If there's a video game monster more repulsive than a zombie, it's a Nazi. When you combine the two, as Oxford-based developer Rebellion has done in Zombie Army 4, you have the perfectly deplorable digital enemy, which launches February 4, 2020.
For those unfamiliar with the game's predecessor, Zombie Army Trilogy, a spin-off from Rebellion's Sniper Elite series, worry not. Dale assured me that the story, in which Adolf Hitler summons a horde of zombies, is told neatly through cinematic cut-scenes—no need to consult Wikipedia or anything like that to get your footing. In any event, once you placed on a pair of headphones, gripped the PS4 controller, and dove into the ruined world of Milan, circa 1946, you figured it out pretty darn fast: kill all the zombies and try to stay alive.
Zombie Army 4 supports up to four players in online multiplayer, but this demo was all about solo play. Dale insisted the title was "great fun on your own, or with friends", and we are inclined to agree. Playing alone was equal parts harrowing and thrilling, playing with three friends along for the ride would be even better. Fans who lean toward co-op shooters with arcade sensibilities—Killing Floor, Left 4 Dead, etc.—will fall squarely inside the wheelhouse of Zombie Army 4.
Two things are impressing in Rebellion's tongue-in-cheek zombie shooter. The first was the way in which it accommodates both action and horror. This is a purposefully over-the-top shooting game, complete with buzzsaw-wielding zombies, electric grenades, and the infamous x-ray kill cam, which slows down time to track bullets cracking bones and spearing organs. It has an approachable, informal quality that works well with its drop-in, drop-out multiplayer approach; it's a "cathartic experience", to quote Dale.
Yet at the same time it can be disturbing, scary, and quite dangerous. The shambling horde of zombies will catch up surprisingly quickly, and before you know it you're waist-deep in rotting flesh. When and if you do play Zombie Army 4, try it with headphones. The audio engineers at Rebellion have worked wonders with the frightful sounds of the undead.
The other, equally impressive feature is the game's feedback loop. The game provides a near-constant stream of positive reinforcement, via score multipliers and achievement unlocks. At the end of my demo, which ended just before a climactic showdown with a big flamethrower zombie, You can earn a level score based on total kills, highest combo, accuracy, best shot, and special challenges completed. You can also earn a boatload of XP, which, in the final product, can be used to purchase and upgrade weapons, combat abilities, and cosmetics. For the micro-transaction wary, fear not; Dale explained that everything in Zombie Army 4 is earned in-game via experience.
Apart from its compelling feedback loop and its smart blend of action and horror, Zombie Army 4 does well with the basics. Guns are throaty and impactful, weapon attachments and perks add flavor to combat, and enemies comes in plenty of different shapes and sizes. The game also provides several interactive traps built into its levels—or at least the fraction of a level I played. A well-placed bullet will activate a rotor blade, for example, that will shred a dozen incoming zombies at once.
In the end, Zombie Army 4 is just that—a game about shredding Nazi zombies with a giant rotor blade. It knows it and it owns it. It leans into the absurdity of its premise and its gameplay, and it looks to be a lot of fun, especially with a few good mates.