UK developer Rebellion stumbled upon its Zombie Army formula almost by accident. The original and its first sequel used the mechanics of Sniper Elite V2 as the basis for sillier, more action-oriented third-person shooters, each released with Sniper Elite branding and for a cut-down price.
They were effectively meant to be additional forays for Sniper fans that games in their own right.
However, thanks to their success on PC, a third outing was created and packaged with its forebears and released on console too. Hence, Zombie Army Trilogy was born and so too were an all-new horde of fans.
Now the Zombie Army franchise stands on its own two feet and the fourth, while borrowing much from Sniper Elite 4, is a fresh shooter in its own right.
We caught up with Rebellion at Gamescom 2019 to play some of the game, in both single-player and co-op, and effectively ruin another journalist's day. Here's why.
As big fans of Zombie Army Trilogy when it made its way onto console, we were looking forward to a demo of the latest and came away wanting even more.
Not only is Dead War a more polished, technically improved sequel, it is faster, larger and adds one or two of the ideas first introduced in another recent Rebellion title, Strange Brigade.
The core mechanics feel a lot like Sniper Elite 4, with sniping and extreme kill shots being equally as satisfying in zombiesville. However, the gameplay is even speedier in comparison to Zombie Army Trilogy, with sneaking around (in our demo play, at least) far less called for and running into battle more effective.
As before, you get a choice of character in the fourth instalment, but this time there is a lot more customisation of loadout and abilities this time around. Secrets, upgrades and power-ups can be found throughout the campaign and used to enhance your combat readiness.
All will be available in game too, so there are no loot boxes or paid-for bonuses here. And, we found that half the fun was in searching and equipping different weapons.
Perhaps the biggest, most obvious enhancement - apart from the possibility of more zombies on screen than ever before - is the appearance of preset traps - a la Strange Brigade.
Where you could place your own traps in previous games - such as land mines - you can now also stumble upon a giant locational trap. For example, a half-destroyed aeroplane propellor can be found leaning up against a train carriage. Shooting some fins on the top sparks it up and all zombies in the vicinity are sucked into the blades.
As we found out to both our and our co-op chum's dismay, everything else in the immediate surroundings get sucked in too. Let's just say that, while it was a spectacular suicide and made us giggle at the very least, it wasn't as warmly welcomed during the demo session as we suspect the feature will be in the final version.
It actually resulted in us ending up playing the rest of the demo level in single-player - although we were more careful/less conniving second time around.
In many ways, this allowed us to also see some of Rebellion's game tuning at work, so who can say our actions didn't pay off.
As you can play co-operatively with up to four-players in total, the difficulty is adjusted to suit. That means, you will encounter harder swarms of zombies the more players there are, and we found out that single-player was just as much fun because the game clevely readjusted our experience.
Indeed, that's the word that best describes our entire encounter with Zombie Army 4: Dead War: "fun".
Like the prior trilogy, it doesn't take itself too seriously yet offers tangible, clever gameplay mechanics to ensure that the experience is fun, and that seems to be the developer's priority. Shooting is intuitive, whether you are using a pistol or sniper rifle and, while linear, the game presents you with plenty of hidden extras and Easter Eggs to encourage exploration too.
Yeah, we got all that from a brief Gamescom demo. Which bodes well.
For that reason, while it might not be out until early 2020, ZAT4 is already on our one-to-watch list.
Coming to Xbox One, PS4 and PC, it could very well turn out to be a welcome departure from the more serious shooters we'll face in the meantime. And, based on what we've seen so far, it could provide a decent challenge and chuckle in equal measure.
Especially if a fellow player just so happens to be standing too close to a certain propellor.