Sometimes games overthink the core concept. Some of the most enjoyable games I’ve played this generation, be it Enter the Gungeon or LawBreakers, were simply things I had fun with. This is the prevailing mentality in Zombie Army 4: Dead War. Here Rebellion isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, give us the definitive Nazi zombie experience or any of that, it’s just a fun game to play with friends. Having seen this first hand at last year’s E3, we were excited to see what the end result ended up being. With harsh conditions, tough enemies and plenty of zombies, is Zombie Army 4: Dead War a must or has the series gone on for too long?
The story in Zombie Army 4: Dead War is silly, campy and goes in all the places you might expect. Zombies are attacking, you find clues that indicate a cult is trying to do something heinous and it ultimately concludes with it being a plot to bring Hitler back. Whether you go through the adventure normally or play the missions out of order, it has just enough camp to be fun, without too much plot to take away from how ridiculous the experience is. This allows you to focus on important things, like gameplay.
Perhaps Zombie Army 4: Dead War’s greatest strength is adding enemies that change the flow of combat. Anyone can shoot down the hall and kill an endless hoard of zombies until they eventually get overran or run out of ammo, except here the driving force is anticipating and overcoming various threats.
These include large foes that can kill you in seconds, generals that summon enemies that are problematic to deal with, fast-moving zombies, suicide zombies that can blow you up and more. Various story levels came down to my ability to recognize threats, be it a large butcher looking to cut me down or a sniper looming in the background, isolate them and deal with it before the other, less fearsome, foes overwhelmed me. This kept it interesting and provided good practice for arguably the main attraction, hoard mode.
Outside of the story, there is an endless wave mode that requires a fair bit of planning. While the story can be overcome with good weapons, proper upgrades and smart tactics, the hoard is as much luck as it is a skill. Sometimes weapons I like spawn, other times I get terrible ones, but regardless of how lucky I am, survival hinges on making the most of these options.
What makes hoard so much more interesting that story is how quickly things can go from bad to worse. Most failures were less from bad weapons, as much as handling a threat the wrong way. Sometimes a suicide general, an enemy that can randomly spawn enemies that explode near you and your allies position, simply has amazing positioning, other times you get distracted and enemies end up overwhelming you and a few times it’s simply positioning/ammo.
Most times I recognize something I could’ve done better and it makes the experience fun. Not to mention, as you progress, new skills and abilities unlock, giving you better options to survive. Simple changes like a wider range for my divine blast melee attack could potentially save a run, with there being far more powerful abilities. Naturally, you should be able to survive much longer with more health, faster healing, decreased explosion, melee and bullet damage, along with the ability to come back for a critical state twice. Especially when, you don’t just unlock these powers as you see fit. Most of them have conditions, be it level or performing a specific task, which forces you to improve.
Often times I found Zombie Army 4: Dead War stresses situational tactics over absolutes. Sometimes clearing enemies to save an ally was the right choice, whereas other times it’s best to let them die and stand my ground. This choice isn’t always obvious, many times neither option is right but that is ultimately the charm. Not endlessly winning, as much as ending up in dynamic situations with your friends that force you to either up your game or fall behind.
As previously mentioned, another big part is increasing your options. Even if I built towards pragmatic survival, there are a wide variety of equally useful builds. Whether it’s using special weapons to maximize damage, increasing your defense through more health regenerative options or giving you more power to overwhelm the opposition, I actually saw a practical use for most skills, over there being a handful that is obviously the best. Now, there are some that are more practical, like being able to revive once or twice before bleeding out a match, but there are also so many others where I could actually see my lone-wolf tactics being a determent with a skilled team, instead of a bonus for less-skilled players.
Zombie Army 4: Dead War Verdict
Ultimately, Zombie Army 4: Dead War is just a hoard mode game. Even if there is a story and missions, most stages ultimately turn into some version of fighting off waves of enemies. This prepares you for the actual hoard mode, where your success is as much skill as a tactic. Often times I found myself engaged through various challenges brought on by unique circumstances. Sometimes I would have to make a mad dash through a hoard to get ammo, other times I rushed a powerful foe only for it to end in a blaze of incompetence but it never hit a point where it was too easy or overly frustrating. No challenge, at least that you’ll realistically encounter, is impossible to overcome, resulting in a fun experience that only improves with more players. So, if you’re looking for a fun game where you shoot zombies and deal with dynamic problems, you really can’t go wrong with Zombie Army 4: Dead War.
[Editor’s Note: Zombie Army 4: Dead War was reviewed on PS4 platform. The game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]