likewise, you can adjust the sensitivity and aim assist levels for the controller as well. This is the most robust and comprehensive controls menu I’ve seen on the PS4.
Subtitles: This is a big one for me, Zombie Army 4 gives you full control over the subtitles within the game. You can change the size of the text by using a slider which gives you a real-time representation of the size as you slide, add a box around the text and choose how opaque it is, and you can even change the colour of the text itself if you’re having trouble reading it. Bravo Rebellion, a bunch of simple options which every developer should be using within their games.
Photo Mode and performance
First up, performance. I’ve been playing Zombie Army 4 on my PS4 Pro and the game runs as smooth as a baby’s bottom! There are two modes present within the game, favour resolution or favour performance. I’m not going to lie, I have no idea what the resolution of either mode is but the performance mode seems like a solid 1080p at a smooth 60fps and the resolution one is up to 4k (so probably 1440p or 1620p) at 30fps. After playing five hours at 60fps, the switch to 30 (for reviewing purposes) was very jarring. It felt jerky and not very nice to play but that could be because I’d just come from playing it at double the framerate. As such, all the images in this review are in the 1080p performance mode, the mode I’d highly recommend you play it in.
Rebellion are on a roll with this game, brilliant story, satisfying shooting mechanics, the ability to stomp zombies to death, and now they’ve even included a Photo Mode! The mode has a downside, you can’t stray too far away from your character, but other than that, it’s a feature-rich mode. There’s a whole host of different filters to use, a slider to change its intensity, different movie-like borders, the ability to remove certain characters, etc… There are a lot more options in this than you see in most games that add the mode. However, seeing as the majority of the game takes place at night and/or in dark buildings, a lot of the filters just make the image even darker, thus making it hard to see. I would have liked more ‘lighter’ filters, maybe a comic-book one like in Journey to the Savage Planet?
I did have one issue with the Photo Mode, an issue I’ll report on but not take into account with the score as I believe it’ll get fixed. You can enable a shortcut to the mode by pushing L3 and R3 together (like in other games). However, this shortcut doesn’t work at the moment, so you have to press Options then pick Photo Mode from there. It’s a small annoyance but hopefully, it’ll be fixed soon.
Zombie Army 4 is the best looking game I’ve played this year so far, in terms of character models and level design. The x-ray moments are just as good as the ones in the Sniper Elite series but there are so many new animations as you literally blow their heads off, sever limbs, rip apart their flesh and put an end to their undead schemes. I found myself jumping in and out of Photo Mode and taking pictures more than usual as almost every chapter had something I wanted to take a look at up close and through various filters.
The voice acting is really well done and presents the various characters’ personalities perfectly. Just like Journey to the Savage Planet, you can opt to limit the amount of chatter from the character and NPCs but, once again, I recommend leaving it on Max.
I did have one issue with the sound though, but this may be my sound system. I had the game set to ‘full-range’, which means it’s connected to a 5.1 surround system. Mine is connected via S/PDIF directly to the PS4. When I was facing the characters, the voices were fine, they were coming out of the centre speaker as you’d expect. But, as soon as I turned, the voices muffled and I couldn’t hear them, they were supposed to divert to the rear speakers but nothing was coming out of them. I changed the sound to ‘TV’, so it thinks I only have stereo speakers, and the same thing happened. So, maybe the directional sound isn’t working? Either way, this isn’t going to affect my opinion as you rarely talk to people and you should look at those who are talking to you anyway, otherwise, it’s just rude!
Also, if you’re using a DualShock 4, or a third-party controller with a speaker, the game makes an upbeat chime when you pick up ammo or weapons as you play. It also plays other creepy noises when you least expect it, so be sure to at least try it out if you usually use a controller without a speaker, as I do with my NACON Asymmetric and Revolution Unlimited Pro.
Zombie Army 4: Dead War is by far my favourite zombie-based game of all time. I’d even go as far as saying that I believe this is Rebellion‘s best game this generation – I love Sniper Elite and Strange Brigade, but this is on a whole new level as it combines the best aspects of both and adds Nazi zombies and undead sharks! Although the game is clearly designed for co-op, it scales perfectly for single players and those wanting to play with only one or two friends, rather than making it impossible to proceed without all four players active. Not only is this one of the most satisfying and fun third-person shooters I’ve ever played, the accessibility options, control choices, and performance options further enhance the experience to one which won’t be easily beaten.
Whether you’re looking to play solo or with friends or strangers online, Zombie Army 4 is a great game to pick up and sink your teeth into. Also, with the news that Valve isn’t doing a Left 4 Dead 3 anytime soon, this perfectly fills the void!
Zombie Army 4: Dead War£39.99
- - The best Zombie-shooting game I've played this generation
- - Solid combat mechanics, interesting story, lots of progression unlocks and rewards, and great accessibility options
- - Can play the campaign, Horde Mode, and Weekly events in solo or up to four players with scaled difficulty and enemy numbers
- - Very satisfying x-ray camera and takedown moments
- - Visually the game looks amazing
- - A few issues like the Photo Mode shortcut not working, but I expect these to get ironed out soon
- - Not a negative but I would have liked maybe an AI companion?