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Zombie Army Trilogy (PlayStation 4) artwork

Zombie Army Trilogy (PlayStation 4) review


"Tempo."


It's the closing days of World War II Germany, and I found myself in control of an OSS agent, his sniping skills unparallelled, in the midst of an "abandoned" village. After making it through several paths that included burning, ruined buildings, corpses littering the streets, not to mention bodies hanging from trees and impaled on poles, I was now inside a house, with a prompt telling me to investigate an unusually large skull on a table. After touching it, the skull reacted with a green aura, and another prompt popped up saying, "Survive the siege." It was eerily quiet for a few seconds, fog encapsulated the immediate area, and as foreboding, synthesized-style music kicked in, I noticed something off in the distance: a huge group of zombies climbing out of the ground. Nazi zombies!

Since there was a considerable gap between me and the slow walkers, I figured I was able to pick off just enough with my handy sniper rifle to diminish the threat. Of course, nailing a zombie in the head is the ideal method, but due to their stumbling nature, I accidentally blew off an arm or a leg, which didn't faze them one bit. Thankfully, most were headshots, with some even accompanied with a dramatic, super slow-motion camera effect that followed the bullet to their target, and if I was lucky, would then see an x-ray shot of the death, complete with bones and eyeballs shattering. But the herd never decreased, with more rising from the soil, and to my dismay, they started creeping in from the back door. Next thing I knew, I was trapped in a corner of the house, desperately blasting away with my secondary weapon, a shotgun, so I could create a passage and sprint through, Resident Evil-style. The dread felt too real, and I loved it.



It was there, about halfway through the first level, that I felt a sigh of relief, because prior to playing this, I was worried that the sniping mechanics wouldn't translate well with a more action-oriented title. For those not in the know, Zombie Army Trilogy is a spin-off release of the Sniper Elite games, which, as the name implies, concentrates on sniping targets from a distance with a more piecemeal, stealth-like presence. Players are also required to put more effort into hitting targets when compared to other games that throw in a sniper rifle as a special weapon, as one needs to compensate with stuff like height and distance; so unless you're playing on the easy difficulty, simply lining up a target with the center of the reticle isn't gonna cut it. You have a special meter that slows down time when scoped, as well as displaying a small, red diamond that shows where the bullet hits, but it drains incredibly quick, takes time to recharge, and stays down if you're running around. So use it when it counts!

I continued my slaughter through the first of three episodes of the game, each containing five levels; with every passing room, damaged city block, or sewage trail, I constantly found myself taking on mobs of zombies, with and without the scope depending on their distance, occasionally getting neat moments such as hitting three zombies in a row with a single bullet, or chucking a grenade into a crowd and watching body parts fly in a spectacle. Every now and then, I would pass through a safe room to restock on much needed ammo for whatever lurked on the other side of the exit. By episode's end, I was trapped at a canal dock with an unending supply of zombies marching towards me, and the only way to vanquish the nightmare and escape via boat was to kill a floating occult general with some kind of force field.

With that in mind, when the episode ended and the stats screen appeared, I genuinely considered giving up right there to resume my casual Watch Dogs playthrough.

So... what happened between the first and fifth levels? A lot of assessing and discovering happened, and the unfortunate turning point occurred midway through the third level. I left a safe room and was suddenly in a situation where a buttload of zombies flooded the adjoining small room. I desperately tried leaving, and in doing so, I started abusing the kick move that I sparsely used up to that point. That's when I realized how ridiculously overpowered the kick is: two kicks kill a zombie, with the first knocking it to the ground, and the second kicking its head off. I just presumed the rifle and sub-weapons were the only way to kill enemies... But with knowledge of the Omnipotent Leg, its usage negates the necessity to use weaponry in a good 50/60% of typical zombie encounters, unless you really love headshots, or really, really want to score points for a good placement in the leaderboards.

Unfortunately, the kick move destroyed a huge chunk of tension with the zombies, as, even when I stuck to shooting, if one got really close, I just simply killed it with a swift punt. The dread vanished. Shortly after unearthing the raw power of the boot, I also succumbed to the fact that, with a whole lot of slow zombies, comes a whole lot of repetition. The novelty of blowing away gatherings of the undead wears thin really quickly in the campaign, especially when the overall design of the environments doesn't help matters. More times than not, I was in huge areas that allowed me to easily run away from zombies, find an empty spot far away, squat, and then fill their heads with lead without much incident.



Now, how is this different from comparable, "mindless" action titles such as, and let's go all over the place, Robotron 2084, Left 4 Dead, Earth Defense Force, or Iron Fisticle, where enemies also come at you in spades? Simple: urgency. Whether it'd be the fear of dying with a simple touch, having to restart the entire session after being hit four or five times, or getting surrounded by a fierce, speedy mass of foes if your trigger finger isn't fast enough, those games give you the motivation to try your best and feel good about your victory. Trilogy, the majority of the time, somehow goes in the opposite direction when an overused enemy type becomes easily disposable and repetitive when mixed with stuff like huge, flexible environments and an uncanny kick.

This is especially distressing due to the fact that Trilogy actually offers different enemy types outside the empty-headed divas, and they require extra effort to kill. In a twist that surprises no one, these enemies make up the more memorable aspects of the game since they pose a legitimate threat; take cover as a sturdy, tall Super Elite appears with a machine gun that necessitates multiple headshots to down; watch out as a Fire Demon toss flames and summon burning, panicking zombies your way; hastily spot zombie snipers as their scopes glint a second before they shoot, then mutter as they cackle and make huge leaps to completely different structures; panic as you hear a continuous screech, knowing full well a suicide zombie is sprinting to your destination... but in what direction?!

Why is this distressing? Because these enemies only occasionally appear between the waves of zombies you have to plow through. Though, their appearances do increase as you get closer to episode two's final level, which is basically a longer map of the same thing you've been doing for the previous nine levels. Sadly, even most of these types fall victim to the game's large areas, nullifying their menacing presence. However, when they do appear in a place with confined space, the battle turns into an event. One such moment happened when I was stuck on a narrow platform in a train yard, with fire blocking my escape, and I just had to eradicate the zombie hordes as they moved through the flames, all while fending off a Super Elite and a stream of suicide zombies. Why couldn't the entirety of episodes one and two match this kind of intensity?

I should have seen something like this coming, what with the knowledge I held when diving into Trilogy. See, the first two episodes were originally released in 2013 on the PC as stand-alone expansions for Sniper Elite V2. Definitely shows, as those two episodes reuse assets from V2, with the exception of the zombie models and some other variations. With that fact thrown into the equation, the two episodes certainly have a distinct DLC quality, where the creation of scenarios have an almost manufactured feel to them. To Rebellion's credit, you're not walking through the same pathways as in V2, since they reshuffled the environments all over the place. The atmosphere gets genuinely creepy at times, too, as you notice little tidbits everywhere, such as a small, covered body in the corner of a room, a doll staring at you from a distant window, or a whisper from your controller's speaker telling you to play the game when it's paused.



To drive the point home that this is mainly a scenario design problem, we look at episode three, which is entirely new and currently exclusive to the Trilogy release. You're basically doing the same thing you did in the previous two episodes, however a lot more of episode three feels tighter and on the nose, with zombies coming at you in more compact spaces. Special enemy types are more rampant in these areas, as well, creating situations where it feels like you're running around like a headless chicken. Shoot, the first ten minutes of the episode is enough to send anyone, who labored through the preceding episodes, into shock with the amount of content available; you have walking and talking NPCs making their debut, there's side-quests that involve saving survivors from zombies at a distance, you can activate explosive dummies, and even get drunk and try killing ten zombies for a prize.

Though, the greatest oddity of Trilogy, whose competent but generic and repetitive campaign is nothing more than an elongated horde mode... is that it also has a horde mode. And it's better than the campaign. Considering it has a tighter design like episode three, a limited supply of explosive weaponry, and you restart at wave one if you die from just a few consecutive zombie slashes, the stakes and challenge are all too high. Again chomping back into the design issue, horde mode's dominance is more crazy when you add the fact that its maps are literally locations used in campaign, albeit modified a bit to block off certain areas. I constantly found myself thinking about strategies, safe spots, and escape routes on the fly whenever I played horde mode, something I sporadically did in campaign. Under the right conditions, too, it reaches a whole new level of intensity if you manage to get an online game of four player co-op going. For me, this mode recaptured the frenzied spirit described at the beginning of this review, even with the kick!

Horde mode is not without its qualms, however, but it's mainly from a game setup perspective, which is also part of campaign's online issue. Unless you're setting up a private game, it's nigh impossible to choose a session of your specific liking in a public match; you select Quick Match and its bare minimum options (a specific map or all), and you're just thrown into a game. You don't get a list of matches to choose from, which makes it all the more insulting when the connection screen says something like "Connecting to game 1/8". You can set up your own public match where players come and go whenever they feel like it, but there's an absurd catch: it can only happen when no one else is playing on your desired map. I highly doubt this is going to be fixed, since the devs have apparently been made aware of complaints from other players when this first came out March of 2015.

I desperately wanted to enjoy the entirety of Trilogy, but every time I found something to love about the game, such as its fun sniper mechanics, the depressing atmosphere, or interesting enemies, I got blindsided by questionable flaws. I want to make it clear the first two episodes in campaign aren't garbage if I'm making it sound that way, but gameplay-wise, they are so painfully average for something oozing with such ambience. It makes me wish Rebellion had made a completely new game from scratch, where they stuck to the traditional Sniper Elite stealth blueprint with occasional zombie mob outbursts, instead of relying on download content released two years prior as its headliner. Hell, with a much lower price and some simple fixes, they easily could have released horde mode as a standalone, digital release, call it Sniper Elite: Zombies, and I probably would have looked at it more highly.



As is, I would advise with caution to check out Zombie Army Trilogy if you can find it cheaper than its original price and know three other gamers who own it, since there's no local co-op. If you're really aching for a sniping-focused title on the PS4, though, I recommend getting Sniper Elite III; that game also has its share of flaws and goofs, but the important difference for me is that I enjoy playing the whole campaign, since those issues barely disrupt gameplay. I mean, how can you not love a game where you accidentally fall off a house, bounce off a guard, land behind him, and he still doesn't notice you?

3/5

pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (August 11, 2015)

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