Zombie Army 4: Dead War is a third-person shooter developed and published by the fine folks at Rebellion, creators of the critically acclaimed Sniper Elite series and Strange Brigade: a favorite of mine. The story follows a band of resistance fighters after toppling Zombie Hitler’s regime and casting him straight back to Hell. Everything is grand and the day is saved, hooray! But what’s this? The zombies aren’t stopping; even worse their ferocious growls intensify as the hunger for human flesh magnifies their strength, overpowering all branches of the dwindling resistance. It is up to you, the lone survivors to travel through this living hellscape we call home; hoping to find anything but death and despair along your journey. Hitler is back baby, and I don’t think he forgot about that whole Hell thing. Maybe he’ll go easy on you? Yeah, I didn’t think so either.
I’m just going to come right out and say it, Zombie Army 4: Dead War has a lot going on. Comprised of a campaign, horde mode, and an ever-changing weekly event; there is plenty to keep the players busy for the foreseeable future. Starting with the tried and true classic, the campaign sends players on a long-fought adventure through a war-torn Europe plagued with creepy crawlies stuffed into every nook and cranny. Your voyage consists of twenty-four chapters encapsulated within nine unique missions taking you on the scenic routes to some of your favorite places. Try to imagine those family fun vacations to the zoo or riding gondolas through the Italian channels while massacring hordes of zombies along the way. If we are lucky, the gift shop might still be open. You know how much Mom loves those postcards. This might seem like all fun and games, but remember; survival is the name of the game in this zombie-eat-human world we live in these days. Try your best to complete your mission in one piece, there is already enough of those brainless zombies running around.
We all know what it is, but the horde mode sets players in a small, yet expandable segment picked out of random moments in the campaign and has them battle waves of zombies until they meet their maker or unlock the escape door. The two things I found the most interesting about this was the ability to escape and how the game started cramped but opened up as you progressed. The expansions are nothing like what we see in the Call of Duty franchise: you can’t go to a place whenever you want. These additional pathways are opened on predetermined waves. So, if you have to wait until wave four for that wall to blow open, you better hope that you don’t trap yourself in that corner too quickly. I enjoyed the idea behind escaping too. I know it has been done before, but I felt like this was one of the better executions. To escape, your team must survive until round twelve and then you are home free. However; you are not cut off there. You can stay as long as you want and fight harder waves of zombies if you feel like it. Sure, still pretty standard for some zombie modes in recent years. The best thing though is it isn’t a gamble: you can try and not worry about not escaping, as the door stays open at all times. No more squabbling between team members because one person is worried about not escaping. You can keep trying until shit hits the fan. Once it does, haul ass to that door before you become a zombie’s next tasty snack.
The weekly event is an interesting addition for some added fun and cool rewards. It picks a random campaign mission or horde map and slaps on three rules to aid and hinder your progress. They can help you by giving increased health or damage, but then become a nuisance when your health constantly ticks down or zombies come in bigger hordes. It is a minor thing, but these rules add some new challenges without overtly making the game unplayable due to difficulty. The rewards usually come in as additional experience and a limited emote only available through the event. So, if nothing else, you get something cool to show off to your friend when you are bragging about it. Plus, that extra experience is nice: it is a long road to get to level 100, so try to get it everywhere you can.
With your destination known and your prime objectives clear, we need to talk about how you are going to accomplish these insane tasks. You didn’t think I would send you in empty-handed, did you? The base game has four characters to choose from: Karl – The Veteran, Boris – The Prisoner, Jun – The Volunteer, and Shola – The Engineer. Each character has a set of pros and cons to fit their character, actually providing a reason behind picking on character over another aside from purely cosmetic differences. I find myself favoring the playstyle of Karl, the protagonist from the Sniper Elite games, primarily on the way they highlight his long-range and critical damage attributes. I believe these boosts outweigh his negative stat of slower health regeneration as health from medkits or performing takedowns aren’t the rarest commodity, at least on the normal difficulty. You can also slightly customize your character with the slim choices of headgear and an assortment of emotes and taunts to spice up your interactions online. Whoever said dancing wasn’t an effective way to ward off the hordes of undead?
Variety is the name of the game when it comes to your weapon load-outs. Players can customize up to four separate load-outs to take with them on their journey. This allows players to easily switch between distinct styles when in the safe room to adapt and prepare for any changing threats they may have encountered. While it is just as easy to utilize one and switch a weapon here or a perk there, being able to create unique classes provides more freedom to trying something out without messing with ol’ reliable. Players are given their choice between three primary rifles, four secondary weapons, and three pistols to create their classes of mass zombie destruction. Moving away from weapons, you also can equip yourself with a special melee attack, up to five different perks once hitting level thirty-five, and a special mod for each item of the game. The special melee attack and item mods, while useful, are not the most important things to waste your time on choosing. Your standard melee is almost ineffective to most of the horde, but stringing kills together can allow you to perform a single attack dealing additional damage and providing some additional features. I primarily use the Electric Fist that stuns enemies with a change arcing effect. Each melee style can be upgraded by reaching a certain rank in the game to do more damage or have a bigger area-of-effect. The item mods have some interesting effects like medkits have an auto revive feature or frag grenades can be transformed into a sticky grenade and each item has two choices. You would think great; these upgrades are passive, so as long as I can find the weapon, it will be better. Well...yes, but I had a problem with them because most are locked away at very high rank unlocks. I get that you just have to play the game and some things will need to be high up, but still expecting me to get to level 96 out of 100 to have a Teller mine explode twice might be a little much.
Now for the guns and the perks: the most important part of any shooter. Now that you have found the class that makes you that effective zombie killer that you claim to be, let’s talk about upgrades. Each weapon has three stats that can be upgraded by collecting upgrade kits; one of this game’s many collectibles. They usually fall inside the category of more ammunition, more damage, faster reload time or a special shot like electric or explosive damage. Once you purchase all the upgrades for a weapon, it unlocks a mastery challenge. Each weapon is different, but all revolve around a difficult or time-consuming feat that ranges between getting multi-kills or at long-range. For example, the Mosin-Nagant M91 rifle requires you to get 200 headshots from over 50 meters away. Definitely something that will take some time, but not like you are going to dedicate the rest of your playthrough to just trying to get it done. Plus, once you complete it, you are treated to a sweet camo and increased damage to all rifles. Perks are the lifeblood of a well-rounded and efficient load-out. Luckily, this is not something that Rebellion skimped on as we have thirty-six different perks to choose from between offensive, defensive, and other skills. The offensive perks provide the player with additional item damage and boost to weapon-specific super moves. The defensive category, the one that I found had the most useful ones to choose from, aids players with increased health and stamina, damage reduction from various attacks, and abilities like Second Chance that allows the player to revive themselves once incapacitated. Finally, the perks in the other category provide additional ammunition, display collectibles, and aids your combo meter to boost that precious score. Most are unlocked by reaching a certain level, something that I have a slight problem with as well as a few perks are locked away at a super high level. However, some can be quickly unlocked by performing unique tasks. Each perk has three phases ranging from bronze to gold with gold provided a massive stat boost when upgraded. Upgrading to gold can be as easy as collecting a set number of collectibles and range anywhere to beating a level without going below 50% health. The best news is that you do not even have to have the perk equipped for it to level up, so if you do not find its early stages that useful, it can be switched out until you find the one you like.
We have already covered a lot to do, but for the completionists out there; Zombie Army 4: Dead War provides a whooping 140 collectibles to find and 78 stickers to unlock as well if you are just looking for that extra thing to do. The good news is that everything actually gives you something and isn’t just mindless garbage scattered around the world for no reason. I have already mentioned that the collectibles level certain perks up, but they also provide an interesting narrative to the world around you and are crucial to master your weapons. This is all fun and good, but the stickers are something that I was expecting not to care one bit about but ended up adding an interesting set of objectives for me to complete. You see, each sticker is locked behind some task. It could be something like beating a level or getting so many kills with a weapon. Nothing too crazy, though, so they are easy to do passively while just enjoying your time with the game. The cool part about them is that, once unlocked, they provide detailed drawings of the level or enemies around you and a bit of experience. Again, it isn’t much, but I think that is an amazing reward to see in-depth renditions of the baddies that you were blowing away not fifteen minutes ago.
The visuals and soundtrack were on point from beginning to end. The environment was blanketed with dark, eerie tones and the grey and black color design fits right in. There are very few instances where you are not either stumbling down a dark corridor or shadowed by the night sky. The world is supposed to feel helpless and overrun by these terrifying creatures from hell and the visuals do everything that mirror this idea. The design of the hellions you face pair nicely with the mood, like a fine wine. Their rotting, decrepit bodies fill the screen with nightmare fuel and it rarely ever stops. Even when they are not on the screen, the overwhelming grunts and growls blend with the caws of crows to send chills down your spine. The experience you feel is more likely the fear of impending doom, but this game can definitely pull off a scare or two at any moment.
I set low expectations for my experience when going into this game. While I am a big fan of Rebellion's work, I never really got hooked on Zombie Army Trilogy when I tried to play it in the past. I felt the long format of the level design just perpetuated forever and I remember being burned out rather quickly. However, I have been blown away about the fourth entry in the series. The combat is fun, the narrative is enthralling, and while the long-natured format of the levels returned, I still find myself coming back for more and more. Hell, this game has made me reinstall the other entries to give them another shot. I rarely have times where I am at a moral conundrum about wanting the game to last twice as long, but also want the story to progress because I can’t wait to see what happened. This is something I will definitely be playing to its full extent and with DLC slowly rolling out new content; I cannot wait to check that out as well. Whether you are a fan or not, do yourself a favor and check this title out. You can take it from me: it might shine a new light on the entire franchise.
*Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of the review.
final score: 9.5/10
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