Developed by Sniper Elite veteran, Rebellion Developments, Zombie Army Trilogy is a union of old and new, a fusing together of three survival horror shooter games into one package. For $49.99 (U.K. price is yet to be confirmed), you get Sniper Elite Nazi Zombie Army 1 and 2, which were released in 2013 as downloadable content for Sniper Elite V2, as well as Zombie Army 3, a brand new campaign which, unsurprisingly, also revolves around slaughtering hordes of undead.
While the first two campaigns are remastered in 1080p for PlayStation 4, we also get a new Horde mode available across five maps, pitting up to four players against increasing waves of zombies, while armed with gadgets such as trip wires and land mines, as well as a range of typical third-person shooter weaponry, from shotguns to sniper rifles. So, with three games, 15 campaign levels, online-co-op and horde mode, Zombie Army Trilogy appears to offer a full-bodied package of gut-spilling action. But, is it any good?
While the post-apocalyptic World War II setting makes an ideal backdrop for the Nazi-inspired storyline, it certainly isn’t the narrative that stands out. In short: The toothbrush-moustached dictator (that’s Hitler) is up to his old tricks again, trying to take over Europe with his legion of soldiers and dabblings in the occult, which have enabled him to create an army of undead super soldiers that emerge out of the fog and ground with such frequency that it’s like watching Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ graveyard scene on repeat. The fact that it features Nazis, zombies and Hitler is a solid indication that it was never going to be something as gripping as other well-penned survival horror games that spring to mind (Silent Hill 2, for example) but, predictably, Zombie Army Trilogy is all about the gameplay, with ‘A’ to ‘B’ objectives and little story filler.
Gameplay in Zombie Army Trilogy involves killing zombies, lots of them. In each of the 15 levels across the three campaigns, you move through murky environments, including abandoned churches, fog-filled villages, wartime bunkers and spooky forests, scavenging ammo and using a range of weapons and tactics to take down the shambling onslaught. Despite Rebellion’s connection with the stealth-based Sniper Elite series, there’s no stealth involved at all. You can creep around all you want, but the zombies always find you and come lumbering toward you in their masses regardless of whether you’re on your tip-toes or blasting away like John Rambo. Consequently, Zombie Army Trilogy is largely about making sure you remain calm and calculated, so you can execute headshots under massive pressure.
Despite the obvious repetitious nature of mowing down undead, Rebellion does well to mix things up with a range of enemy types, from gas-mask wearing soldiers that can be taken down with one precise headshot to hulking great Elites with tough old helmets and huge mini-guns. The unpredictability of enemy movement also plays a large part in the challenge, and ensures a tense and anxiety-ridden journey throughout each chapter.
The one thing you can always predict is that zombies will come towards you, but what you can’t foresee is how many they’ll be and how exactly they’ll move. The pace of zombies changes from one to the next, and while some amble slowly, others will run at you armed with explosives. Some will lurch over like Quasimodo with their heads fairly close to their shoulders, while others will stand more upright but will sway from side-to- side, making headshot kills a matter of perfect precision timing. When there’s 50 of these random zombies coming towards you and ammo is in short supply, the tension is absolutely sky high; though there’s a fun melee move that allows you to kick away any zombies at the last minute should you get overwhelmed (which you will).
There’s a decent range of weapons too with the likes of sniper rifles, shotguns and SMGs all having varying degrees of accuracy, damage and range. Rebellion has obviously spent a lot of time working on getting the sniper rifle right in its previous games and it’s by far our favourite weapon in this trilogy; though the shotgun also delivers powerful damage at short range. When you’re looking down the scope zooming right in on the action, nothing in the game beats the buzz of chaining together multiple headshots in rapid succession. The X-Ray Kill cam, which shows the bullet moving in slow-motion (on triggering an exceptional kill) is a nice touch too as it rips through the flesh of zombies in a cinematically brutal fashion.
Alongside weapons, there are also other items in your arsenal to improve chances of survival. Trip wire, grenades, land mines and dynamite are in short supply but are the best and most enjoyable ways to dispatch large groups of zombies and rack up some impressive combos in the process. And, in some chapters, you can set up traps, such as laying down a leg brace to ensnare a zombie, or switching on the power to an electric fence and watching them fry as they try and climb over.
Though you’re simply just fighting zombies throughout the duration, Rebellion has done a great job at switching up level design to ensure there’s something a little different in each mission. One minute you’ll be in a fast-paced, claustrophobic battle on a moving train where there’s only one way to head, and next you’ll be battling on a larger map, perhaps defending a church where you can use a variety of tactics, from sniping out of the windows and laying down mines at the church door, to braving it outside with a shotgun and grenades. It looks pretty decent too in 1080p with some nice lighting and shadow effects. Though it certainly doesn’t push the PS4, particularly with its cheap explosions, the entertaining and varied zombie animations/decapitations make up for its lack of next-gen pizazz.
Despite this variety, playing solo in Zombie Army Trilogy does feel like a real slog. Some chapters can feel punishingly long and there’s so many zombies to kill that we found ourselves just switching off and not really enjoying the often overwhelming process of moving 100 yards forward when there’s a wall of zombies blocking your path. Then…we played the game in co-op mode. It’s crystal clear that Zombie Army Trilogy was built for co-op play and once you have three other friends around you it’s a totally different experience. With match lobbies to chat with friends and the opportunity to set up privately, or jump into a quick game on any chapter in any campaign, getting into a match online is smooth and quick.
Like any good online co-op game, the experience is best enjoyed when all players use a headset and communicate efficiently. Do this, and Zombie Army Trilogy is a blast as you work together to lay traps and adopt different strategies and help revive your buddies when needed; if you lose them, they’ll be sitting it out for the rest of the chapter. In the third campaign, for example, one of us lured the Super Elite away from the rest of the pack so others could shoot from a safe distance, while another guy was tasked with taking care of the snipers so the rest of the team could concentrate on the masses coming toward us. With points being awarded for each kill, and more for headshots and combos, it also got quite competitive with us all trying to gain the top kill spot on the board.
Despite the obvious fun to be had playing co-operatively, there are some flaws in Zombie Army Trilogy. During some of our matches, for instance, we experienced significant lag, particularly during Horde Mode where our grenades would take a couple of seconds to launch after we threw them, and our shots registered late. We’ve also seen hit detection issues when trying to explode dynamite, and bouts of slowdown during the more intense moments. We do hope there’s a patch to sort out the lag, otherwise Horde mode in particular won’t be fun for long. When it runs smoothly though, Zombie Army Trilogy is challenging, fun and intense.
Before we deliver our final verdict, a little word about the audio experience. After a couple of hours of playing Zombie Army Trilogy we resorted to switching the effects and the music off, opting to hear just speech only. The constant moaning of zombies is so annoying that it affects your focus. The problem is the audio doesn’t relate to the proximity of the zombies and changes in volume at the wrong moments. It makes you think that they’re right next to you when sometimes they’re miles away in the distance. With just speech turned on, it also flagged up some weak sounds, such as the repetitive half-hearted grunts every time you or another player kicks a zombie. We ended up turning everything off in the end.
Despite these flaws, there’s no way we’d want fans of co-op games to be put off giving it a try. Though Zombie Army Trilogy doesn’t offer all the cinematics and huge stand-out moments of some triple-A shooters, it does offer some excellent level design, good range of enemy types and a challenging four-player co-op experience that brings the team together for a fun-filled, chaotic zombie romp. For everything you get, the $49.99 price tag is a steal.