Wouldn’t be Halloween without some good old zombies, would it?
Should’ve saved Bloody Zombies for the season of skeletons, but it’s too late to cover that now. Another possible candidate was the Nazi Zombies mode of Call of Duty, but that would just end with me screaming about how complicated they’ve made everything for no reason. With that in mind, and with no time to cover Nazi Zombies as of right now, let’s focus on one of the many, many, many children, Zombie Army Trilogy.
This is a weird once to cover, as it was originally conceived as DLC for Rebellion’s Sniper Elite V2 in 2013, becoming a cult hit. Rebellion have a lust for World War II, and after the positive reception for the first DLC, they released 2 more sequels, with the 3rd being released along with this collection of the DLC as a standalone release, able to be played if you don’t own Sniper Elite V2. That’s that really, the version I’ll be reviewing today is the Xbox One 2015 release, because why not?
The game takes place in the final days of World War II, as the local butt of everyone’s jokes, Adolf Hitler sits defeated in his office. As his fellow higher-ups admit they should pull the plug on their operations and surrender, Hitler takes offence and blows the brains out of one of them. Eventually, Hitler utters “Execute Plan Z”, and what is Plan Z? Reviving the entire Reich army as flesh-eating creatures of the night. Now it’s down to 8 survivors in zombie-torn Germany to nut up, shut up and survive.
If you’ve ever played Sniper Elite, then you’ve already assumed the formula for ZAT. Instead of going in all gung-ho, your best bet is to approach these zombie-infested streets with caution, and plan your path through with as little resistance as possible. Looks like you’re wrong buddy, as all you’ll be doing is walking through streets and taking shots at the Third Reich in an undead format, and with relative ease.
Another prominent feature of the Sniper Elite series is the infamous “Bullet-cam”. If you aim your bullet in a critical spot like the head, or heart, or testicles, then the camera will follow the bullet and you get to see your shot in glorious X-Ray vision. Here though, it’s surprisingly absent, as the Bullet-cam is still here but it rarely adds X-Ray vision, even when it’s edited to “Increased”, which is a shame.
It has the correct credentials to be a great game, if a little cheesy, but the issue is Rebellion never being able to balance the qualities of all their factors. Be it the bulky mess of Shellshock 2: Blood Trails, the absolute mess of Rouge Warrior or the insane stupidity of NeverDead, they’ve never been able to become consistently good developers. They’ve been slowly building up their skills since the release of Sniper Elite V2, but severe missteps have been made since then.
What’s the “severe misstep” in ZAT, you might ask? Well, the answer is oh my god, these levels are way too god-damn long. With 15 levels and an average playthrough time of 15 hours, it doesn’t seem that bad, but when it’s paired with the repeated level design, the little variety in firefights and the rinse-and-repeat mission structure, it turns into an awfully tedious experience.
Admittedly, I’ve never completed it. Call me a heretic but I lose interest due to the cut-and-paste formula throughout every level I’ve played thus far. You enter a room or a street, and if you enter from a point of no return you can’t vault back to, prepare the fight the damned. It’s fine in stuff like the Nazi Zombies of Call of Duty, but you were able to add your own strategies to it, and there was more varied weaponry. Here? I don’t know, it’s more like a chore.
One part of this complaint can go to the pacing. There’s never a time you can just catch a break and look around, you’re always, ALWAYS in a battle with the undead, with the only break being safe rooms where you have no reason to stay. You’re always experiencing these horrors first-hand, never being able to see the decimation from a distance. There are a few radio excerpts that play near safe room’s, but these are just some guy putting on a disgustingly cringey German accent, it’s painful to listen to.
Another part of the complaint is the enemy variety itself, which consists of skeletons, zombies with sniper rifles and massive bullet spongers that just walk around. There’s a few I’ve missed out, but these take up the most space and do so with dull gusto. The zombie sniper gunfights are easily the best gunfights that take place in this game, including a really well-made firefight that takes place in a train depot station. These guys surround you across scaffolding and roofs, and taking ’em down one by one was a fun little treat.
Rebellion also know how to make an atmospheric level, as well. Streets and areas in the game are littered with dead bodies, rubble and death, while the lighting provides an almost creepy tone. It’s something they’ve proven they can do consistently with other games as well, with Shellshock 2 and Rouge Warrior feeling like you’re immersed in the world. But whereas those two games were let down by comedic stupidity, ZAT‘s atmosphere is let down by just plain stupidity, with the soundtrack ruining everything.
I know what they’re trying to do, okay? They’re trying to evoke the same feeling from the cheesy zombie B-movies of old, maybe even earlier than that. But this overbearing and plinky-plonky synth soundtrack, paired with an amazing feel of the world, on par with Metro? You’re out of your god-damn mind if you think this works in any way, shape or form. That’s why you turn it off immediately.
After the soundtrack is muted and ripped in half by the undead, a la Dawn of The Dead, the game becomes a lot more bearable. As you trek through the blood-filled streets of Berlin, imagery and set pieces only get creepier, as the howling of the zombies becomes white noise that’s set on driving the player insane. The only problem with that is the game can’t seem to get out of the zone that it’s sunk itself in, said zone being humbug wave defense.
These wave defense sections are what kills the game, mainly because it’s incredibly easy to cheese the zombies. They’ll always be on the other side of the thin road, in a single line formation. You run to the end, aim and take potshots until all those heads fertilize the dead plants. It never stops, and it makes you wish for something even with an iota of difference.
Eventually, I turn it off. I always end up completing a level and shutting it off, because no matter how many zombie brains meet the end of my buckshot, it never becomes that cathartic ultra-violence that its inspirations are. CoD Zombies (namely World at War and Black Ops 1) are fun due to the map design and secrets hidden within. Left 4 Dead is fun due to the necessity of co-operation. Even camping a zombie spawner in Minecraft gives me contextual benefits. Here though, what is my goal? Stop Hitler? I’ve done so before, many times! And in better scenarios!
You could say I’m asking for too much, and maybe I am. I’ve heard it gets better later, but I have NEVER considered that as a good excuse in any form of video game. ZAT has a blueprint but made the finished product with deadwood and stuck it together with store-brand gum. What starts as a cheesy love letter to a revived movement of video game genres, ends up being a bland testament that overstays its welcome and eats all the best Celebrations.
An incredibly tedious trek through Sniper Elite with a horror vignette.