It’s a zombie tank. And no on-screen character treats this as weird, and frankly, we and our teammates are equally at ease with taking down an undead tank that’s spilling zombies from its rotten bowels as it trundles past. Zombie Army 4 is playing by its own rules, and its brand of schlocky arcade horror never fails to raise a smile. It still doesn’t take itself too seriously – there’s a zombie tank for starters – but there are added layers to the game that weren’t in its predecessors, something you can only grasp after extended playtime.
Chatting regularly we guide one another to supply drops and machine-gun posts, and communicate the ‘creature’s’ weak spot. We’re in arcade heaven so it’s a glowing red zone. Whittling it away reveals the tank’s beating heart. Upon death, it crunches down into a square of scrap metal and bloody innards. It’s very silly and incredibly fun. The game’s first two-story missions — “Dead Ahead” and “Death Canal” — take place in Milan and Venice, respectively. Each of these provides excellent zombie-killing environments. Missions consist of three stages separated by a variety of “safe houses”, much in the same vein as Left 4 Dead. While Zombie Army 4‘s missions might not be as memorable as those in Valve’s creation, they aren’t bad at all — Venice especially.
At the most basic level, Zombie Army 4: Dead War plays very similarly to the preceding instalments. Zombie grunts are still slow-moving fodder, holding shift slows downtime and prompts a forgiving real-time reticle, and you have access to an array of WW2 armaments beyond the iconic sniper rifles. You can outfit your Gewher 43 with an electrified barrel that stuns targets and causes lighting to arc to nearby foes, earning a ten-kill combo lets you perform a takedown on zombie grunts that replenish lost health, and every weapon has a hero shooter-Esque ultimate ability that can be used after amassing enough kills. The pistol “assist,” for instance, let’s you channel your inner McCree and inform a handful of unlucky undead that it is, in fact, high noon.
As a result, it often feels like the narrative of Zombie Army 4 takes itself way too seriously. It makes storey missions feel awkward and forced when compared to the rest of the game. Picking off enemies from a distance is satisfying, particularly as the game adapts Sniper Elite’s bullet cam to now enable dismemberment – headshots are a given, but targeting a zombie’s legs will see it drop and drag itself across the ground. Given how the undead come in many shapes and sizes, this gratifying ability to target enemies in specific ways opens up tactical possibilities. Shooting a heavy’s helmet will pop it off, enabling a clear headshot. There are sniping opportunities and extreme kill shots aplenty, as Rebellion games are known for, and plenty of mission objectives to accomplish throughout the campaign. However, the gameplay is much more action-oriented, with waves upon waves of increasingly stronger zombies to blast your way through.
Freed from the narrow push of the story, the arcade purity of Horde mode (where we need to clear waves of zombies across four maps) enables us to make use of traps as we wish. Activating an under-repair propeller engine sucks in zombies and spits out body parts. Loudspeakers play zombie Hitler’s speeches, luring the horde towards the unwise words of their undead leader, enabling us to create a Killzone to pick them off at ease. You can customize weapon skins, attachments, upgrades, charms. There’s even a wide array of in-game perks to choose from, which can vastly differentiate the way you approach certain situations. My personal favourite is the “Second Chance” perk, Zombie Army‘s take on Modern Warfare 2‘s classic “last stand.” More perk slots become available as you level up, as do more powerful guns and attachments. The environment is riddled with interactive elements that provide further opportunity for morbid self-expression. Turbines can be shot to suck dozens of zombies into the spinning blades, loot crates abound with useful grenades and temporary barrel attachments, and stationary turrets can even be lifted off their mounts with the proper perk.
That isn’t a bad thing at all. Smaller bosses will periodically be thrown at you, from the dynamite-clad “Suicider” to the aptly named “Armored Giant.” Each of these has a particular weak point. That means gameplay has a tad bit more depth than simply “aim at the head,” which is nice. After all, you’ll already be doing that a lot. We’d used our pre-wave time to set traps to hold them back. An electrical tripwire is spread out in front and stalls the Creepers, giving us time to mop them up. Mines laid at entrances offer protection. Even this preparation can’t hold off the horde for long, and as our traps dwindle we run in all directions. It’s a mistake that is our downfall and proves Zombie Army 4 is at its best when everyone plays as a team. One by one we’re picked off. Cornered by a buzz-saw wielding Heavy, overrun by Creepers, and dragged into our own propeller trap, only one player is left alive… the odds aren’t good. It’s one of the many examples of fun you’ll experience throughout Zombie Army 4: Dead War, as this is a game steeped in it. It is big, it is clever, but it is also hugely fun – as we found out to our gleeful joy. The campaign has a story that trots along nicely, but you’ll mainly be playing to find out the next big bad guy around the corner or to see one of your co-op chums sliced up in quite spectacular fashion. There is plenty to get out of the game, and we’ve only just scratched the surface.