Platforms:PC/Steam, PS4, Xbox One | Developer/Publisher: Rebellion | ESRB: M
Rebellion, out of the UK, have a good thing going with the Sniper series. The title has come a long way from its “hardcore” sniping roots, with 2005’s Sniper Elite release for PC, Xbox, PS2 and Wii. In the following years they published quite a few games with mixed success, finally returning to the Sniper franchise in 2012. With each entry they have upped the ante when it comes to gameplay and visuals in most player’s eyes.
Sniper Elite V2 used a new engine, with much higher standards across the board, though there may have been issues with optimization. PCs running the game at max settings with beefy video cards could still have difficulty keeping a high frame-rate. Still, Rebellion found ways to push their game and their engine, beginning work on what was then called Sniper Elite: Nazi Zombie Army. It was a surprise hit and went on to quickly spawn a sequel – Nazi Zombie Army 2. However, both of the games were PC exclusives, until Rebellion announced the Zombie Army Trilogy in January of 2015.
In early March, Zombie Army Trilogy was released on PS4, Xbox One and to the PC via Steam. There was no way to purchase the 3rd title in the series, now known as the third “episode”. Instead, owners were offered a heavy discount on the complete trilogy, dropping the price at launch to $17.99 – comparable to the individual prices of the first games. For console owners, this will be their first taste of the spin-off series, but why would PC owner’s want to purchase the first two title again, even with a discount?
Simple: everything is upgraded to the better-looking and better-optimized Sniper Elite 3 engine from 2014. Beyond that, new enemy types have been added, AI and battle scripts have been refined to flow better, and they’ve thrown in some new music to the mix. Having previously played all of the Sniper entries, zombie-oriented or otherwise, both in single-player and co-op, this peaked my interest. Added to the discount, and the promise of future co-op sessions, I grabbed the trilogy. Have no fear though, this is OSP, and we will be focusing on the single player experience, and we’ll start by going over the loose story that Rebellion has assembled for us.
As World War II begins to draw to a close, the Nazis have lost the war. Hitler, in his “fuhrerbunker”, screams at his officers. It’s almost like Downfall, the meme-spawning German, Hitler film. Rather than give in and surrender in the face of defeat, Hitler vows to enact “Plan Z”… of course, this isn’t a German art film, it’s a campy Sniper game off-shoot, so that Z is for Zombies. Karl Fairburne of the main series returns here. There are three other characters available to choose from: Dr Schwaiger, Boris Medvedev, and Herman Wolff — mostly to differentiate during co-op, but we’ll stick with Karl here as his, German-born, American-educated, British-trained story is what backs up the entire Sniper Elite series.
Karl is still in Germany as Plan Z is unleashed. He finds himself in the countryside, far away from the city of Berlin. His goal it to hike towards civilization and secure a vehicle, in order to make his escape. He immediately encounters the zombie menace as he struggles to reach the city. The journey of Karl (and his friends) takes him through a village church, a large cathedral, a Nazi library containing occult texts, a subway, and finally onto the docks where they hope to make their exit from Berlin. None of this will go down without a fight, and that’s just Episode 1 – The Berlin Horror.
Episode Two – Back to Berlin, as the titles suggests, finds our crew of snipers heading back into the city. Their quest involves recovering various sacred, occult artifacts. Most important of these is the Sagamartha Relic, which is believed to have the power to control and ultimately stop the Nazi zombie hordes. As they move deeper into the city and closer to their goal, the variety and strength of the enemy increases.
Episode Three – Beyond Berlin is the truly new content of the trilogy, showcasing areas outside of the city, including forests and mountains, with large looming Nazi castles in the distance. This entry shows off a Berlin that has been mostly destroyed, however there are actual pockets of human resistance and survivors to help along the way, expanding in to a few new gameplay ideas. The overriding goal here is to confront and stop the Fuhrer himself, as he rallies the remaining zombie hordes into a massive force, ready to retake Germany and then the world.
Gameplay in the Zombie Army Trilogy, still has sniping as its core of course. Your character’s main weapon is his choice of several variations of sniper rifle, each with attributes that change how they work in minor ways. You can free-aim, aim down your sites or scope, change zoom and for the truly perfect shot, hold your breath to slow down time. Your secondary weapon is either an assault rifle, shotgun, or the more preacher shotugn or panzerfaust (rocket launcher). Your final web is your side arm. You may only care one of each at a time.
Your secondary items are stielhandgranate (German grenades), trip-wires, landmines and dynamite. Due to reloading time on weapons, a somewhat limited ammo supply, and the sheer size of the hordes you will be deploying these tools quite often. Trip-wire and carefully places landmines at specific high traffic or choke points can be life-savers. Grenades can take out groups of distant enemies, and dynamite I find to be a last-ditch effort. You place it on the run, wait for a group to get close enough and detonate with a long-shot.
This is all a bit more fast-paced than the standard Sniper Elite games due to the size of enemy groups and the enemy types. You will be running around more, particularly in the second and third episodes due to speedier enemies. Still, there will be plenty of sections where you can sit back and pick off zombies left and right as they funnel through narrow corridors. For fast-paced gamers, this will get boring, but no one ever said sniping was a speedy activity.
The varied enemies will keep you on your toes. Standard zombies move with varied speed and head bobbing and carry different weapons, with the occasional zed sporting a randomly fired, though inaccurate gun. You will quickly become ware of the scream of an approaching suicider — they love to show up, sometimes in groups and ruin your day as you are stuck in a reloading animation, or backing up when they suddenly appear. The heavy gunner remains a tricky, though straightforward fight if you can focus on headshots while being attacked by other enemy types. And… don’t forget those creepy, Clash of the Titans, stop-motion style skeletons… yeeesh. The second and third episode introduce new, tougher enemies. One will summon new zombies to the fight, or resurrect ones you have already defeated. Another will throw flames, lighting zombies on fire, sending them running at you with great speed. The newest big, bad zombie will sport chainsaw and some speed as well.
The enemies have upgrades across all three episodes. You will find the gibbing system expanded, allowing zombies with missing arms to continue the fight. Many more zombies without legs will crawl along the ground slowly, sneaking up to hit you when you thought you had already killed them. Rebellion also saw to to add armor into the mix. Now zombies and skeletons alike will have varying degrees of protection, requiring your to find week points or use lots more of your explosive items to defeat them. The armored skeletons in particular have a creepy effect, like some sort of Nazi terminators, slowly marching towards you.
The Sniper games still rely on their x-ray camera system, which will focus in on the enemy being shot with the sniper rifle and detail your kill, just as much as if you were taking a college-level anatomy class. This system has grown more in-depth and complex with each Sniper engine, spreading skeletal to muscle and tissue systems. All of the major organs will be represented in their correct place as you strike your targets. This may be too intense for some people. For me, the idea that they are bad Nazis, lessens this feeling quite a bit. For those of you that still have issue with this, maybe the idea that they are zombies will make you feel better. Despite an flirting with moral compromise, it is important to admit that the sniping effects are pretty thrilling to me.
The Zombie Army Trilogy is a surprise franchise. Each game is going to last you in the neighborhood of 4-7 hours. I found the second entry to be the shortest. It felt like a quicker cash-in on the success of the first in some ways, but did introduce new, interesting enemy types for the series. The third episode brings back around again, with new settings, including more outdoor areas, and enemies. Its amazing on Rebellion’s part, to the, pardon the pun, skeleton of the Sniper Elite V2 levels, twisted around and mashed up, into these new experiences, that fit with their narrative. Everything is tied together by an excellent, though short on length, soundtrack that delightfully takes its cues from John Carpenter’s 70’s and 80’s horror films… synthesizers rule! The sound effects are creepy and you’ll learn to recognize what’s coming based on their timing.
Zombie Army Trilogy is a decent gaming experience as a solo player, especially if you are already a fan of the core series, and enjoy a bit of horror-themes every now and then. For those on Steam, particularly those that have purchased the first titles, it’s worth the upgrade and the discounted price to experience this final and more open third episode. For next-gen console owners, you get the trilogy at the not-quite-AAA price of $49.99, and as a download-only purchase. There is replayability in going up to four-player co-oping or attempting the new horde mode featuring endless waves of zombies. A difficulty modifier will raise the stakes for those that find the game easy.
Zombie Army Trilogy was reviewed from a personal PC/Steam copy of the game, we received Xbox One codes after the review was already in progress.