Rebellion Developments has returned with the fourth entry into the Zombie Army saga. Zombie Army 4: Dead War delivers all the gruesome, trigger-happy, and exciting gameplay that the franchise is known for, serving up an epic dose of high-octane, zombie-slaying experiences like a delicious plate of fresh brains.
Set after the events of the last instalment whereby Hitler is defeated and is subsequently cast into a different dimension, Zombie Army 4 puts players to task in Southern Europe. Before this, however, players must choose between one of four characters: Boris, Jun, Karl, and Shola (more characters are available as paid-for DLC). Each character has special traits, strengths, weaknesses, and perks similar to an RPG-lite class system. Boris is an effective melee combatant, Jun is built for speed and agility, Karl is a deadly zombie nightmare at long range, and Shola is an all-round badass and weapons specialist.
Every weapon is accessible to all characters rather than weapon-locking to particular ‘classes’ meaning that players have complete freedom to pick the character with the traits/perks they want and pair them with a deadly combination of weapons too. Additionally, each character’s appearance has basic customisable options including changing headwear, gun trinkets, and emotes, most of which are unlocked at various levels.
Gameplay opens with the player undertaking a retreat mission deep in Italy. Simply put, players must return to base but a road infested with the undead is blocking safe passage. Once the onslaught begins, a score modifier becomes apparent in the top right side of the screen and different kills are rewarded with a respective value in points. Headshots and heavy weapon kills are worth a good amount, as well as slaying zombies before the combo-counter runs out. High-powered rifles also allow bullets to travel through one zombie’s brains into other victims close behind, meaning that players can move around the map to lure zombies closer together and then chain headshot kills to maximise points gained whilst conserving ammunition.
Every mission across southern Europe is divided into several chapters. Each chapter features hundreds of undead Nazis and new mini-bosses for players to defeat. More often than not, once these zombies are sent back to the depths of hell they will drop a heavy weapon with finite ammunition reserves, including a heavy machine gun and flamethrower. However, whilst the extra firepower is tempting to use as soon as it is available, players can benefit from exerting patience and carry the weapon into a future battle where it can more efficiently dispatch the hordes of zombies. Additionally, each chapter has an optional objective that does not directly affect the success of the mission. Usually, the objective involves killing zombies in a specified way like using a particular weapon, gadget, or fire, and if completed will contribute a significant amount of points and experience at the end of each chapter, allowing the player to level up faster.
The game also encourages players to focus more on the points and experimenting with how different guns, gadgets, special attacks, and the environment generate points. Speaking of which, environmental traps are insanely fun. Each level features traps that showcase fresh new ways to mow down the zombie hordes. Traps can range from explosive barrels and electric ground platforms to a plane propeller and pallets of bricks suspended by a crane.
However, where Rebellion turns Zombie Army 4 into a comedic, B-movie, zombie-slaying masterpiece is with the inclusion of a huge, suspended zombie shark. The shark hangs precariously over a flooded area that the player and zombies can lumber through to reach a campaign objective. Next to the shark is another target sign which just so happens to connect to the shark’s suspension mechanism. Wading through the water and the surrounding area, this time deliberately as a delicious warm-blooded meal baiting all the undead to follow the player into the jaws of hell, is hilarious and a genius design by Rebellion.
Zombie Army 4: Dead War bathes shamelessly in mainstream zombie lore since the 1800s. The zombies are raised from the grave by Nazi ‘shamans’ as slaves, which almost identically represents the Haitian/French word Zombi in Haitian folklore whereby witches could reanimate corpses as mindless slaves. The movement of some zombies in the game is influenced by the first-ever zombie film White Zombie (1932) based on W.B. Seabrook’s 1929 novel The Magic Island. Both the book and film feature mindless zombies and the first depiction of the clumsy, slow, and archetypal locomotion of zombies that have been portrayed countless times in popular culture since. However, Rebellion has also drawn inspiration from the fast, running zombies, like in The House of the Dead, which can break through the herd of slow zombies to quickly overwhelm the player.
Despite paying homage to the origins of zombies and the stereotypical ideas of what zombies are, Zombie Army 4 deviates from the iconic survival-horror theme. Instead of offering intense horror scenes and leaving players with only a couple of pistol magazines, Rebellion delivers a game with a distinct B-movie feel, one where players can have a great deal of fun taking hordes of undead down with World War II grade weaponry without taking the plot and enemies too seriously.
Any time a player starts to treat the game like a serious survival-adventure, the game provides a whole host comedic material to ground players. The world is littered with 1940s-style typewriters, and if the player interacts with them they produce generated famous horror film quotes from a range of films. Another source of comedic grounding material comes via lining up a 50 metre plus sniper shot against an undead, whereby the slow motion bullet camera shows not only the zombie’s skeletal structure but also two incredibly detailed zombie testicles.
Character movement can be frustrating at times, especially when trying to navigate around obstacles like low walls which block progress and lead to imminent death. Generally, the clunky movement feels natural and realistic and, combined with the third-person camera angle, is reminiscent of Gears of War and Control. However, the characters themselves do not leave a lasting impression. Unlike other RPG-lite games, character customisation is overly limited because the clothes or skins can not be changed, leaving rather bland-looking characters when compared to similar games. Adding personality to the characters would dramatically improve Zombie Army 4. The characters’ voices are only really heard when talking on the radio to comrades, and not when interacting with the majority of the world and enemies. The lack of quips and comments from characters quickly disconnects the player from their character. B-movie characters are typically unlikely heroes and normal people so Rebellion has missed a trick.
The audio design in Zombie Army 4 perfectly complements the horror genre. The background soundtrack offers a bizarre mixture of low bass tones and silence, before jumping into vibrant acoustic guitar scales or electro-synthetic funk that assaults the senses and increases the tension. Another glorious but terrifying audio design comes in the form of a creepy voice talking to the players through the PlayStation controller.
Zombie Army 4: Dead War delivers all the archetypal aspects of zombie, lore from its Haitian folklore origins, novels, and iconic films. The storyline and gameplay have a classic B-movie vibe, and Rebellion gives the audience what they would want:gore, humour, and satisfying kills. The studio has taken the series to the next level with tons of undead, missions, and areas to explore. Even if this game is a player’s first experience of the Zombie Army franchise, it is a great title to start with. Rebellion has perfected the zombie shooter, and the titanic zombie shark transforms the game into somewhat of a masterpiece.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4. Also available on PC and Xbox One.