Zombie shark, do do do…
OK, so the last time I reviewed a multiplayer focused co-op shooter from Rebellion, I said it was the most fun I’d had since Left 4 Dead. Well, with Zombie Army 4: Dead War, I think they’ve gone and done it again. See, if there’s one thing people generally tend to hate, it’s Nazis. And if there’s another thing that people would hate if they were real, it’s zombies. So by following the logic, smashing together hundreds of Zombie Nazis into a level and giving you a bunch of weapons to get through sounds like it’s gonna be a good time. And for the vast majority of it, it really is.
I’ll be honest with you, the story in Zombie Army 4 is, at best, paper thin. It’s throwaway nonsense that is ultimately used as a series of branches to set up increasingly ridiculous set pieces, in which Hitler’s undead minions are unleashed in ever growing numbers to tear you limb from limb. The basic set up for the story is a multi-part narrative, with each segment of the game taking part in a unique area, before culminating in… Ah, I won’t spoil it. But it’s cool. Very cool.
What isn’t paper thin, however, is the sheer amount of fun that Rebellion have managed to cram into ZA4. A game that is, essentially, a shooting gallery of pallid and rotting flesh, turns into a borderline tactical game of cat and mouse with you and a horde of “Z-words”. Do you lob a grenade into the shambling group to your left? How about laying down a mine for the slowly-shuffling throng on your right? Or do you take out the big fella at the back with a huge machine gun, before running over and grabbing his weapon (steady!) and mowing down the entire horde while laughing maniacally with all the subtlety of a brick through a window? There are just so many tough choices to make!
The mechanics that keep all of this fun chugging along have been cribbed from Rebellion’s big success, Sniper Elite. What could feel better than slinging a bullet across a map into a Nazi’s skull? How about doing that, but into a Nazi that’s refused to die. It’s immensely satisfying, and while the detail has been toned down a little bit from the more recent Elite titles due to the number of enemies on screen, it still looks disgustingly brilliant when you see lead hit bone and watch as the head (or arm, or leg, or… erm… bollocks) pop into a satisfying squirt of blood and sinew. I’m aware that the prior sentence may well be one of the most sadistic things I’ve ever written, but you’ve got to remember that these are 1) Nazis, 2) Zombies, and 3) Not real in any stretch of the imagination.
What’s better than slinging a bullet into a Nazi? What about one that won’t die…
You can plough through the fields of undead fascists on your own if you want, but the true fun in ZA4 comes when you team up with a couple of mates and hammer your way through the story in co-op. In addition to the ability to play with people you know, there’s a robust matchmaking system in place, and I only really had one or two minor server issues when playing (bullets taking a split second to register etc), but nothing absolutely game-breaking at all. The people I played with were, by and large, incredibly friendly throughout, and really helpful, but as with all games your mileage may vary.
Graphically, the game is pretty much what you’d come to expect from a Rebellion title at this stage. Environments look absolutely gorgeous, with the gloriously Ronseal-titled “Zombie Zoo” Vegetation juts out around the level, with errant wires sparking, traps glowing and cages glistening, all leading to a finale around an enclosure in the centre of the map. Other levels are just as impressive, with rivers of lava flowing, zombie snipers floating around the map with incredible speed, and, of course, a zombie shark. Yep, there’s a full on shark that’s got a bad case of necrotising fasciitis plonked down in the harbour. Of course, it’s a trap, and when you activate it, it starts thrashing around and taking out a bunch of the zombies as they unwittingly enter its path. It’s a perfect example of the sense of humour that permeates the whole game. There are easter eggs linked to pop culture littered across the game, with what appear to be unlockable moments, and plenty of secrets that will undoubtedly be uncovered in due course. The tone is perfect for a game such as this, and the dev team’s tongues are firmly planted within their cheeks. Lightbulbs adorn walls in a Stranger Things reference, “I Want To Believe” is typed out on a ghostly typewriter, and quite possibly the freakiest one came when I paused the game to make a few notes. After a few minutes, my controller started whispering to me in a creep doll-like voice. The last thing I needed was to hear my controller pleading “Come back!” and “Please play with me” over and over. Absolutely terrifying. But, given a few minutes, I was knee deep in zombie corpses once again.
There are a few little hiccups here and there, however. I once had to restart a level because of a spawn issue with some zombies, which ultimately hindered my progress in the level. Thankfully these issues were few and far between, but it’s not technically flawless. It’s also a bit of a one trick pony, but when the trick is this much fun, that doesn’t feel like much of a problem.