You’d have thought that given how big a fan we are of the Sniper Elite series we’d already have played the first parts of the Zombie Army Trilogy when they were released on PC. We haven’t, but our wish of sniping hordes of the undead has come true now that all three instalments have been released for PS4 and Xbox One, with the final chapter hitting PC at the same time. So, is it a comfortable shamble into our sights, or terrifying rage induced run to eat our brains?
Rebellion have walked the path a number of developers have over the last few years – create a new game by reworking existing assets and levels from their latest release to (quite cleverly) extend the life of the work that the studio has spent so much effort on. Following Sniper Elite II, Nazi Zombie Army came out at the beginning of 2013 and consisted of 5 levels of survival sniping action; Nazi Zombie Army 2 arrived about 6 months later, providing 5 more levels; then it all went quiet. Until January this year. Rebellion never brought the expansion packs to consoles due to the a lack of publisher, but with them developing the third chapter in the Zombie Army Trilogy, and on the back of good sales from Sniper Elite III, they’ve decided to self publish and get the spin-off out to more gamers. It’s a great choice.
Set at the end of World War II, in the last days of Hitler’s campaign the fuhrer sees defeat coming and unleashes the power of the occult in order to turn the tide in his favour. Things don’t quite go to plan and soon Berlin is overrun with zombies, and given that you’re still behind enemy lines, you get to investigate the infestation. Picking from one of eight characters and selecting any of the 15 levels – Zombie Army Trilogy is good like that, you can start anywhere you want – it’s pretty familiar gameplay for veterans of the series: move, hold breath, snipe, watch slow motion headshot, line up next shot, get eaten… wait, what? The mechanics are the same but the pacing is drastically different. Where the Sniper Elite games are all about maintaining cover and distance, this is more about mowing down the hordes, and makes a very satisfying change.
You’ve a few different options for playing: solo, campaign co-op or horde mode, all of which have customisable difficulties so you can play how you want. Aside from popping zombie melons, this game is all about letting you do what you want. The only criticism I could level at Sniper Elite is the lack of simple sniping opportunities, by which I mean the AI tended to get in cover and flank you, the undead don’t. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel to start with, giving you ample chance to get used to the way the different weapons work and your secondary explosives. Then scenarios start to appear like defending from an onslaught, or clearing an area, which have open ended approaches and usually quite a lot of ammo. New zombie types are introduced steadily allowing time to develop the right tactics for taking them down, and there are bosses too that mark the end of certain sections, as well as collectibles to track down in the environments. So, playing on your own is decent, adding partners is better.
Zombie Army Trilogy feels like it’s really built for co-op play, from the character selection to the ease of setting up a party. Having up to 4 other players in the levels increases the number of enemies (if you want it to, that’s an option as well), and sets up more tactical options. A highlight is the defense sections where the added firepower and manoeuvrability mean you can cover individual areas as well as each other. Whilst everything is perfectly doable in singleplayer, it comes alive with a partner or two to make sure you’re not going to get bitten on the arse, or blown up by screaming rotters running at you with cooking grenades in hand. The same goes for horde mode where you’re inundated with waves of increasingly difficult enemies, a friend at your back starts to level the playing field. This is much harder than the main game given there’s an element of resource management that the campaign neutralises with the inclusion of safe rooms – death free areas where you can resupply.
We can’t discuss anything in this gaming universe without talking about the X-Ray killcam. It’s back, and it’s as good as it always is. Maybe a bit less frequent so that it doesn’t become overwhelming, but given the amount of walkers you’ll shoot in the noggin, it makes sense that it’s not slowing you down all the time (again, you can change it if you want). Skeletons are suitably decayed as the bullets pass through, bodies are softer so that your rounds remove limbs and explode torsos, and the fact that the zombies are eager to get to you means they line up really nicely for getting multiple kills in one shot, assuming you’ve picked a powerful enough rifle. The main weapons are noticeably different against the enemies, not that they were all the same in other games. You really do start to work out what you’re most comfortable with – my preference is something with a high clip capacity and a decent fire rate, otherwise it’s unpronounceable submachine gun time (I really can’t say Blyskawica). All secondary weapons are definitely more use than in the main series, it’s amazing how much more you notice when you’re not being shot at.
Clearly episode three of Zombie Army Trilogy is the one that’s had the most attention with it coming some 18 months after the others. The environments are fresher and more detailed, and there’s more to do right from the off, including side missions and people to interact with. Not that the first two episodes look bad or leave you bored, but you can tell there’s been a time difference. Considering it’s the part that completes the story and moves you out of Berlin and into Hitler’s stronghold it really helps to move things along. The atmosphere built in each level works well to instill a creepy vibe, and it’s damn unnerving when you pause and hear your pad whispering at you to come back. That’s one of the nicest controller speaker touches I’ve seen so far.
What Zombie Army Trilogy delivers is simple – kill the things that move, keep moving until you finish the level, have fun. The game isn’t serious even if the mechanics are when you up the ante with the sniper ballistics. Being a fan of Sniper Elite will help, having a few friends online to join in is even better. What you’ll find from Rebellion is a solid survival shooter that sticks to its strengths and entertains, whilst allowing you to play how you want to. Zombies are ubiquitous and sometimes seen as over saturating the gaming market, and you can’t argue that there’s a lack of them here, but there’s enough different that it feels fresh, especially if you’ve experienced Karl Fairburne’s WWII adventures already. You could argue this is just a collection of DLC if you’ve played the PC versions, but for console gamers this warrants a retail release, and there’s enough here at the reduced price to keep you going through the barren release months coming up.
A review copy of Zombie Army Trilogy for PS4 was provided by Rebellion’s PR team, and the game is available now at retail and digitally for the PS4, Xbox One and PC.