Zombie Army 4: Dead War hands-on preview – night of the living dead Nazis
A demonically-resurrected Hitler is back from the grave and there’s only way to stop him, and it involves shooting hundreds of Nazi zombies…
Despite what you might imagine, probably less than half of the games shown at E3 are actually playable. There’s often more to see behind closed doors than is shown to the public, in terms of longer and more revealing hands-off demos, but that still doesn’t mean you get to play them. Which often makes it difficult to know what a game is really all about. Not that Zombie Army 4 is a title that keeps things too close to its chest but getting to play it helps to remove all possible doubt.
As the fourth part in the now inaccurately named Zombie Army trilogy, the game continues its alternative history version of the Second World War, where Hitler’s ‘Plan Z’ led to Europe being overrun by Nazi zombies. In the last game undead Hitler was sent to Hell but now he’s back and that means even more zombies to mow down in third person co-op action.
Although it started life as a spin-off from Sniper Elite, and one of the four characters does still have a sniper rifle, Zombie Army has, over time, mutated into something much more action-orientated than calmly sniping heads from a distance. The obvious comparison to make is a cross between Left 4 Dead and Call Of Duty’s Zombies mode, but while that’s fairly accurate Zombie Army still manages to feel like its own thing.
Tonally, Zombie Army 4 treads a fine line between the absurd and the purposefully shlocky. The team has been influenced by a number of ‘80s action horror movies, particularly the work of John Carpenter, and while facing suicide-bombing Nazi zombies is clearly not the sort of thing you’d expect of a serious shooter everything is played entirely straight. Fighting zombie Hitler is a silly premise but when you’re fighting dozens of his minions, and ammo is starting to run low, it suddenly doesn’t seem quite so laughable.
The game can be played on your own or with up to three other players, with the nature and tempo of the game changing depending on how many people are helping out. On your own you have to be quick and precise, slowly chipping away at the crowds of zombies while never leaving yourself too exposed. But with more players there are even more zombies and that means you have to be serious about co-operating properly with your allies.
We played the E3 demo with one other person and while at first the crowds of the undead pilling off a crashed train seemed manageable some inevitably started to slip by. As soon as you have to worry about zombies coming at you from any angle the tension starts to ratchet up, especially as ammo starts to run down and you have to make a dash for more. Or when one player falls and you either have to wait to be revived or try and get a quick kill to give you a ‘second wind’.
Zombie Army 4 is not an easy game, with even a brief loss of attention being potentially disastrous, but the sequel does offer a number of other tools to keep you on top of the hordes. Each of the characters have their own skills and special attacks to unlock, as well as unique weapons and upgrades. It’s probably not a good idea to play as the sniper guy if you’re on your own, for example, but as part of a team the ability to specialise is very welcome.
Also important is taking advantage of the wide variety of traps and grenades, which can be scavenged along the way. These range from mines to fire bombs to tripwires and not only are they essential in giving you a safe area from which to make a stand but the pleasure of watching a dozen Nazi zombies go up in flames because just one stepped where he shouldn’t never gets old.
Weapons can also be augmented with environmental attacks, such as stunning zombies with electricity, but these can also be set off using objects in the game world. Shooting a power generator can electrify the entire floor, while shooting a crashed airplane propeller can turn it into an ad hoc zombie blender.
Unless you count the number of enemies on screen, Zombie Army 4 is neither big nor clever, but it is fun and uncomplicated – and there’s a lot to be said for that in a world filled loot boxes and games as a service. The mere fact that Zombie Army is on its fourth outing almost tells you all you need to know about its appeal, because sometimes you just want to get together with some friends and shoot undead Nazis in the face. And when you do Zombie Army 4 has you covered.
Formats: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC
Release Date: Early 2020
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