Stop the Nazi zombie horde from taking over the world.
PC Release: March 6, 2015
By Ian Coppock
It’s always interesting to see a video game property take on a new tone, and almost always, that tone is zombies. Sometimes this results in comedy, as with Red Dead Redemption‘s Undead Nightmare DLC. Other times, it’s ceaseless repetition, like Call of Duty‘s zombies mode (although to be fair, ceaseless repetition is the motif of all of CoD‘s modes). Whatever the genre, whatever the game, developers seem to love throwing their worlds into the throes of a zombie apocalypse. Today is Rebellion Developments’ turn in that gory hot seat, as they reanimate their Sniper Elite games into Zombie Army Trilogy.
Zombie Army Trilogy is an episodic horror-shooter and a spin-off of the Sniper Elite games. Three standalone episodes of Zombie Army content were released over the past few years, and then compiled into a single collection with the third and final chapter’s release. Rebellion remastered the first two chapters when they released Zombie Army Trilogy for a single, cohesive experience, though gamers who’d already bought them separately weren’t all thrilled.
Zombie Army Trilogy is set in an alternate Sniper Elite timeline, and kicks off with a Nazi telling Hitler that World War II is all but lost. Refusing to accept defeat, Hitler walks into an especially restricted area of his Fuhrerbunker and begins toying with some spooky-looking artifacts. Suddenly, dead Nazis everywhere begin rising from the grave, and they’re hungry for Allied flesh! Only Karl Fairburne, dashing OSS agent and elite sniper, can stop Hitler’s deathly legions.
Despite the last installment of Zombie Army Trilogy having been released after Sniper Elite III, this game retains the style and gameplay of Sniper Elite V2. Just like in that game, players utilize a sniper rifle as their primary weapon, and can use it to take the fight to the enemy from afar. And, just like V2, Zombie Army Trilogy boasts some impressive sniping mechanics, including realistic ballistics and the gloriously gory x-ray kill-cam. That latter feature presents an x-ray view of just how explosively Karl’s bullet tears apart an enemy’s head. Karl can also access the usual gallery of secondary weapons, trip mines, and grenades.
Unlike V2, though, Karl isn’t alone in his fight. Zombie Army Trilogy supports online co-0p for up to four players, giving the lone sniper some badly needed backup against the zombies. Although each character plays about the same, players can pick from a colorful lineup of French resistance fighters, British pot-shooters, and Soviet agents. Delightfully, all eight characters from the Left 4 Dead franchise are also made available for players to pick. Anachronistic? Sure, but that’s pretty tame compared to the presence of Nazi zombies. Now all the game needs is the cast from Zombieland (dibs on Woody Harrelson).
Zombie Army Trilogy features a few modes for players to sink their teeth into. The game’s main campaign comprises 15 levels split equally between the three titular episodes. Each episode is basically an “act” of the story, following Karl & Co as they fight against the zombies. The first two episodes are basically about Karl running around Berlin looking for occult artifacts, while the third episode contains the team’s final showdown against zombie Hitler. There’s also a horde mode, in which players duke it out against waves of zombies arcade-style.
It should go without saying that Zombie Army Trilogy doesn’t focus on narrative. Neither, to be fair, do the Sniper Elite games, but Zombie Army Trilogy is not a story. It’s a series of objectives with a ton of zombies staggering between them and the player. There’s not much character development, either; each squadmate is just a face with a few lines of combat dialogue. Indeed, Zombie Army Trilogy goes for a campy b-movie aesthetic with its cutscenes, giving the game some bleak humor. And honestly, isn’t the entire Nazi zombies fad a bit campy by now? Was it ever not?
Even though Zombie Army Trilogy was built with Sniper Elite V2 assets instead of Sniper Elite III‘s more cutting-edge visuals, this game doesn’t look bad. In fact, Rebellion Developments did a good job polishing up some of what they missed in Sniper Elite V2. Objects look a lot sharper, and the fog (among other atmospheric effects) is tremendously improved over those of V2. This game’s character animations also look a lot less wonky than those of V2, and that’s considering the addition of shambling corpse people.
Although Zombie Army Trilogy doesn’t have a thick horror atmosphere, it does a great job of recreating the feel one might find at a haunted house attraction. The game has an impressive array of thick fog and dour lighting, as well as some spooky, silly props that reinforce the aforementioned camp vibe. Indeed, Zombie Army Trilogy is the haunted house tour of video games, with set pieces that are designed to provoke amusement as much as repulsion.
Zombie Army Trilogy‘s roster of sound effects, while thorough, doesn’t contain anything not also found in other horror media. There’s the usual deluge of distant moans and that one wind sound effect that is used for all wind sound effects everywhere. The zombies moan, but what zombies don’t moan these days, and the guns pop rounds off with the same zest to be found in Sniper Elite V2‘s firearms. Nothing new, nothing fancy, but they get the job done.
Thankfully, being a production with something of a budget, Zombie Army Trilogy also includes a thorough options menu. If this game isn’t quite the apex of zombie entertainment, at least Rebellion made its effects easy to manage. Resolution, draw distance, anti-aliasing, everything’s here. Tinker to the heart’s content.
Though Zombie Army Trilogy provides a polished third-person shooter experience, there’s something fundamentally flawed about its gameplay. Probably has something to do with the idea of mashing a stealth game with a horde shooter. Yes, though seeing a zombie’s skull explode with the x-ray kill-cam is fun, there’s something inherently paradoxical about pitting a weapon of surgical precision against a mindless mass of foes.
See, the idea at the heart of Sniper Elite V2 is that the sniper rifle is not an assault rifle. It’s a tool of tactical, lethal precision ideally only used a few times per mission. The player’s time is otherwise spent sneaking around, being stealthy, employing strategies and all that. The problem with trying to stick those gameplay mechanics in a zombie game is that zombies have only one tactic: shoot all of them in the head. Okay, so maybe sneak past the zombies? Nope. They can automatically detect the player’s presence. Karl’s only recourse is the very type of blind, up-close wild-firing that the Sniper Elite series is not built for.
Now, a layman or gamer new to the series might find that assessment a bit harsh, considering that Zombie Army Trilogy also lets players arm themselves with assault rifles and shotguns. Better? Not exactly. Sniper Elite V2 players may remember that though Karl is with a sniper rifle what Mozart was with a harpsichord, that game’s secondary weapons are clunky as hell. Seriously, it’s ridiculously hard to get a headshot with an SMG even at point-blank range. In V2, players have a better chance of shotgunning a lengthwise sheet of paper than an enemy right in front of them. Because a swarm of zombies leaves players little time to shoot everything in the head, they’ll have to break out these clumsy, poorly tooled weapons to fight the zombies. It’s not very fun.
Indeed, this situation makes Zombie Army Trilogy a rather grinding experience. Because players’ sniper positions will be overrun almost immediately, they’ll have to run in a circle firing backwards at the zombies pursuing them. This circular gameplay gets old fast, and it can get frustrating in the game’s most challenging arenas. The bigger baddies Zombie Army Trilogy introduces are fun at first, but even with multiple players, the inherent dysfunction of Zombie Army Trilogy‘s game design comes alive quickly.
Compounding Zombie Army Trilogy‘s lack of tactical gameplay is the game’s linear level design. Each level in Zombie Army Trilogy is basically a straight line, sometimes with circular arenas, leading up to the end goal. Though the levels’ varying lengths help keep the pacing unpredictable, everything else about traversing these levels is as foreseeable as clockwork. Run, shoot zombies, blow through gate. Run, shoot zombies, blow up gate. Over and over for upwards of 10 hours.
Does the gameplay get anything right? Well, grenades are handy against zombie hordes, but Karl can only carry so many at a time, making it a temporary stop-gap. The nice thing is that Zombie Army Trilogy lets players choose their load-out before each level, much like Sniper Elite III, though unlike that game, weapons cannot be modified. Each level can also be played independently, so unless you’re a psychotic completionist (awkward hand raise) that’s one measure for getting past the game’s more frustrating levels.
Zombie Army Trilogy is not a terrible game, but it’s not a very good one, either. It tries hard with its campy horror motifs and beefed-up visuals, but it paralyzes itself by trying to combine gameplay built for stealth with enemies built for noise. The two… don’t really go together. It’s a square-peg-in-a-round-hole situation if video games ever produced one. Players can make it work with patience and dedication, but Zombie Army Trilogy doesn’t deserve copious amounts of either. Even the most ardent zombie shooter enthusiasts would do well to stop and think before buying this. Mowing down a horde of zombies is fun. Trying to do so with a sniper rifle is not.
You can buy Zombie Army Trilogy here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.