Rebellion’s Zombie Army Trilogy was a fun diversion, but the game’s origins as spinoff DLC for Sniper Elite were clear. The first two episodes of the trilogy in particular are highly repetitive, with wave after wave of the same old enemies to fight. Each level followed the same format – things start off quiet, a horde arrives, then it goes quiet again. Repeat ad infinitum.
The third episode – which was created especially for the Zombie Army Trilogy release rather than previously being DLC for Sniper Elite – improved things a little. Several more NPCs and plot elements were introduced, and most importantly, the ranks of the undead were expanded with more zombie types that required different tactics and prioritization. Even so, it was still all fairly simplistic, and the game felt quite bare bones. For example, there were a few collectibles to find, but picking them up made no difference to the gameplay, merely unlocking a trophy/achievement if you found them all.
By contrast, Zombie Army 4 is an actual, ‘proper’ game in its own right. No offence to Zombie Army Trilogy, which was pretty good fun despite its simplicity, but it feels like this sequel fleshes out what was previously a just a fun idea into a fully formed, standalone title.
For a start, there’s a bit more of a plot. At the end of Zombie Army Trilogy, the now-undead Hitler is dispatched by our heroes, but Zombie Army 4 sees a mysterious cult attempting to raise the Fuhrer up from hell. It’s silly, and the developers know it – ZA4 deliberately aims for a knowing B-movie vibe, and doubles down on the ridiculousness of the setting. Hence we have zombies dressed as gondoliers, wonderful straight-to-video-style posters to introduce each level and, best of all, zombie tanks.
Yep, zombie tanks. And they look bloody excellent (pun intended), with gruesome ribbons of flesh connecting their turret and fleshy, rotten hearts hidden inside. And speaking of the art design, the game really excels in this regard – the zombies look fantastically gruesome, and I particularly enjoyed some of the gory details, like the way the Suiciders have had their arms removed and their ribcages packed with dynamite. And there are far more zombie types across the board, which makes fights far more interesting and dynamic than in the previous game. You might be fighting a crew of Armoured Giants, patiently trying to shoot off their protective helmets as they lumber towards you, but then a Commander shows up and starts turning regular zombies into runners, meaning you have to prioritise taking out the sprinting undead. And if a huge Butcher Zombie shows up with a giant chainsaw, it’s time to start running in the opposite direction.
The missions benefit from similar variety. Whereas previously every mission felt pretty much the same, in Zombie Army 4 you might have to scout a level to find various objects to allow you to progress, or protect a device while it charges up, or perhaps just survive while a timer clicks down. None of this is revolutionary, but it makes for a much more satisfying game than the previous entry. The collectibles are now worth collecting, too. Rather than endless, identical skulls, here you’re finding comic books and documents that are actually interesting to read and look at – I particularly liked the comics, which are old issues of the War Picture Library books I remember from when I was a kid, but altered to depict the undead.
In addition, there are upgrade kits to find on each level, which let you modify your weapons to make them more powerful or accurate, or add special abilities like returning health when you kill an enemy or making some bullets into explosive rounds. As you might have guessed, there is no attempt at realism here, and the game very much benefits for it. It’s silly, and it’s brilliant.
There are lots of perks, too, which you can unlock by completing certain objectives such as killing X amount of enemies using traps. Like the gun upgrades, they can have a big impact on the game – for example, one gives you second chance to carry on if you run out of health, as long as you can kill a zombie before you bleed out, and another lets you detach machine-gun turrets and take them with you. This, combined with the greater variety of enemies and improved level design, makes Zombie Army 4 a far more interesting and diverse shooter than its predecessor. And that’s without adding the fact that there are several protagonists to choose between, each with different strengths and weaknesses.
All of this stuff has been seen before, of course. Left 4 Dead is an obvious touchstone, not to mention the more recent Wolfenstein games. In essence, there’s nothing earth-shattering about Zombie Army 4, nothing that rips up the playbook and heralds a new genre. But then no one was ever expecting that anyway, and the changes make for a really solid and brilliantly fun shooter. And it’s all done so brilliantly well, with imaginative enemies and environments topped off with satisfyingly meaty gunplay. I haven’t tried out the multiplayer elements, so I can’t comment on that, but the single-player campaign is wonderfully silly – and sometimes hilariously gory. In short, it’s great. Not to mention a welcome bit of escapism in these troubled times.
Zombie Army 4 was developed by Rebellion and is available on PS4, Xbox One and PC (via the Epic Games Store). We reviewed the PC version.
Disclosure statement: review code for Zombie Army 4 was provided by Lick PR. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.
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