Few things in the world of video games are as fun as killing Nazis and shooting Zombies. Zombie Army 4: Dead War does a damned fine job of combining the two. The 9-level campaign of the base game takes you across Europe as you look to finally end an undead Hitler with up to 3 friends by your side. There is a commitment and reverence for B-movie horror tropes throughout, and as the game is made by the developers of the Sniper Elite series, Rebellion Developments, the shooting is fantastic. Add in a horde mode and it sounds like one hell of a package, especially now with Game Pass and Xbox Series console support. Let us see if adds up to something that’s worth your time.
Originally released back in the beautiful “Covid won’t be that bad or last that long!” times of February 4th, 2020 Zombie Army 4 is a follow up to a series I had heard about but never played. The original Zombie Army trilogy had been repackaged and released for the Xbox One and PS4 generation of consoles, but it never grabbed my attention enough to give it a purchase. I had greatly enjoyed the Sniper Elite series but the thought of mixing the fun gameplay of that series into a zombie horde shooter wasn’t one I felt was worth the money. Thanks to the gem that is Xbox Game Pass though I was finally able to give the series a go, and would you know it but they devs released Xbox Series support the same day it went up on the service! This added in a much-appreciated 4k resolution and 60 frames per second mode alongside a damned fuzzy 1080p and 120 frames per second mode. For the purposes of capturing footage I stuck with the 4k/60 mode most of the time, but the gameplay really does shine when you’re playing at 120hz on a display with VRR to smooth out any frame drops.
The game is a straightforward one. You have 9 base campaign levels, 6 DLC campaign levels, and 4 base Horde mode maps. The DLC is $35 per season pass, though can choose to purchase each level individually as well. If the main campaign had not been so long, a full playthrough took me roughly 12 hours, I would find the amount of content stuck behind DLC frustrating. Thankfully that campaign and the horde mode both give plenty of enjoyment and I feel satisfied with my time in the game without having played the DLC missions. I will say though that the gun variety is disappointing. You have 3 of each slot; Rifle, Secondary, and Pistol. These are each doubled through purchasing the two season passes. It’s one area I wish the game had a bit more to offer in the base campaign, though the upgrade system did have me using the same three guns for my entire playthrough anyways (more on that in a bit).
Sniping the Dead to Make Them even Dead…er
One thing the game has going for it is the gunplay. While movement can be a bit stiff at times the guns feel great. There is an upgrade tree for each that adds extra damage, better scopes, explosive rounds, electrical arcs of energy and more. By the end of my campaign playthrough my sniper rifle could tear through 10 enemies in a single shot with its massive explosive shot, and my shotgun could disable an entire group when its electric charge was built up. Most of the time I used my pistol was when one of the many basic objectives had me carrying an item so that only one hand was free. The missions play out in a similar pattern repeatedly. You get to an area and must kill everything, sometimes you need to hit a switch and wait, other times you need to kill enemies near a Blood Fountain so you can see their souls power it up. What happens when it’s powered, why the door opens of course just like with every other objective you have! The fun is in the mindless slaughter, as it certainly isn’t in the story.
Rebellion’s storytelling was never great in the Sniper Elite series and I’m thankful here that they’re not trying to be serious here. It’s a thoroughly tongue-in-cheek B-Movie Zombie gorefest and they play it that way the whole way through. There are 4 playable characters in the base campaign with a few more added in the season pass DLC. They aren’t classes but each has their strengths and weaknesses and voice lines. The voice acting is cheesy and can be enjoyable at times. Most of the time though all I could hear were the non-stop chorus of the dead. It goes like this, “WAHHHHHH AHHHHH AHHHHHHHWHAHAHA”.
The Power of Next-Gen
The day the game was added to Game Pass a patch was put out that enabled the aforementioned 60 and 120 frames per second modes. This is a godsend as my time in Sniper Elite 3 and 4 always felt a bit floaty at its base 30fps, and when the FPS boost mode hit SE4 a month or so back the game immediately felt far better control wise. The same is the case here and after coming off a title with poor aim acceleration in Outriders it has been a pleasure to experience. Graphically the game is solid with a last-gen engine helped greatly by the power of the new hardware. The resolution and framerate are aided by a solid red and yellow hell inspired art style. My monitor does have Variable Refresh Rate enabled and I cannot remember a single instance of slowdown in either graphical mode. Enemies have clearly defined silhouettes which greatly aids your decision making in the moment to moment of battle. There is an excellent variety of enemy types who each have their own strengths and weaknesses you must consider as you decide who to take out first.
To aid you in this are 4 utility slots that can be occupied by a variety of grenades, mines, and even an extremely rare and powerful Artillery Flare. There are incendiary, electric, bait, and divine variants with the divine ones healing you and your allies. There are also heavy weapon pickups you can find on the field and the profile-based leveling system offers you (eventually) 5 perk slots that you can use to customize your style of play. It greatly adds to the replayability of the game, and I found myself having a real reason to go back and play previous levels with my co-op partner even if I had already completed them. This is also key to the horde mode where you can set a few parameters such as difficulty or how many mobs should spawn based on player count before going into what can be a very long and fun session of absolute chaos. Matchmaking works well through a browser-based system and in general the community I found the times I tried it were helpful and the performance was solid for the most part.
Each weapon slot also has an ability that you can activate with a press of the RB once it’s charged up (by murdering). For the sniper rifile this is a time slowdown (when solo) that also does one huge armor piercing shot. Shotguns get a time slowdown (again when solo) and increase to fire and reload rate. Pistols get the ability to mark targets, 3 to start but more through unlocks, which will then trigger an instant and incredibly satisfying round of automatic headshots once you activate it again.
The Hills Are Alive…. With the Sound of Murrrderrr
While the voice acting is purposefully cheesy the zombie screams can be truly ear splitting. It adds to the sense of dread, but I did find myself turning down the volume often. There is one enemy known as the suicider that has one of the most genuinely terrifying yells I’ve ever heard. This is aided since they are covered in dynamite and running at you like an Olympic Sprinter. Gun sound effects are uniformly excellent, the weird arcade like sound effects are fun, and the music is damned good.
Zombie Army 4 is a game I never gave a chance before Game Pass, and it really is a perfect game for the service. The base campaign is long and the potential to get you to purchase the season pass DLC means it should help the developers earn quite a bit more for all their hard work. The shooting is fun, the campaign is just the right length, the voice acting, and story are bad on purpose and it all leads to a fun game that is worth your time, especially if you’ve got a few friends to play alongside you.