Rebellion is continuing their tick tock cycle between their Sniper Elite and Zombie Army franchises this year with Zombie Army 4: Dead War. Picking up after the events of Zombie Army Trilogy, the new game takes players to southern Europe. While zombie Hitler may have been cast into hell, his undead minions still terrorize Europe. Four survivors now embark on a journey to discover the root cause of a surge in zombie activity and put an end to the undead horde once and for all.
While Sniper Elite 4 and Zombie Army 4: Dead War may share similar core mechanics, the two are spiritual opposites. Zombie Army 4: Dead War is intentionally campy and over the top, paying tribute to old school B horror flicks. The plot is not exactly a page turner, but it is charming enough to justify killing thousands of zombies and keep the action going.
While Sniper Elite has been a stealth title that has increasingly focused on freedom of choice in the past two games, the Zombie Army franchise has become a more distinct experience with each game. Zombie Army 4: Dead War continues to push away from the Sniper Elite franchise with its linear experience that guides players from one over the top engagement to the next.
Zombie Army 4: Dead War brings back the combo and score system from Zombie Army Trilogy as the core of its gameplay. Experience gain is tied to how many points players can achieve by stringing kills together, with bonus points are awarded for feats of accuracy. Landing high scores is important as leveling up is the main method of unlocking weapon upgrades and new perks. The time-based system does a great job of rewarding quick runs through the level and accurate gunfire.
The progression and customization systems give Zombie Army 4: Dead War the much-needed depth previous titles lacked. Players can now choose a variety of offensive, defensive, and utility perks that are unlocked as they level up or complete certain requirements. Each perk has three tiers. The last two tiers are achievement based, requiring players to fulfill requirements to unlock the improved version of the perk. Most requirements are quantity based. I like that a few will actually challenge a player’s skill to complete. I wish a few more perks were more focused on player skill instead of rewarding players willing to grind out the requirements. Weapons and items also have perks, with the former requiring weapon upgrade points to unlock and the latter unlocking at certain levels.
Zombie Army 4: Dead War’s weapon system is generally solid. Weapons, especially sniper rifles, handle incredibly well. Rebellion has done a good job adapting the sniper rifle for an action heavy game. The weapon choices heavily favour lower damage, semi-automatic rifles that will not punish a player too severely for missing a shot or two. As the difficulty rises, the game adds bullet drop and wind direction to sniper rifles. Zombie Army 4 also puts a lot more emphasis on secondary weapons and pistols, increasing the available ammunition for both weapon types significantly. The choice helps create more chaotic situations where the developers can throw larger hordes of zombies at the players. The weapon perk system also helps balance the game to be more action oriented by balancing out the sniper rifles through increasing overall DPS and area damage potential. My only two concerns about the game’s weapons is the lack of sniper rifle varieties and the inclusion of DLC weapons right out of the gate. While the gameplay favours semi-automatic rifles, all but one bolt action rifle from Sniper Elite has been axed in Zombie Army 4. Only three sniper rifles, two shotguns, two submachine guns, and three pistols are available for free. With a limited number of weapons, it’s a kick in the teeth to expect players to purchase DLC or an upgraded version of the game to gain access to the M1895 Repeater or the FG42 machine gun.
The map design is decent. The linear levels keep the action moving forward at a quick clip. There are a lot of side areas with collectibles to discover, with decent rewards for grabbing them all. All the major action shooter tropes are covered, and each mission introduces a special enemy or two that break up the often-lopsided battles between the player and the mindless swarms of melee zombies. The biggest problem with the mission design is the pacing. The lack of strong climactic moments makes the game flow at the same rate, rarely hitting a level of desperation and high pressure.
Zombie Army 4: Dead War has a lot of replayability for those who enjoy the gameplay. In addition to the progression system, the game offers a horde mode and weekly challenges. The horde mode currently has four maps, with more free maps to be released in the coming months. Horde mode offers a decent amount of customization, allowing players to balance the game’s spawn rates and difficulty level to suit their skills. The weekly challenge introduces a few modifiers to the gameplay to a single mission. Players will get bonus experience and cosmetics as a reward for participation. The weekly challenges add a nice change of pace to the game, and it would be great to see the modifier mechanics expanded upon.
The controls are mostly unchanged from Sniper Elite 4. The layout is close to the standard third person shooter. It is very practical, though a few options are missing. There is still no ability to toggle zoom, only hold to zoom. Also, zoom in and pressing T brings up a quick communication menu. There is no way to rebind the function in the game and is a pain for players using non-standard layout like ESDF.
The graphics are solid. The art style is an extremely gruesome, over the top horror set in World War II. There are a lot of zombie textures to prevent the hordes from becoming an army of clones, and the special zombies are visually distinct enough to identify from a distance. The weapon design is interesting as weapons look more customized and personalized as more perks are equipped. The x-ray kill cam has made its return. While it’s fun to watch occasionally, some players may want to skip it all together. The game does offer a solid set of options to disable or shorten the kill cam.
The audio experience is enjoyable. The sound effects are solid, especially all the weapon sounds. The soundtrack is a good accompaniment. There is a heavy Italian influence on the soundtrack with plenty of strings that suit the southern European setting well. The voice acting is a bit of an oddball. On one hand, the voice acting is pretty good, but the accents sound like they were intentionally horrible for the whole B-movie vibe.
Zombie Army 4: Dead War finally brings the franchise to the point where it can stand up on its own as a full title beside Sniper Elite. The B horror movie aesthetic, action focused gameplay, greater depth and increased replayability makes the game a blast to play. The game does struggle a little with creating strong climactic moments, missing quality of life features, and a small variety of weapons. Despite these flaws, Zombie Army 4 is still a strong title for zombie shooter fans.
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