Having already played Zombie Army 4: Dead War for an hour during Gamescom last August, we jumped at the chance to spend extra time with a later build of the game. And we once again came away wanting more.
Partly, that’s because this time around we got to play approximately four hours of campaign and horde mode, with three others as our co-op companions. It gave us a better understanding of how the game will feel on release.
The more complete preview version also gave us a better understanding of the skill system, different characterisations and a host of all-new undead enemy encounters. It still doesn’t take itself too seriously – there’s a zombie tank for starters – but there are added layers to the game that weren’t in its predecessors, something you can only grasp after an extended playtime.
Here then are our first impressions after more time with ZA4 than we’ve had previously.
UK developer Rebellion stumbled upon its Zombie Army formula almost by accident. The original and its first sequel used the mechanics of Sniper Elite V2 as the basis for sillier, more action-oriented third-person shooters, each released with Sniper Elite branding and for a cut-down price.
They were effectively meant to be additional forays for Sniper fans than games in their own right.
However, thanks to their success on PC, a third outing was created and packaged with its forebears and released on console too. Hence, Zombie Army Trilogy was born and so too were an all-new horde of fans.
Now the Zombie Army franchise stands on its own two feet and the fourth, while borrowing much from Sniper Elite 4, is a fresh shooter in its own right.
It is more polished, technically improved sequel. It is faster, larger and adds one or two of the ideas first introduced in another recent Rebellion title, Strange Brigade.
Co-op cadaver culling
The core mechanics of Dead War are much the same as the previous trilogy – third-person and similar to Sniper Elite in DNA. There are sniping opportunities and extreme kill shots aplenty, as Rebellion games are known for, and plenty of mission objectives to accomplish throughout the campaign. However, the gameplay is much more action-oriented, with waves upon waves of increasingly stronger zombies to blast your way through.
There are plenty of puzzle elements too, plus big boss battles that, while possible to tackle in solo-play, are much more satisfying when experienced with friends.
Co-op play is at the very core of this outing, with a better defined character system that allows for more customisation than ever before and a range of abilities that enable players to complement each other. Loadouts are more effective and important this time around too, it seems. And, secrets, upgrades and power-ups can be found throughout the campaign to enhance your combat readiness.
Perhaps the biggest, most obvious enhancement – apart from more zombies on screen than ever before – is the appearance of preset traps – a la Strange Brigade.
Where you could place your own traps in previous games – such as land mines – you can now also stumble upon a giant locational trap. For example, a half-destroyed aeroplane propellor can be used to suck zombies into the blades.
They can be essential too, as the new brand of living dead can be rather troublesome indeed.
Our biggest takeaway from the extended hands-on session is just how much work has been put into the latest batch of Nazi zombie attackers. And the variety of them.
There are the normal, shuffling hordes, suicide bombers, enormous brutes with mini-guns and a whole load more. Then there is the aforementioned zombie tank, with a beating heart in the middle of fortified walls and a massive canon.
This diverse array of enemy types ensures that each zone of a campaign map feels different enough to stave monotony. Combat, therefore, also feels freshened up whenever you meet another zombie-type. Although, it’s not that you can just sit around and strategise as everything is generally thrown at you more quickly than tomatoes at a Spanish festival.
Even with friends in tow, you’ll die. A lot. Indeed, doing so ignites one of our favourite moments in the game, as your corpse suddenly comes to life and heads towards your teammates with you as a non-participating observer. At least until you hit a respawn moment, anyway.
It’s one of the many examples of fun you’ll experience throughout Zombie Army 4: Dead War, as this is a game steeped in it. It is big, it is clever, but it is also hugely fun – as we found out to our gleeful joy.
The campaign has a story that trots along nicely, but you’ll mainly be playing to find out the next big bad guy around the corner, or to see one of your co-op chums sliced up in quite spectacular fashion. There is plenty to get out of the game, and we’ve only just scratched the surface.
Certainly, ZA4 is already on our one-to-watch list.
We can’t wait to see the final version for review, but considering our disappointment when we were told that we’d finished the preview build – horde mode and all – all the signs are certainly pointing in the right direction.
It will be available for PC, Xbox One and PS4 on 6 March.