Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Rebellion’s Zombie Army series is a longstanding favorite for a few of us here at Chalgyr’s Game Room. In fact, much of what Rebellion puts out is held in high regard as they put out excellent games that have a strong focus on cooperative multiplayer, a type of game rarely seen anymore. Zombie Army 4: Dead War is no exception and is Rebellion’s best game yet.
Returning to the era of World War II, Zombie Army trilogy sees the return of series mainstays like Karl Fairburne as well as a few fresh new faces like Shoala and Jun. Zombie Army 4: Dead War is a wonderful mix of Left 4 Dead-style corridor survival, third person shooter mechanics, slow-moving zombie-stomping goodness, and some really solid writing. With updated graphics, new abilities/gear, and an all new story following the previous trilogy, Zombie Army 4: Dead War is a fantastic addition to one of the best co-op shooters available to date.
Over the past decade, between the Sniper Elite and Zombie Army games, Rebellion has put out some of the most enjoyable co-op shooters, with their trademark cinematic snipe camera, challenging missions, and enjoyable stories. After the relatively bland Strange Brigade, both my brother and I were concerned that Zombie Army 4 might be following suit but boy were we wrong. Dead War is easily the best the studio has put out; stunning graphics that, though periodically a little choppy on an Xbox One S when a little too much is happening on screen (note, there were no performance issues on my or my brothers Xbox One X), really showed that their environment artists are on point with creating a creepy post-World War II environment that simply oozes atmosphere.
One of the most common comments while playing the surprisingly long campaign (figure 17-20 hours) was that Rebellion simply nailed the near-demonic post-war atmosphere full of weirdly disturbing moments. For example, as you’re moving through these dilapidated ruins and the slum-like environments of survivors you’ll come across these creepy dolls that are all stained and dirty. While their appearance can be called “unsettling” at best, if you shoot or come near these dolls, they’ll say truly disturbing things or laugh and be slightly animated or surrounded with red demonic energy.
There are also points where effigies or small statues will simply burst into flames then they will disappear in a slow-burning puff of ash. Add that to the absolutely stellar (with a few exceptions) sound design and the creeping, distanced scream, and weird oozing sounds and it creates this foreboding sense of doom; nailed it, in my opinion. However, there are bits where both my brother and I were ripped out of the incredible immersion and that was due to some choices with sound design. When you pick up ammo, secrets, or just occurring randomly throughout a mission, you’ll hear sounds that fit better in a happy 1980’s standup arcade cabinet and not in a tonally heavy zombie shoot’em’up. Strange choice indeed.
Customization is key in Zombie Army 4: Dead War. As you explore levels (and exploration is highly encouraged), you’ll find Upgrade Kits that you can then use to upgrade your choice weapons. While the upgrade mechanics are interesting and give you a reason to move through the level with slow, methodical care, I am a little bummed that you’re so limited on weapons.
There are 3 primary weapons, 4 secondary weapons, and a couple of pistols that you can choose from (Webley!), though if you have the Season Pass then you can add one weapon to each of the varying setups, but there is no real way to create a truly unique customization. I largely ran with the M1 Garand, Trench Gun, and the 1911 as my loadout and I spent the majority of my upgrade kits on that particular loadout. However, and herein lies something of a concern, as you progress through the campaign you might find yourself in a situation where your loadout might not be right for the enemies you’re facing but if you switch to another weapon loadout you will lose your upgrades (which are crucial for weapon capabilities and damage) and will have to start over, meaning you need to start a level with a base weapon and its failings will really show.
It would be nice if you could transfer upgrade kits to different weapons so you have more flexibility in your loadouts rather than being locked into a loadout that you (likely) naively selected with your first upgrade kit way back in the first chapter. It would also be nice to see more of a selection of weapons; World War II saw a huge influx of battle rifles and while they have the ultimate battle rifle (M1 Garand), there are so many out there like the various Lee-Enfields, Browning’s M2 or M1919, the plethora of Mausers and Mosin-Nagants, Karabiner/Karabin, the venerable Arisaka rifles along with the Nambu … The list could go on and they added … 4. It’s just a shame that we’re so limited in weapons yet have oodles of useless taunts and emotes. I would LOVE to see post-release patches that include additional weapons, though that’s likely just a dream at this point.
Zombie Army 4: Dead War is an excellent representation of how Rebellion has grown as a studio; their best writing yet, with interesting and intriguing plotlines, excellent combat, fantastic variety in enemies, adherence to the rare concept of cooperative campaign gameplay, and some of the most atmospheric elements I’ve seen in a game in years, it is their best offering yet. While there might be limitations in loadout choices and some mindboggling sound effect decisions, Rebellion’s Zombie Army 4: Dead War is a must-have for any shooter fan looking for a splendid time with friends.Score: 9 / 10