Zombie Army 4: Dead War Review — Who Needs L4D? We Have Zombie Sharks!
Remember that commercial from 2012 where Jason Brody punches a shark right in the face? That was the moment I absolutely knew — beyond any doubt — that I would playing Far Cry 3 into the ground.
History delightfully repeated itself when the trailer for Zombie Army 4: Dead War arrived, and it featured a Nazi. Zombie. Shark. It wouldn't have mattered if Dead War was absolute garbage destined for the "Steam Under $5 sales". No. I knew I would be playing this game, and probably loving it.
What more could a gamer ask for?
Thankfully, Zombie Army 4 isn't even close to garbage. In fact, it's one of the best L4D-style co-op shooters to arrive in quite some time.
Zombie Army 4: Dead War Review — Who Needs L4D? We Have Zombie Sharks!
Normally, graphics aren't a priority for me (I'm a big fan of old SNES pixel RPGs), but it's worth noting that Zombie Army 4 is flat out beautiful for a zombie-destroying third-person shooter.
Stylistic audio/visual touches keep the experience consistently entertaining. Those playing on the PS4 get a little extra something, as the DualShock 4 periodically emits demonic little girl zombie whispers begging you to come back and play. It can be really unnerving, and it's a nice touch not found in many other games.
The only real graphical downside is that the environments are quite dark most of the time, which may grate on some players' nerves, especially when combing each level for the game's many collectibles.
Low luminance aside, the sniper rifle kill cam is a straight-up thing of beauty, showcasing the trajectory of your shot as it's affected by gravity and the goopy decay of the zombie body. Did you go through the guts? Oh boy, you will see those bad bowels getting ripped apart. Land a perfect headshot? Prepare to see that skull blow apart in truly spectacular fashion.
It's something fans of the series will find familiar. And those that have played the Sniper Elite series — from Sniper Elite V2 to the most recent Sniper Elite 4 — already understand its impact. But it's something that never grows old, especially when it means eviscerating Nazi zombies.
There's a fun twist here, though. One bullet doesn't always equal one kill thanks to the dark sorcery of undead animation. If you don't get a headshot, or otherwise manage to thoroughly destroy a zombie body, they will get back up and need to be shot again or stomped on. Higher damage weapons with various attachments will eventually put them down for good if you get 'em in the heart or guts, though.
Liberating Europe One Nazi Zombie At A Time
As a spin-off the Sniper Elite series, you may already have a basic idea of the kind of "walk 'n gun" gameplay going on in Zombie Army 4. Honestly, I was never a huge fan of the Sniper series. Though I don't actively dislike them by any means, the objectively tedious gameplay just isn't my cup of tea.
However, you get the total polar opposite with Dead War. The game's shooting mechanics, its level design, and its ranking system come together in a much more satisfying way. There's a tightrope balancing act between speed and precision, and it's pulled off so well that you'll have a good time whether you are playing the slow-moving sniper or the faster-moving grunt using a trench gun.
Characters call out when reloading, automatically let the group know when ammo carts are found, and so on. Besides making it out alive and un-eaten between safe rooms, each level has some sort of primary objective that usually involves protecting an area from a horde or carrying heavy objects while dealing with throngs of zombies.
Aside from the L4D influence, Dead War has taken some of the best ideas from Call Of Duty Nazi Zombies and filtered them into a full game, like upgrading weapons and adding new attack types, as well as a Horde mode map that gets bigger as you play.
One of Dead War's strongest gameplay elements is the way the environment in each level is used to devastating effect. Your squad will need to set traps and carefully manage grenade or tripwire inventory to thin out the hordes.
Along with all that satisfying zombie destruction comes a progression system complete with challenges like "destroy 30 zombies using a shark." The better you perform in any given level, the faster you level, and the more perks can be unlocked to change your gameplay style.
Independent of the perk system is a weapon upgrade system, which requires finding components that add elemental damage types (such as shock, explosive, and divine), boost range, reduce reload speed, and so on. You can also use upgrade kits to get new, permanent perks for your base weapons and items.
No matter how well you take on any given regiment of evil shambling Nazis, the horde will eventually get up close, and that's where one of several different special melee attacks come to bear. Each melee attack has three levels to upgrade by reaching new player ranks, and each has specific, devastating uses. The machete has a long reach, but the Divine Hammer does damage and heals allies.
All of this smashing, stomping, shooting, and exploding takes place across nine varied levels from the waterlogged canals of Venice to lava-covered city streets. On top of that, each level has up to four chapters within it, making Dead War a relatively meaty, giblet-covered experience.
More Than Just Run 'N Gun
Aside from the weapon upgrades and perk progression, there are other elements here that are missing from the classic Left 4 Dead and its sequel, Left 4 Dead 2. Special enemies are present, of course, but there's more to work with here since there's a supernatural element mixed with an alternate-history World War 2.
Your crew will face off against armored Nazi zombies with flame throwers, teleporting wizard Nazi zombies with sniper rifles, and even sentient "living" Nazi zombie tanks and half-tracks! When you finally think you've got all the tactics down, shadow demons that move along the ground show up to temporarily remove a companion from the fight while draining their health.
The other big change to special creatures? You can melee kill these unit types if you find out the right way to stun or incapacitate them first. That means solid teamwork and a good strategy are more useful for special monsters than seeing who can unload the most bullets first.
Whether fighting magic demons or shuffling flesh-eaters, height and terrain are a bigger emphasis here than in other co-op shooters as well. Funneling enemies into kill corridors and having an escape route become critical, especially in single-player. Playing horde mode with a team is far different than the methodical planning of playing alone.
There's also a pretty wide range of customization options available outside of the usual difficulty slider. If you're not great at these kinds of games, there are aim assist options for single-player so you can still enjoy the carnage, and you can manually adjust the number of zombies for different group sizes before the start of any campaign chapter or horde-mode map.
Finally, missions are a trove of Easter eggs and little secrets. Some are actual collectibles pertaining to trophies, while others are just for the fun of it. A certain string of Christmas lights in one level will sure make you think of Stranger Things, for instance. Others will creep you right out of your skin.
Zombie Army 4: Dead War Review — The Bottom Line
- Varied levels with jaw-dropping occult Nazi zombie designs
- Solid mix of Sniper Elite- and Left-4-Dead-style gameplay
- Plays great in either single-player or co-op
- Progression systems for perks and weapon upgrades
- There's a Nazi. Zombie. Shark. you guys. Do you need another reason to play?!?
- Levels can be quite dark
- Some of the "defend the generator" segments get nuts in single-player if you don't turn down the difficulty
- If your mom doesn't let you play games with pentagrams and a Satanic Hitler wizard, you're going to have a bad time
If your primary reason to play Wolfenstein was the whole "I get to shoot Nazis" thing, then adding in an evil magic zombie element objectively makes this whole experience better. Whether you want a campaign story or just a horde mode to jump into and shoot the shambling dead, Zombie Army 4 has you covered for fast matches or long-term gameplay.
Plenty of AAA games these days feel unfinished because content gets parceled out as post-launch expansions. On the flip side of that, I'm glad to see a gem like Zombie Army 4 is getting post-launch DLC because I legitimately want to play more levels with people down the line.
After the nine main campaign missions (and the horde mode), the upcoming Season 1 content will include the Hell Cult mini-campaign with extra levels, as well as extra characters, weapons, skins, and horde maps.
When combined with the WW2 aesthetic and top-notch visuals, this can be an addicting style. While Valve is ludicrously not working on a third entry in the Left 4 Dead series, other developers are picking up the slack and putting their own twists on the genre.
While we've got Darksburg offering a fantasy take with an isometric style and GTFO handling the indie side, Zombie Army 4: Dead War is triumphantly carrying the AAA banner forward with a WW2 twist. Pick it up: you won't be disappointed!
For more on Rebellion's latest shooter, be sure to check out our complete collectibles guide, which includes locations for all of the game's documents, comic books, zombie hands, heroic actions, and upgrade kits.
[Note: A copy of Zombie Army 4: Dead War was provided by Rebellion for the purpose of this review.]