Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
From humble beginnings (as a near-mandatory zombie mode adjunct to the Sniper Elite series) to a franchise in its own right, Zombie Army rises from the ground for its most ambitious entry yet. Starting in 1945, with the human resistance still fighting the eponymous “Dead War” – it turns out undead hordes keep on shambling around with a taste for flesh, even after you banish Zombie Hitler to hell – Zombie Army 4 takes players through a lengthy campaign to reclaim Earth for the living.
For the most part, it’s a kitsch, slightly camp horror-shooter, complete with the wider franchise’s gory but satisfying close-up kills which add a touch of Evil Dead-style splatter fun to the mix. As one of four characters – each with unique skills and special abilities – you’ll dispatch the walking dead with a satisfying array of guns, grenades, and melee attacks. An expanded selection of weapon upgrades, coupled with perks that unlock as you improve your rank in the game, adds just the right amount of grind to this grindhouse, which incentivises replay along with hidden collectibles in each level.
Developer Rebellion has also improved the calibre of its zombie cannon fodder. Along with the familiar shambling corpses are a host of more inventive foes, from suicide runners and shooters flailing machine guns around, to massive hulks carrying mini-guns. Thankfully, your options to dispatch them are enhanced too, with environmental traps to take advantage of – electrified ground plates on a train platform, for instance, or a plane’s propeller slicing the undead like so much carpaccio.
Where its sniping progenitors offered up levels that were in essence puzzles, demanding you figure out the best route to sneak through a map and which order to take down enemies in, much of Dead War is centred on survival mechanics. You’ll often just need to activate a gate, slay enough of a swarm of undead long to unlock a “blood seal” to progress further, or just get through an area without being killed.
However, these speedier, action-oriented mechanics mesh poorly with an underlying structure that still draws heavily on the Sniper Elite roots – a system designed for stealth and perfectly timed shots, rather than the likes of Left 4 Dead. Here, character movement often feels clunky and stilted, and rarely feel responsive enough to navigate hordes of zombies. When levels can descend into hectic crowd control, you really want to feel more nimble than you do here.
This is a game that lives for co-op. Even on the tamest difficulty, solo play can be a challenge, making the scenarios all far better suited to team play both in terms of survivability and pure fun. It’s much more entertaining to kerb stomp a Nazi zombie when your mates can join in, after all.
What really holds Zombie Army 4 back is a sense that it doesn’t quite want to let go of its slower, more considered Sniper Elite background. That hesitation holds the finished product back from being the deserving successor to the aforementioned Left 4 Dead – a title it could easily claim if it were just a bit smoother and faster on the controls front.