Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Last year wasn’t an easy one for many reasons and this year may not be either as the pandemic we find ourselves in globally continues. The from bad to worse scale has been rather severe from people having died in mass numbers to others finding themselves unemployed and unable to afford even the most basic of living conditions. Others have felt trapped in their spaces and relationships have seen the truest of tests as we have all stayed indoors to remain safe. So it’s during this past year that Izzy and I have become closer than ever and the once non-gamer has now found a passion and together? We’ve slayed Hitler’s Zombie armies not once, twice or thrice, but four times.
Having started back in October with the original Zombie Army Trilogy before moving into Strange Brigade, I wasn’t quite sure what I was in for. I knew that Robert loved the series and spoke quite highly of Rebellion’s Zombie Army, but having never looked up the gameplay, all I knew was that it was a shooter and a spin off of the Sniper Elite Series which we have just started up last week. I seriously wish I had jumped into Rebellion’s work prior to this. So after some rather intense moments as we learned what worked and what didn’t, we moved onto Zombie Army 4: Dead War and haven’t really put it down since even after Platinuming it with help from Marc, Richard and a random drop in Smileshot9. Thanks again Smiles!
I’m a big fan of structured campaigns especially when it comes to first or third person shooters and Rebellion definitely delivers on this point. Taking up after the end of the original trilogy, there are some returning characters along with new blood to once again take up arms against an undead zombie Hitler and his army that is once again trying to take over the world by turning every living thing into one of the undead. As that would clearly be a bad thing, you and up to three others can load up on ammunition and explosives before setting out to disrupt these diabolical plans.
While I enjoy a good third person shooter, I enjoy it even more when the details are just right. Having been a fan of the Gears of War series forever now (which I’ve also introduced Izzy to), there’s been refinements done to it over the years between the different development studios and Rebellion with Zombie Army 4 is no different. Set in an over the right shoulder view, you set out with a main rifle, secondary submachine gun or shotgun, and a sidearm leveling up and learning new skills and perks to make the upcoming challenges a bit earlier.
The main goal is easy. Survive. While maybe a tad simplistic to say aloud, it’s your number one priority as you move through linear stages as you complete objectives before hunkering down in a safe room in order to restock and take a quick break if needed. A little different from the original trilogy is that safe rooms also act as major checkpoints that can be reloaded individually instead of having to play through the entire level’s set of stages in one go. This makes it much easier to plan around gaming sessions if you’ve got other plans or didn’t feel like having to sink an entire hour into it just to make it to the next point.
Also unlike the original Trilogy’s safe rooms, these new versions not only provide you with ammo restocking, but also provide you with the ability to change and customize your weapons, skills, perks and appearance. Weapons unlike the original can now be upgraded and customized in order to meet your needs. Additional accuracy, lessening the recoil, adding elemental charges such as Fire, Explosives, Electricity and Divine elements or simply increasing the ammo stock. Each weapon type acts a bit differently so playing with these loadouts to find what makes the most sense for you takes time.
Side to the weapons, characters have the ability to learn and upgrade perks. Perks were perhaps once the most useful things especially when moving from Normal over to hard. Eventually being able to load up five in total, perks give you options ranging from taking less ranged and melee damage over to being able to take heavy weapons off of the racks and have more ammo. Get shot down and your teammate is not close? You can equip a second wind that can eventually be upgraded to allow you to do this twice per chapter.
Finally, you can customize the appearance of both your character and their weapons. While this doesn’t affect the gameplay short of scaring the crap out of your teammates as a fiery pumpkin head or evil clown mask comes out of a literal nowhere, it is fun. Customizations themselves though are part of the gameplay as certain items such as helms can only be obtained by doing certain actions such as saving people or opening safes. Items can also be obtained by leveling up, OR, by buying them on the storefront individually or through the season passes which is the least expensive way to get your hands on the continuation of the story.
In regards to the story, each level has multiple stages that have been mostly broken down into three to four sections a piece until the final boss fight, keeping most levels under an hour (ish). In each of these stages you’ll be charged at by a variety of enemies starting with random grunts that will moan and shamble towards you into much more fearsome foes such as 80s ripped Arnold gunners, tall lanky pyros with flamethrowers, chunky buzzsaw brutes and tons of ‘explody boys’ to light up the adventure a little bit more. Each of these units requires an individual approach, or, if you’re like me, walk right out to them with something that shoots fast and hope for a few critical headshots. Works wonders and then you can pick up their weapons for yourself!
This was perhaps the other biggest change to Zombie Army 4, the ability to pick up those massively powerful weapons that can easily take you and your squad down within seconds if you’re not careful. While powerful in your hands, these weapons are very limited in ammo and cannot be restocked or refilled which is a bit unfortunate at times. The only real way to get “more ammo” is to have the heavy perk in order to get more ammo off the bat but even that doesn’t last long once the hordes start to come in.
Exactly what it sounds like, Zombie Army 4’s Horde Mode continues the sheer onslaught of zombies in waves against you and whoever will stand by your side. Unlike the original trilogy, this time around you’ll be starting off with a random pistol and you’ll need to pick everything else up on your own. The only things that you can choose are your perks and your special melee ability. Everything else will be random as it is spawned through the waves that will be coming at you.
In a way, not having access to your own gear was at first annoying as hell, but as we plowed through the waves, it became a bit refreshing as it allows you to see what the other types of guns and their upgrade paths can look like without having to invest into these weapons that you’ve never used. Continuing on from the first, unlike Gears of War which you start off with the whole map and a place to set up shop, Zombie Army 4 will slowly unlock new parts of the map for you to move through and access gear without ever giving you a place to call “home”.
Unlike other Horde Modes that I’ve played, constantly having to move around to stay alive was a bit odd at first as I’ve been used to building up barricades and turrets Tower Defense style over the years. Having only access to whatever I was holding but in never ending waves can get a bit tough so if you are thinking of diving into Horde Mode? It may be a good idea to level up a bit first as even if your weapons get more powerful, you’ll still have to heavily lean on your perks and your own abilities to survive long enough to get those trophies!
Still on topic, all of the above continues in additional levels that have been released over time since the original launch of Zombie Army 4. Currently coming in two packs, Season Pass 1 and Season Pass 2 which Izzy and I are awaiting the drop of the latest story expansion, there are more zombies, crazy new sights to see and plenty of ways to die as even without their boss, the zombie horde is still keeping it real while trying to finish off eliminating the living.
It takes me a lot to shell out for one “Season Pass” unless it’s coming in packaged, much less two, but with how much time we’ve sunk into Zombie Army 4 we figured why not as we dove into these just before Christmas. I’ll be honest that I have not been disappointed even with the price that we paid for each as neither has gone on sale since starting out our adventures. Other than some new weapons and cosmetics, the additional levels of the Season Passes aren’t just tacked on randomness as a cash grab. Each level and their stages have the same level of care that can be found inside of the main campaign and honestly, some of these levels are better than the original content while others are ok, but in either case, we’ve played through what’s currently available just as many times as we’ve played the main campaign.
On a final Season Pass / Additional Content note, the new weapons that were added while upgradable, aren’t simply upgraded by finding or being given upgrade kits and then slapping them on. Instead, like the original weapon mastery challenges that can be unlocked by fully upgrading a weapon, the DLC weapons upgrades can only be unlocked through their own sets of challenges. Some aren’t as good as the main set while others are better, BUT, that’s for me and my play style. It could be different for someone else. These don’t need to be acquired if you just want to buy the stages individually, but if you’ve been wanting a bit more spice in your zombie stew, it’s not a bad place to look.