This week in Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Zombie Army 4: Dead War.
"Zombie Army 4: Dead War"? Blimey, that slightly redundant title just paints the whole picture, doesn't it? Tells you everything you need to know: firstly, that you're going to be fighting an army of zombies, and secondly, that the developers have absolutely no fucking ambition whatsoever. Well, that's not fair; Rebellion is a mid-range developer that'd occasionally crop up on my radar, dropping games like NeverDead and Shellshock 2, the gaming equivalent of hernias: painful, miserable, and showing them to people is a good way to lose friends. But as a company, they've been plodding along since 1992, so I have a weird respect for them, the way I'd respect someone who keeps trying to change the light bulb in a ceiling fan demonstration room.
Their ship kind of came in with the Sniper Elite franchise, which has been distinctly dominating their release list since 2012, but if there's one thing that's more easy and pandering than the Second World War, the last war with a solid face and heel that didn't break kayfabe, it's those motherfucking zombies! So they made a zombie mode, because Call of Duty did it, and if Call of Duty jumped off a bridge, then... well, firstly, Battlefield would jump, too, and then Rebellion would follow after about five years of staring vacantly into space. And that zombie mod inevitably proved popular, because zombies are the one villain less complicated than Nazis. There may have been one or two Nazis who wondered if they were entirely on the right side of history as they harvested gold teeth from the mass graves of their victims whose violent murder would be a half ounce less satisfying, but zombies? You're practically doing them a favor as you grit the pavement with their gallstones!
And so, Zombie Army is now standalone and has quietly dropped the "Sniper Elite" part, just as Raving Rabbids ditched Rayman and George Michael ditched whoever he ditched. So it's an alternative World War II where the Nazis resorted to necromantic black magic, which must've brought on a fresh round of "Are we the baddies?" pontificating on the infantry's part, but mercifully, they were all swiftly too zombified to care. Europe is now mostly zombie-infested wasteland, and it's up to you and three of your chums to take back the twenty or thirty square feet of remaining habitable land by fighting off a coordinated assault of the undead, destroying a few towers from Hell, and killing Zombie Hitler or something else entirely fucking obvious.
So this game plays precisely like what it is: a zombie mod for a World War II shooter, except it's the whole game. You can see where the paint's flaking off and it's still Sniper Elite underneath, mainly from the focus on sniping, obviously, despite precision striking not making much sense as a core mechanic in a zombie horde game, akin to trying to eat Cheerios with a kebab skewer; and yet, there's still a bit in the tutorial where you pick zombies off a distant radio mast, and it's about the last time you need to shoot anything at that kind of range.
Also, every now and again, a rifle kill will get tarted-up in that trademark Sniper Elite fashion, with a slow-motion kill-cam so you can relish the way your bullet turned a zombie's skull into cheeseburger, and the guts of his nearby friend into a side of curly fries. But again, this is something that works a hell of a lot better in a game about precision sniping, because it's paying off the process of finding your target and picking the perfect moment to fire after having followed him around for ten minutes learning his routine, which corner shop he likes going to, what hopes and dreams he'd have for the future if you weren't about to make them all blast out of his ear like a truly stomach-turning piece of scat porn. You don't get quite the same effect when it's just randomly happening for Zombie 19 of 36; they don't have many hopes or dreams beyond making it across the room without their feet snapping off.
Also, half the items that go in your grenade slots are mines; useful as mines might be to a sniper trying to defend their position, against an encroaching zombie horde, all they are is very inefficient grenades that you have to lay and run away from like a barnyard hen trying to avoid parental responsibility. Look, I'm not saying this can't be a sniping game if you want it to be; there are plenty of very far away zombies posing you absolutely no threat you can go to town on if you want, but there's no reason to be Mr. Stealthy Sniper. The zombies aren't going to sound the zombie alarm and bring down the zombie po po; even if they did, this is the slow-moving kind of zombie that doesn't carry guns, so unless the fucking Riddler has tied your accuracy rating to a question mark-patterned bomb strapped to your dick, I'm not seeing much incentive to not just grab a tommy gun and spray like the most insecure dude at the bukkake shoot.
I say they don't carry guns; there are the now-inevitable "special" zombies that the game saves for Christmas and birthdays, including a big, burly lad with a minigun, but he tanks hits like a pair of leather buttocks, so if you try to snipe him, he'll just saunter up to your position and jam each barrel of his minigun into a different facial orifice. On the subject of special zombies, another game that might seriously alter Zombie Army 4's future plans for it to jump off a bridge one day is Left 4 Dead, which it's structured very similar to: separated into acts divided by safe rooms; lots of setpieces based around defending a spot, carrying a thing, or carrying a thing to a spot you need to defend; and, of course, the co-op focus that means that solo mode is this weird alternate universe where all the NPCs are constantly blind drunk and keep talking to you like you're more than one person.
There's one level on a boat with mounted guns where you keep sailing past areas full of zombies, but there's no way for the zombies to get to you, so I think it was where you're supposed to be competing with the other players for points, but I'm as friendless as ever, so I just stood around picking my nose for five minutes. "Yahtzee, sorry to interrupt, but why are you even covering this game, with less new ideas than the ceremony-planning committee at the Academy Awards? Is it that you are now officially an Epic Store shill?" First of all, it's on consoles as well, and second of all, fuck you for derailing the comments again!
But the point is, if you can't do anything new, you better fucking make sure you do everything right, and you know what? Zombie Army 4 isn't un-fun; down on the ground with the primary loop, the shooting feels nice, and the head-splosions have the right kick, so if you are in the mood for a mindless shooter, it will certainly provide. Rebellion, as a developer, seem to be permanently stuck about five to ten years behind the rest of the industry, but, you know, it was nice five to ten years ago; there were some fun games, not so much fucking crafting. So here's the guns, here's a token upgrade system you might as well ignore; let's have a party.
But it is a shame to see Rebellion being so risk-averse; this kind of thing's basically all they make now. They did a new IP a year or so back called Strange Brigade that had a bit more imagination, but at the end of the day, it was just League of Extraordinary Gentlemen 4 Dead; I suppose they need to bring in the Benjamins, but they used to have some experimental spirit. I mean, NeverDead had an interesting core idea; it was just executed worse than Colonel Gaddafi.
- My head hurts: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- See the joke is that Colonel Gadaffi was killed by a mob so his execution was very sloppy and informal
- No sign of Zombie Goebbels tho