I have always enjoyed the Zombie Army series in spite of it feeling like a bit of a perfunctory afterthought to Sniper Elite. Zombie Army 4: Dead War adds a host of arcadey abilities and perks that help to distinguish it in this respect, but still retains the series’ trademark slow-mo kills, straightforward gunplay, and lovable B-movie narrative. My time with an early build at a behind-closed-doors E3 appointment left me chuckling and optimistic.
I kicked off the demo by taking control of series’ front man Karl Fairburne in a WW2-era Milan train station. Before I knew it, a runaway passenger car teeming with undead Nazis barreled into the station and I found myself retreading familiar ground by slow-mo sniping zombies in the head, and other less ethical places. At the most basic level, Zombie Army 4: Dead War plays very similarly to the preceding installments. Zombie grunts are still slow-moving fodder, holding shift slows down time and prompts a forgiving real-time reticle, and you have access to an array of WW2 armaments beyond the iconic sniper rifles.
Beyond the basics, Zombie Army 4 adds a wealth of gameplay depth in the form of melee skills, weapon-specific abilities, and eccentric mods and perks that steer the series into the realm of Action-RPG. You can outfit your Gewher 43 with an electrified barrel that stuns targets and causes lighting to arc to nearby foes, earning a ten-kill combo lets you perform a take down on zombie grunts that replenishes lost health, and every weapon has a hero shooter-esque ultimate ability that can be used after amassing enough kills. The pistol “assist,” for instance, let’s you channel your inner McCree and inform a handful of unlucky undead that it is, in fact, high noon.
Every new ability I tried felt flavorful and fun to use, but one in particular stole the show. The “electric punch” melee skill forcefully sends a sparking zombie hurling through the air that stuns nearby enemies when it crashes back to earth. And I was pleased to discover that this skill has applications beyond a simple “oh crap” button. At one point I punted a rushing suicide bomber into a pack of grunts that consumed the entire mob in a satisfying explosion when the stun effect ended.
While I can’t speak to enemy variety on the whole yet, the one level I played left me feeling optimistic. Milan featured grunts, suicide bombers, flame troopers, and a “loot zombie” of sorts that exploded with useful ammunition after stomping on its corpse a few times. The environment is riddled with interactive elements that provide further opportunity for morbid self expression. Turbines can be shot to suck dozens of zombies into the spinning blades, loot crates abound with useful grenades and temporary barrel attachments, and stationary turrets can even be lifted off their mounts with the proper perk.
Overall, I love the direction that Zombie Army 4: Dead War is headed. It seems to be making a clear break from Sniper Elite with over-the-top combat mechanics and deeper character progression. The environment is lovingly populated with fun Easter Eggs and collectibles, and I like the idea that I can play solo for a methodical experience or with friends for a more action-oriented jaunt. For more on Zombie Army 4: Dead War, check back soon to IGN.