Zombie Army 4: Dead War (PlayStation 4) Review

By Gareth F 03.03.2020

Review for Zombie Army 4: Dead War  on PlayStation 4

Zombie Army Trilogy staggered into life as a fun spinoff from the successful Sniper Elite series that substituted the highly efficient German war machine with a seemingly never ending stream of re-animated Nazi cadavers. It heartily embraced a raft of b-movie influences, sported an aesthetic that somehow managed to distil the smell of rotting flesh through the TV screen, and liberally sprinkled in a heavy dose of the occult to ramp up the terror. It proved to be a popular title with the streaming community, and successfully managed to fill the gaping Left4Dead-shaped hole in the four player co-op zombie slaying landscape. Yes, it's fair to say that it didn't exactly set the world alight with its paper thin narrative, but unloading bullets into legions of the infected doesn't need really require fancy story telling. Five festering years later, and Rebellion Developments has delivered the next chapter in the Zombie Army saga, which sees a stricken Europe still in the clammy grip of a full scale necrotic Nazi takeover.

Zombie Army 4: Dead War is set in 1946, a year on from the horrific events of the original trilogy which culminated with an almighty battle against the undead Führer himself. It stands to reason that cutting the head off the beast would put an end to the whole sorry saga. Well, not in this instance. The pestilence continued to slowly spread across mainland Europe, leaving pockets of survivors holed up fighting for their very existence, with those unable to resist the horde joining them to swell their stinking ranks further. With no obvious end to the horror on the horizon it's left to four, heavily armed heroes to once again wade into the throng in a bid to permanently closing down the gaping portals to Hell that have opened up. As for zombie Hitler? Well, no spoilers but truth be told, it'd be pretty weird if he didn't make another appearance given the frequency of his guest slots in the Sniper Elite series.

For the most part, Zombie Army Trilogy was an asset flip that utilised a lot of the level design from Sniper Elite V2. This did make it feel a little like a collection of themed DLC to an extent, but it successfully transitioned an already established franchise into a solid co-op experience with relative ease, and it's a format that Rebellion has since revisited with the recent Strange Brigade. Zombie Army 4: Dead War is a full bodied sequel that builds on the solid foundations laid out by its predecessor, and expands on the story telling and gameplay aspects in meaningful ways. The initial four playable characters (which include Elite Sniper Karl Fairburne), each bring an individual skill set to the party along with a line in banter that gives the title personality and helps flesh out the narrative.

Content wise there's a lot crammed into Zombie Army 4 and it's very much been designed with repeated play in mind. While there's a story arc that stretches over the entirety of the campaign, each individual episode (once unlocked) can be tackled as a self contained mission spread over 3 to 4 chapters and Rebellion have even gone to the trouble of making faux movie posters for each mission with titles like Meat Locker, Rotten Coast, Hell Base and Zombie Zoo. In addition, there's also a sizable Horde mode as well as an ever changing Weekly event that offers up cosmetic customisations as a reward to completing episodes with specific game changing mutators active.

Screenshot for Zombie Army 4: Dead War  on PlayStation 4

While progression through each chapter is a relatively linear process reliant on beating a path from point A to B, the temptation to "off road" is ever present as exploration is practically encouraged. All manner of collectibles, weapon upgrades, and temporary elemental gun attachments, as well as a wealth of amusing Easter Eggs are secreted away in the least obvious of places for those brave enough to seek them out. Thankfully ammo dumps and crates containing explosives/mines/grenades are much easier to locate, as they're scattered about the world for those inevitable moments when the bullet clips runs dry. Success isn't just a case of cutting a swathe through the slow moving masses to get to the safehouse checkpoints though, as the team are regularly beset with bottlenecks that often require a particular set of actions to be successfully completed if progress is to resume.

Take Venice for example. A beautiful, idyllic setting that, under normal circumstances, would be an absolute delight to casually discover its many little squares, canals and footbridges. Populate it with a garrison's worth of undead, shambling corpses and it swiftly descends into chaos. It starts off badly enough on a slow moving raft chugging along the waterways, but the tension starts to creep up as the zombiefied troops on either side of the canal slowly start following the sound of the outboard motor. Look to the skyline, and the former living are hurling themselves en masse from the rooftops in a bid to get near the action. Peer down into the murky depths of the canal, and a considerable number of corpses are already wading through the water, attempting to claw a way onboard for their next potential snack. Then the inevitable happens... the outboard motor splutters to a halt, leaving the gang no choice but to hop on land on a quest for fuel cans so the doomed journey can continue. The nightmare begins.

Getting the boat started up again is a short lived triumph, as this is just the first of many hiccups slowing down progress, such as a number of drawbridges scattered along the route that need to be raised to allow the raft to pass. This dangerous exercise requires that a number of cogs are located, fitted to the raising mechanism, and then guarded as the bridge slowly rises to open up the route again. Why does it need guarding? Well the brainless hordes hear the sound of the bridge motor and proceed to start hurling themselves into it, jamming up the gears with something rotten (literally) which forces an emergency repair. It's a bit of a nod to Left4Dead2's classic gameplay that ensures that there's enough variety in the campaign to maintain interest to the gory end, and it does get a pretty tense when a lengthy task crops up just as the health bar hits its lowest ebb.

Screenshot for Zombie Army 4: Dead War  on PlayStation 4

On occasion the gang might get involved with defending a small stronghold of survivors against a vicious onslaught that doesn't let up until all the rifts have been closed. Blood Seals will occasionally activate at claustrophobic choke points, and these will only deactivate once all the nearby rotters have been despatched. Similarly, Blood Fountains (as the name might suggest) have a unquenched thirst for the red stuff, and once activated, feed on the impure claret that's spilt in its immediate vicinity, stopping only once it gets its fill. It's the perfect excuse to paint the town red.

In terms of armaments there's a fine selection of tools on offer, all effective at wiping those hard to kill meat puppets off the map. Given the series heritage, it would be odd if there weren't a number of sniper rifles to choose from, and veterans of the Elite series will be pleased to know that the x-ray bullet cam is back for those lingering, slow-motion shots that track the bullet as it bursts through the extra crispy skulls of the recently deceased. Of course, peering through a long range scope tends to impede on one's situational awareness, and given that danger has a habit of creeping up from any given direction, the option to toggle the sights off altogether is literally a lifesaver.

When it all starts to get a little bit too intimate, however, it's wise to switch out to either the shotgun, or the assault rifle, as these do a better job of despatching short range foes. Heavy weapons can occasionally be found in crates, or wrestled from the dead hands of a recently despatched enemy, and these prove particularly effective at inflicting great damage on the brain-dead lurkers. Racking up kill chains adds to a score multiplier that simultaneously charges up a weapon class power up, which, when deployed, can slow down time to make aiming slightly easier for the duration of its effect.

There's a 'Takedown' bar that slowly charges up during gunfights, and this proves to be a crucial tool in re-generating a small amount of health. As the name suggests it performs a violent kill on the nearest returner and, given how scarce med kits are out in the wild, it soon becomes a critical part of staying alive. Luckily the classic video game staple of the explosive barrel makes a welcome appearance, and choosing the right time to take aim at one of these deadly clichés can greatly assist in keeping the homing dead at a safe distance. The convenient presence of a number of bullet activated traps is also a tool worth keeping an eye out for, as these can range from electrifying the floor of a particularly busy thoroughfare, to kicking a nearby spitfire engine into life, slicing up all within shuffling distance. Weapon upgrade kits that are found out and about can be utilised at the safe room workbenches to increase their effectiveness, and similarly unlocked perks that have been equipped can be levelled up by using them to meet specific criteria.

Screenshot for Zombie Army 4: Dead War  on PlayStation 4

The real stars of the show though are the zombies themselves, who are a pretty darned gruesome bunch thanks in no small part to the excellent character design by the Rebellion team. Probably the most common variant are the low level grunts that come in many shapes and sizes, and sprout out of the ground at an alarming rate like the world's deadliest crop. While they're pretty slow for the most part, the wide selection of classic zombie gaits means that lining up a headshot can be a fairly tricky proposal at times, and they can swiftly overwhelm any lone troops that aren't paying full attention. It's akin to being constantly stalked by a slow moving gang of hungry drunks.

There are are creepers and crawlers that skulk at ground level which can make them particularly tricky to spot in dimly lit areas, however a well placed stomp will crush their dreams... and heads. Spitters have figured out a way of weaponising indigestion, and are capable of firing huge, acidic blobs of stomach acid at anybody foolish enough to get too close. The Suicider can be a troublesome foe, though these are usually heard before they're seen, sprinting into the thick of it at high speed to deliver the explosive payload strapped to their chest.

While the decomposing fodder stalks the world in great abundance, it can be kept in line by a well organised squad to a certain extent. With that said, progress through the campaign sees new strains of zombie thrown into mix at a ferocious rate, some of which display a level of sentience that can make killing them a tricky proposal. Rooftop Snipers hunt in packs, and do a pretty good job of evading bullets as they make a nuisance of themselves, swiftly hopping between vantage points looking for that perfect shot. There are also Necromancers and Commanders who are both able to incite nearby rotters to the point of rage, converting them from classic Romero shufflers, to full blown 28 Days Later speed freaks.

It's definitely advisable to take these guys out as soon as possible. Shadow Demons are the stuff of nightmares, and literally suck the life force out of anybody that doesn't get out of its way. Of course, reaching the end of a level provides the opportunity to wheel out a freakishly oversized heavy for a fun sub-boss battle, prior to them entering regular rotation in the killing fields with the rest of its stinking buddies later on down the line. Amazingly, some infected are still capable of flying planes and driving halftracks/tanks in a convincingly dangerous fashion, which is proof positive that zombies are getting smarter. It won't be too long now before they start to unionise.

Screenshot for Zombie Army 4: Dead War  on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Well, it's fair to say that Zombie Army 4: Dead War won't be winning an award for originality any time soon, but it's hard to deny the simplistic joys of placing a well aimed explosive bullet into the crusty cranium of a distant, slow-moving cannibal corpse. It very much feels like a classic Rebellion production throughout, and while it doesn't veer too far from the tried and tested blueprint used by its predecessors, it tightens up every aspect of its gameplay to deliver a bigger, better, bloodier experience. Sharp, gritty visuals, clever level design, and a John Carpenter-esque soundtrack all contribute towards creating an oppressive, dank, B-movie vibe that's almost as much fun to plough through solo as it is co-op. Plus, there's a zombie shark in it. If that hasn't piqued your interest you're probably already undead.

Developer

Rebellion

Publisher

Rebellion

Genre

Action

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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