Let’s be clear here: I adore zombie games. I am the target audience for Zombie Army 4: Dead War. A lot has to go wrong for me to stop having fun in a game with zombies in it, but sadly, Dead War not only has a ton of issues, but it loses its fun-factor fairly quickly. It’s a game that does what many famous zombie games do, only not as well. And when so many games demand so much of your time, it’s tough to recommend you spend it here.
Yep, It’s a Zombie Game
Creative and engaging gameplay stands out, like the laughably wild crafting in Dead Rising, the intricate Easter Egg hunts in Call of Duty: Zombies, or the parkour movement in Dying Light. But when the gameplay feels same-y and outdated, your game better be excellent in every other regard if it plans to succeed. Zombie Army 4: Dead War suffers from trying way too hard to be a stereotypical zombie game. Russian archetype named Boris (with an accent that’s as believable as the lady who keeps seeing Jesus in her tortillas)? Check. Multiple zombie types that mirror exactly what Left 4 Dead was doing over a decade ago? Check. Hope you like finding gas canisters to fuel the generator, because you’ll be doing that a lot. Most of the gameplay follows this formula: Progress through hordes of zombies, press a button, defend said button from horde of zombies. It’s a tired formula that desperately needs to be eliminated or reinvented.
What’s fascinating is that developer Rebellion tried to mix in some modern touches like a progression system and even unlockable emotes to make it feel more like a live-service game. There are also Weekly Events you can take part in to keep you coming back. But when it comes down to it, Zombie Army 4’s gameplay doesn’t feel modern at all. Aside from its lack of identity in its gameplay, Dead War lacks personality in nearly every other aspect, as well. It tries way too hard to have a humorous tone—much like Left 4 Dead—but comes across as flat and unfunny. Whereas something like Call of Duty: Zombies is hit-or-miss with its humor, at least its gameplay is solid enough to keep it going.
Dead War has you playing through a linear campaign mode in an alternate version of 1940s Europe, where the dead are rising from Hell. You get a handful of weapons to choose from, along with various unlockable perks to aid you on your journey. You get points for killing zombies and depending on how quickly you do so, you’ll be able to chain combos together to maximize your score. Sound familiar? It’s very much like the point system found in Call of Duty: Zombies. Only, the rewards you get in Dead War aren’t nearly as interesting or meaningful, so there isn’t much incentive to prioritize scoring. It’s yet another aspect of the game that feels fine but seems to be there for the sake of it rather than for a meaningful reason.
Tools of Destruction
What you do have in Zombie Army 4: Dead War are a handful of weapons, many of which feel virtually identical to one another. There are three categories of weapons: Primary, Secondary, and Pistols. All three of the Primary weapons are long-ranged snipers, which quickly tend to blend together. The secondary weapons are a mixture of SMGs and shotguns that are nearly indistinguishable, while the pistols also feel similar to one another. Things start to feel repetitive after you’ve killed the same zombies with the same two or three weapons over and over again. The weapons you have at your disposal at the start are the same ones you’ll have at the end. There are three downloadable firearms that will be available after the game’s launch, but aside from that, you’ll have to get used to the limited options available. This is a huge missed opportunity since part of the fun of mowing down zombies has to do with the tools you have to do so. The closest thing to additional weapons you’ll find are temporary LMGs and rockets found throughout the game, but once they’re out of ammo, you have to drop them.
You can also earn various perks that can be equipped to your character, though, most of them aren’t as useful as you’d expect. These are described in-game as “powerful Perks to augment your character’s abilities.” The word “powerful” seems to be used generously here since most of the abilities don’t make much of a noticeable difference. There are a handful of perks that are way better than others, like the Second Chance perk that lets you revive yourself by killing one zombie when you’re down. Because of this imbalance, you’ll likely find yourself leaning towards a small selection, rather than strategically playing with the entire list of offerings. Why the majority of perks are throwaways is beyond me.
The game is set up much like Left 4 Dead and includes multiple chapters with varying themes. You’ll journey across Europe to defend against hordes of zombies. There’s a water-based level that takes place in a canal, a zoo, a swamp area, and others. This variety is one of Dead War’s highlights. It’s just a shame that the gameplay doesn’t match the variety of its environments.
Dead War also suffers from having a strange control scheme. By default, you interact with the world with the square button and you reload with R1. Luckily, Rebellion implemented a way to change this in the settings. However, even an ideal control setup still can’t save this game from feeling clunky to play. It’s never as smooth as the games it’s inspired by, but at least it’s not broken like a few games with live-service features can be during launch.
Same Old Song and Dance
Ultimately, Zombie Army 4: Dead War is an amalgamation of tropes you’ve seen before, but it never quite nails any of them in a meaningful way. Want a fun cooperative zombie experience? Play Left 4 Dead or Call of Duty: Zombies. Want something funny? Play Dead Rising. Or how about something with a worthwhile story? Telltale’s Walking Dead might be up your alley. In 2020 when there are so many games releasing, begging for your time, mediocrity is a tough sell. The nice thing is that Dead War isn’t full price. Though, its $49.99 price point doesn’t make up for its shortcomings. Despite all its issues, Dead War doesn’t suffer from the many bugs and glitches that plague a lot of modern AAA releases. But that isn’t really enough to save it, sadly.
Zombie Army 4: Dead War review code provided by publisher. Version 1.02 reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy.