Platforms: Xbox One, PC, PS4
Reviewed On: Xbox One
Multiplayer: 2-4 player co-op
If you don’t know what the Sniper Elite series is then it’s a budget franchise now on its third entry focusing on third-person sniping action. While the latest title, Sniper Elite III, never amazed anyone with its brilliance it was nevertheless a fun title. Previously the first two Sniper Elite games had zombie-based DLC released for them, letting you plant bullets in brains with abandon. Now developers Rebellion have decided to repackage their undead work and launch it as a co-operative focused shooter. Yup, more Nazi zombies. Sheesh.
The package contains two previously released chapters of zombie slaying, plus a brand new third one to finish the “story”, a laughable concept considering the plot amounts to Hitler raising an army of undead in the final days of the war and you having to kill ’em all. Despite their being eight characters to pick and choose from not a single one of them ever utters a line of dialogue throughout the loosely weaved narrative. In fact other than a very occasional grunt they are entirely without voice overs, which leads to some very odd situations as characters are shown trying to vaguely mime their way through the thankfully very rare cutscenes. Chasing downs ancient relics and such that might stop the undead tide is the aim of the game, and that’s really as complex as things get. The journey takes you across Germany , from creepy forests to bombed out buildings,and even manages to encompass a zombie Hitler, because why wouldn’t it.
Really the first two chapters are merely a support act for the vastly better third act which introduces NPCs, traps, decoys and larger levels that give you the opportunity you venture off the beaten path and set up shop in other areas than just the beaten path. It takes full advantage of the foundations Sniper Elite III laid, though for pure sniping action it remains the better choice thanks to light stealth work which isn’t present here because, well, zombies.. The environments become hugely more interesting, featuring more varied designs and greater levels of detail. Blood drips from walls in improbable amounts, fog sweeps the landscape there’s plenty of gore everywhere. With less controlling levels you get to stretch your legs a bit, letting you move around. It’s never really enough, mind you; taking on the role I always kept looking for more scope to really set up shop out of the way and start popping heads, especially when playing with friends as things get crowded. During the third chapter Zombie Army Trilogy is at its best. Even at its best it isn’t great, but it’s oddly compelling. A straightforward zombie-blaster that manages to differentiate itself with the focus being on sniper rifles.
The problem is if you opt to play through the campaign in order you’ll likely be sick fed up of the game before it finally starts to get better, and even if you do manage to hold on as improved as the third chapter is, it’s still just killing zombies. Lots and lots and bloody lots of zombies. Zombie Army Trilogy pulls its punches until the final moments, but leaves it far too late to throw that knockout blow. However, the developers have at least been smart enough to let you simply jump to any chapter and any level you wish, so you can always skip out on the first section entirely if you want.
You see the first two chapters are merely up-rezzed versions of the original DLCs, chunks of additional content limited by the design of the Sniper Elite games of that era. Sniper Elite III was leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessors, a real diamond in the rough that provided oodles of head-popping fun with emphasis on sneaking around and careful positioning, a stark contrast to Zombie Army Trilogy where most encounters involve you running to the far end of a corridor or whatever area you’ve found yourself in and mowing down the incoming shambling horde one headshot at a time. The very first chapter is a dull slog through endless linear corridors while staring at some truly boring scenery. The higher resolution doesn’t do much to help the fact that it’s just so…drab. The second chapter does fair somewhat better, but it’s still a pretty gruelling slog, the mindless environments doing little to ease the repetitive nature of the game’s combat. The third chapter at least manages to use it’s vastly better levels to soften the repetition of slaughtering zombies.
Speaking of slaughtering let’s get into the details of blowing out brains, shall we? Sniping is still core of it all, and while it requires vastly less thought this time around the wonderfully crafted sniping of Sniper Elite III, which neatly balanced accessibility and skill, remains incredibly satisfying. Sniper rifles pack a nice wallop and if the distance is long enough you need to adjust for bullet drop, or you could always use the special mode with a tap of the bumper which paints a handy red diamond on the scope for easier aiming. During my review of Sniper Elite III I greatly praised the awesome bullet-cam feature which displayed every gloriously gory detail of bullets destroying craniums, smushing internal organs and annihilating testicles. I also mentioned how I somehow never seemed to grow tired of it, which was perhaps kind of worrying, really. I’ve had to eat my own words here, though; with some many zombies to kill, and their being a small possibility of them rising again if not killed by headshot, the bullet-cam shows up a lot. It’s also worth talking about the fact that unlike Sniper Elite 3 you might feel less inclined to play around with bullet-cam. With human enemies, in standard human numbers, there was sadistic pleasure to be had from deliberately taking enemies apart piece by piece. A kneecap there, a groin shot here, an eyeball somewhere else. Because zombies can rise again, though, and because you need to deal with them effectively so as not to get swarmed, Zombie Army Trilogy calls for headshots. You can still have some fun when smaller numbers of enemies are involved, but overall I felt less inclined to do anything but just go for the brains.
That’s a shame, too, because this time round Rebellion have included the ability to dismember your zombie foes, ripping legs and arms away from the torso in a charming splash of crimson blood, leaving them to crawl pitifully towards you in order to gnaw at your ankles. It’s brutal, and brilliant.
Packed away in your inventory is a small arsenal of grenades, mines, explosive trip wires and dynamite. These and the emphasis on sniper rifles helpfully illustrate the style of encounter one should expect: set up explosives in the path of the zombies, back away and then unload bullets from afar. Repeat until bored. Occasionally you’ll have to make it through a full-on zombie siege, which is where the very small selection of shotguns, machine guns and pistols comes into play, including things like the MP40. As good as the game is with sniping, though, it’s far less impressive when it comes to everything else. Your little arsenal lacks any real punch, and using them just feels kind of graceless. The shooting isn’t bad, per say, it’s merely adequate. Okay. Serviceable. It’s also in the crowded moments with zombies shambling too and from that you’ll likely lament the lack of any dodge roll move, especially since there’s a few animations which lock you into a few seconds of very slow movement. Without a dodge roll, and a melee which needs you to be extremely close to the enemy, getting through crowds is a case of charging headlong and hoping for the best.
In the game’s defense it does try to break up the sense of monotony that comes with most encounters by utilising a couple of enemy types. Shambling corpses make up the majority of the zombie army, of course, and come with plenty of neat little decorations like a knife stuck in the skull and such, but other variants exist including very speedy suicide zombies and walking skeletons. None of them hold a candle to the bigger elites who can come packing a heavy machine gun or a chainsaw. The most fun, and at the same time downright annoying, foe to fight are the zombies who have somehow learned to wield sniper rifles and leap from rooftop to rooftop. Battling them is like a scene out of Enemy at the Gates, except, you know, with zombies. You’ll quickly come to understand these enemies change-up combat, though, and their individual notes become swallowed up in the cacophony of zombies, barely needing any extra thought to tackle.
Battling the hordes of Hitler is significantly more fun with good company. You and up to three other people can do battle against evil, or just generally get in each other’s way like friends tend to do. The problem is that shooting zombies isn’t fun because of the game itself, it’s fun because you’re with friends. Most things are more enjoyable with friends. Indeed, even the worst games can be fun when you get a couple of chums involved. It would be easy to give Zombie Army Trilogy a free pass here, but the simple fact of the matter is that as a co-op title it does absolutely nothing to create a compelling co-operative experience past placing some players in the environment without providing any interesting mechanics to support and nurture team play. Truly good co-operative games foster a sense of teamwork and creating fun gameplay by building mechanics around the idea of working together. Still, it is fun. If you can gather some friends you’re going to enjoy blasting zombies in the face. Much like the rest of the game you just need to go in with the right expectations and attitude.
It still feels like the developers missed a trick with the eight playable characters, however. Each one is exactly the same as the last, offering no benefits or negatives that could help spice up the action. They each have the same weapons, same movement and such. Surely with such a roster of people to pick and choose from it would make sense to give them some bonus perks or something, a little something to encourage teams to consider who they want to play as.
It is worth mentioning that while the game is very clearly geared toward co-operative action solo play is entirely possible, and it’s nice to see that the developers have somewhat supported it with the option to not only adjust difficulty but also set the enemy spawns for 1, 2, 3 or 4 players. Regardless of whether you’re on your own or not, though, three other characters will always be present in cutscenes before vanishing mysteriously once the level starts proper. You just can’t get the help these days, eh?
A little more polish could have gone a long way, too. At one point I became stuck in a level because after defeating a gruelling siege of zombies nothing happened, leaving me trapped and forced to restart. An audio problem appeared in chapter 3 which was also present in Sniper Elite III, namely a strange distortion which leaves your ears crying for mercy, or at least they would be if they could speak. You’ll notice quite a few rough patches, too, although it has to be said that generally speaking the game is in better shape at launch than most games with massive budgets and astonishing large developmental teams.
It’s pretty clear that expectations were set suitably low when the developers set out to create Zombie Army Trilogy, and thus it manages to successfully be exactly what it says on the tin. It delivers on what it sets out to do, which is more than can be said for the vast majority of triple-A titles. It’s not a bad game, it’s just an extremely average one, yet there’s something oddly comforting in such middle of the road games. You know exactly what you’re getting, and provided you correct read the very straightforward and accurate name you know what to expect; zombies, an army of them, of the Nazi persuasion. It’s not going to set your world on fire, but with a few mates it might just be able to singe your eyebrows a tad and set off the smoke detector. That’s good enough.