“Thermite is burning; time for killing.”
Following the relatively low-budget (but somewhat successful) shlock horror spin off of the Sniper Elite series from 2015: Zombie Army Trilogy, comes Zombie Army 4: Dead War, following on from the ‘plot’ and gameplay stylings of the last game, with more blood, guts and bullets that you can shake a Nazi’s spine at (pun intended). While not showing off much in the ‘Brains’ department, there is a lot of fun to be had in the tactical shooter/survival horror hybrid, especially so if you’re playing co-operatively with friends. Having released worldwide on 4th February 2020 for the PS4, Xbox One and PC, I’ll be going over the time I’ve spent with the PS4 version of the game, detailing the good, deconstructing the bad and ultimately discussing whether it’s worth the £39.99 asking price (EU PSN Store).
If there are two words than conjure up images of low-budget, cheesy shlock horror, it would be zombies and Nazis within the same sentence. From Shock Waves (1977) to Dead Snow (2009),the undead and the Third Reich have crossed paths on more than one occasion, going on to be one of the of the more recognizable tropes of contemporary horror (which isn’t necessarily a good thing). While there have been some attempts to give the pairing a somewhat serious tone (such as the criminally underrated Overlord (2018)) most usually boil down to a light-hearted, tongue in cheek affair, losing any sense of dread or foreboding as soon as the campy German accents begin to appear. Video games have shared their own level of the trope as well, beginning in the early days with BloodRayne (2002) on the PlayStation 2, with more recent outings coming from the Call of Duty series and it’s long running ‘Nazi Zombies’ mode, which initially debuted with Call of Duty: World at War (2008). One series that took the trope for all of it’s cheesy goodness was testicle-popping simulator: Sniper Elite, or to be more exact, it’s spin off series known as Nazi Zombie Army and it’s sequel which most people played for the first time as Zombie Army Trilogy, which was a remastered collection of all three games that released for Xbox One, PS4 and PC in March 2015.
The premise of the games is the textbook definition of shlock horror; set in the closing days of WW2, it sees a band of unlikely heroes comprised of allied forces come together to stop Adolf Hilter who (through occult rituals) has risen the recently deceased to form an undead army that he plans to unleash upon the Allied Forces, causing Germany to become overrun with zombies. While the end of Zombie Army Trilogy saw Hilter defeated and sent down to hell (stick with me here) it’s sequel Zombie Army 4: Dead War (which recently released across all major platforms on February 4th 2020) takes place one year later in 1946, and sees the same ensemble of heroes (dubbed the resistance) fighting back against the hordes of undead that have grown exponentially since Hitler’s defeat, invading most of Europe and beyond. The game allows you to choose one of four characters, each with their own special abilities and strengths; for myself, I went with the sarcastic, tattooed Russian: Boris Medvedev, who is a returning character from Zombie Army Trilogy. Ultimately, who you decide to play as and the perks you choose throughout the game has little to no bearing on your experience, as the story is a relatively brainless affair that’s mainly there for the hell of it (pun intended). In terms of the game’s unlocks, ranks and starting perks, these eventually level themselves out, and are mainly there for a sense of progression, as the developers: Rebellion Developments intended the affair to more akin to a classic arcade style shooter, rather than an in-depth RPG.
Gameplay in Zombie Army 4 is where most of the meat is found (once again, pun intended) consisting of a campaign featuring 9 chapters that visits various spots around Europe and beyond, which can be played solo or co-op up to 4 other players. The campaign has an almost Left 4 Dead-esque feel in its presentation and core gameplay loop, with each of the 9 chapters having stylized ‘movie’ posters detailing the theme or location of the chapter, with each one broke up into sections, with the conclusion of each section being a safe room where you can refresh and restock. Hidden within each chapter are a number of collectibles that incentivize exploration, some of which bleed into the game’s progression system, allowing you to unlock different abilities for your weapons; while somewhat in-depth, it largely falls flat in the long run as it’s not really designed for min/maxing stats like a lot of shooters are. In terms of the moment to moment gameplay, the core loop primarly consists of shooting down hordes of zombies, chaining killstreaks to use your abilities, solving routine puzzles as well as attacking and defending positions; while there is very little variation across the 9-10 hours you’ll spend getting through the campaign, it’s presentation and scope for unbridled slaughter never really loses it’s charm, especially so when you consider you’ll be popping Nazis’ heads (albeit undead) left right and centre. Adding to the visual slaughter is the inclusion of the main staple of the Sniper Elite franchise, it’s X-Ray sniper cam kills, which show the impact of your rounds on the bodies of the shambling corpses of the Third Reich (watching zombie lungs and testicles rupturing upon impact never gets old).
In addition to the campaign, is a dedicated horde mode that allows you to take your progression and weapon unlocks from the single player, into an multiplayer focused mode that starts you out with a sidearm, rewarding you with more weapons and items and you tear through waves of increasingly more difficult and numerous foes. While this mode adds some weight to the game, it pales in comparison to the main campaign, offering only 4 maps which can get a bit repetitive after a while. Thankfully there is a swath of post launch content planned for Zombie Army 4, and at the time of writing this review, the season pass for season one (available on the EU PSN store for £29.99) which includes 3 new campaign missions, 4 new playable characters as well as character outfits and weapon skins, showing that Rebellion Developments do plan to update the title across multiple seasons (albeit with somewhat pricey content). In terms of performance, Zombie Army 4 is about what you’d expect depending on what model of system you’re on; PS4 Pro will benefit from the usual checkerboard 4K (3840x2160p) with HDR options and a stable framerate of around 40-50fps, while the OG PS4 stutters in with a 1080p resolution with a (fairly) stable 30fps for the vast majority of the game. As a side note, there is also a feature within the game on PS4 that reminds you to come back to the game if you leave it paused for too long (much to my girlfriend’s demise) by playing sounds out of the PS4 controller’s speaker; ranging from little girls laughing to a demonic voice coming out with phrases like “Come back to me…” which caught me off guard everytime, but was a nifty feature worth a laugh or two none the less (sorry Kirsty!).
Overall, Zombie Army 4: Dead War doesn’t take itself seriously, and it doesn’t need to. While any serious time investment in the game will end up turning out quite pricey (£39.99 for base game and £29.99 for the season one pass) the base game has more than enough content on offer to keep you entertained for hours on end, doubly so if you’re playing with friends.
A PS4 review code was provided by Rebellion Developments.