We played a lot of fun games at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, and while we've talked about the huge AAA-titles, there's more to gaming than just blockbuster exclusives. During one of the very packed days at E3, we dove headfirst into Rebellion's upcoming zombie shooter Zombie Army 4: Dead War, which, if you're familiar with the series and Sniper Elite, you'll know is a spin-off project with the spirit of Rebellion's premier franchise.
While Zombie Army 4: Dead War wasn't a game that was showcased a lot outside of E3, we had a blast playing it behind closed doors at the convention centre and here's what we experienced.
Upon setting foot in the dedicated Rebellion area, we were led to a room in the back where gaming stations were set up in two rows. The main art from Zombie Army 4 was displayed on the walls and we got to sit down on a wooden ammunition crate in front of our station. The format was PlayStation 4 and we were ready to play. We were asked if we wanted to fly solo or kill some Nazis with a pal (that pal was one of the developers from Rebellion) and, of course, we wanted to share the slaughter fest that was to come with someone else.
Before we went into the dark world of Zombie Army 4: Dead War, we got to pick our weapon and character layout. The weapons we had to choose from were split into four classes: primary, secondary, handgun and melee. For primary, we picked the trusty Gewehr 43 over the Mosin-Nagant M91/30 and the M1 Garand, for our secondary we picked the M30 Drilling shotgun over the Trench Gun, the Thompson and the MP44. Finally, we ended up using the M1911 as our handgun if everything else should fail. For our melee option, should the Nazis get too close, we chose the "electric fist", mainly because it sounded badass (which of course it was) and left the other options (machete slash, divine blast, and incendiary axe throw) behind. Each of these weapons was upgradeable by using kits to add attachments (including magazine enhancers, scopes and electric mods) and the upgradeability of some were unlocked as we levelled up. Apart from this, we could add weapon- and character-skins, headgear, emotes, taunts, as well as charms to our character and weapons and change the reticles to our preference.
After that, it was time to dive into the world of perks. Zombie Army 4: Dead War offers a perk system where you'll be able to customise your character to fit your playstyle. We had three perks to choose from and two slots to fill, so out of 'Enhanced stamina', 'Second Chance' and 'Hardened' we picked the latter two, giving us the ability to kill an enemy when downed to revive ourselves (much like in Borderlands) and take reduced damage from melee attacks. The perks also had tiers, meaning they could be upgraded as well. The perk upgrades, however, were unlocked by completing challenges.
Once we were finished prepping for battle, we headed into the campaign mission 'Dead Ahead', a name we found delightfully fitting as character Jun. Jun, one of the four playable characters from the demo (the others being Shola, Boris and Karl) was a former attaché to a Chinese diplomat stationed in Moscow during the Second World War who joined the fight against Hitler's undead army post-Plan Z. Each character had a set personality and background story, which was a neat touch but we're not sure if any of it actually fit into the gameplay in any way.
After stocking up on ammunition and incendiary/electric grenades at the safe area, we were given a free upgrade kit for one of our weapons by Edie, who seemed to have set up shop mid-zombie apocalypse. In the safe area, we found a crafting bench and of course we used the upgrade kit instantly on our shotgun to give it a fancy flame-barrel. As we were moving out from the safe area, we were instantly overrun by a horde of menacing undead Hitler-minions. The narrow, dark streets had us stay close together, using our shotguns and electric fists to kill some Z's from short range until they stopped coming and we were prompted to proceed. The objective, we were told, was for us to get to a train that was waiting for us on Platform 3 after we'd got the comms turned back online, and so off we went.
The controls are simple enough; you aim with the left trigger and shoot with the right, use melee attacks by pressing the right analog stick, hold down on the d-pad to heal, and press the left trigger and the right bumper simultaneously to use your weapon-specific special attack (our favourite was the shotgun one that slowed down time for a moment, letting us pull off cool headshots with bloody explosions). With this being influenced by the iconic Sniper Elite series, there are also moments where you execute a perfect shot, which both slows down time and shows you exactly how much havoc you ended up wreaking from within the body of your victim.
There are also some environmental factors at play and the one we got to see was a propeller of an old crashed plane that could be set off into a violent spin by shooting the right spot. We did this of course, but noticed its purpose too late, so the only individual that was even close to it when we set it off was our co-op partner (whom, as we said earlier, was a dev, so we're sure we impressed them plenty with that one).
The zombies we met were also nicely varied. We met regular, slow but vicious undead shufflers, armoured bastards, explosive suicide bomber zombies, and one giant flame thrower. We didn't get to fight the latter though, as his introductory cutscene concluded the demo.
For what it is, Zombie Army 4 seems promising. There's cooperative play, which is always a plus in our book, varied enemies, a gloomy but intriguing world, a simple but effective customisation- and perk system, and some really cool weapons and weapon variations to use. We may not know too much about the upcoming zombie shooter, but what we saw in LA had us intrigued.