The Decline And Fall Of The Dead Reich
HIGH I’ll never get tired of killing you, Zombie Hitler.
LOW Waiting two minutes in an empty arena to kill a shield zombie.
WTF That is… a lot of tank.
Fans of the first three installments might be confused that Rebellion took the word “Nazi” out of the title for number four, but it’s understandable from a marketing perspective since actual Nazis are attempting a comeback around the world. However, one could also make the argument that it’s the perfect time for a game featuring the wholesale slaughter of (undead) Nazis that have crawled out their way out of hell. Thankfully, this slight change in branding is the only compromise that Rebellion has made — this latest entry is still the grindhouse splatterfest that fans of the series have come to expect.
In the aftermath of Super-Hitler’s death at the end of NZA3, the world expected the zombies he raised to quietly march back to their graves. Unfortunately, the opposite has occurred — it seems that sending Hitler to hell has only made him stronger, and now portals releasing nightmarish monstrosities are opening up all across Europe. It’s up to Karl, Boris, and two new additions to the roster, Jun and Shola, to end the occult war once and for all.
From a gameplay standpoint, this feels as much like a sequel to Rebellion’s 2018 3rd-Person Shooter Strange Brigade as it does a follow-up to the NZA trilogy. It’s a fantastic choice on the developers’ part since SB was a masterful example of quick and brutal co-op gameplay, and transitioning those mechanics into the gore-strewn locales of Zombie Army 4 works perfectly.
While there’s plenty of opportunity for Sniper Elite purists to practice precision shooting, other playstyles are also encouraged and ZA4‘s varied arsenal adapts well to player preferences. Each weapon category (rifles, secondary weapons, and pistols) has multiple options available, varying wildly in firing speed and power. SMGs, shotguns, and even pistols are all effective choices, and just like in SB, killing enemies quickly unlocks a brutal takedown that can end any enemy’s unlife with the simple tap of a button.
The devs have also added special powers to each weapon class — pistols can mark and execute half a dozen zombies in less than two seconds, rifles can stagger an entire horde with an overpowered round, and secondary weapons slow time to let the player unleash a hail of lead while dodging out of trouble. Each weapon also has a unique upgrade tree where players use upgrade kits found in the world to imbue them with elemental powers, buff their damage, or even make them unusually effective at smashing zombie skulls.
The thing that elevates ZA4 above the rest of the franchise is the care that the devs have taken to build a world where the gameplay makes perfect sense. The rest of the series was always held back by having to use Sniper Elite V2‘s assets — fine for stealth kills and long-range shooting, but never ideal for taking on hordes of zombies. This time the levels feel perfectly balanced for battling the undead thanks to defensible chokepoints to mine, overlooks for sniping, and plenty of debris-strewn arenas for players to dodge through while shotgunning zombies to pieces.
Incredibly, the maps work just as well for single player as they do for co-op. A lone soldier can easily move from one area to another while changing their tactics as the tide of battle shifts, but bringing a team will allow each player to pick a role and stick to it. A sniper can provides overwatch for an emplaced machine gunner while a melee specialist covers their flanks, for example. ZA4 doesn’t require teamwork to be entertaining, but it certainly rewards it as co-op is clearly the best way to experience ZA4.
Also impressive is the wide variety of enemies. Offering the largest roster of any Zombie Army game, ZA4 offers more than a dozen different types, from plain zombies and Resident Evil-inspired creepers, all the way up to nightmarish shadow demons that teleport soldiers across the map and scream the skin off their bones.
Just as in Strange Brigade, these enemies are meted out gradually over the course of the campaign to ensure that there are always surprises in store for the length of the campaign, and the final boss must be seen to be believed. The only dud is the shield zombie that hides behind a bulletproof barrier and lobs grenades with unerring accuracy. It’s completely manageable in co-op because it’s easy to flank, but solo players will find themselves frustrated as they wait for the shielder to pop its head out from behind cover while a horde closes in around them. In fact, they disrupt the flow of combat so badly in 1P that they should have been included only in multiplayer.
After wondering where it could go after the third entry, Zombie Army 4: Dead War is a fitting finale to the franchise. Everything about the presentation is top-notch, and there’s even a special surprise for anyone playing on the PS4. Between Left 4 Dead and World War Z, the co-op zombie shooter is a genre with some truly great titles, and now Rebellion has finally made a game that deserves to be named among the best of them.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Rebellion. It is currently available on PC, XBO and PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 30 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed multiple times. 5 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, and Language. This is as far from acceptable for children as you can get. It’s brutally violent, full of Nazi iconography, and even contains the odd naughty word! Seriously, though, the loving detail with which exploding torsos are rendered in slow-motion will be troubling to any parent. Consider Strange Brigade instead – it’s a largely bloodless take on the same concept by the same developers.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Please stick to Easy difficulty. While the game does an incredibly good job of being accessible by offering resizable subtitles for all in-game dialogue and onscreen indicators to let players know when zombies are approaching, there are ‘Suicider’ enemies that run screaming towards the player before blowing themselves up. They move fast, and the only real warning they’re on the way is the distinctive sound they make. Without that warning, they will hit you, and frequently. On easy difficulty they can’t one-shot kill you, though, so the game will be playable. Only attempt higher difficulty levels if you have a good team that’s always ready to revive you.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. It does, however, offer the option to plug in a USB mouse and keyboard if you want to enjoy more precise shooting!