Rebellion Software’s Sniper Elite series was an odd contradiction, combining serious WWII gameplay with the gore-porn of its X-Ray Kill Cam. Randomly, when the player fired a shot, the camera would pull back, revealing the expelled round drilling through the air before it made contact with its target in a shower of blood and bone. Sometimes, for added gruesome effect, an x-ray cutaway would reveal skeletal trauma as bulled blasted brainpans, shattered shins, or ruptured ribcages. They’ve done it for three games now and it’s still an odd sensation, seeing the horrors of war and combat reduced to a meaty money shot.
The Zombie Army games (nee Nazi Zombie Army) seemed a better fit for the slackjawed slaughter, replacing regular Nazis (still very shootable, mind you) with a horde of shambling schutzstaffel–the titular Nazi Zombie Army. It’s mechanically identical to the Sniper Elite progenitor, but sets its action in the midst of a full-blown zombie apocalypse, which impressively makes the already bombed-out Europe even worse.
The game knows that it’s inherently ridiculous, and starts off as such, with a scene mocking the infamous bunker meltdown from Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Downfall: Hitler is warned of the imminent defeat of the Reich at the hands of the Allies, and the furious fuehrer demands that they execute “Plan Z.” Lo and behold, the dead rise from their graves, ready to reduce Europe to rubble…or reduce the rubble to smaller pieces, I guess. How this fits in with the Final Solution and Hitler’s vision of the Übermensch isn’t really clear, but you really can’t fault a game about Nazi zombies for thumbing its nose at historical accuracy.
You start the game by choosing one of 8 characters (4 men and 4 women…very progressive!), then pick one of the three campaigns and your initial loadout and you’re off to the (Aryan) races. The game is about as simple as they come: shoot zombies, score points, make it to a safe house, lather, rinse, repeat. There are larger gauntlets peppered throughout the game, complete with weird energy barriers that block progression until you eliminate all threats, from basic troops to swarming skeletons to suicide bombers who stuff their stielhandgranates in their mouths before detonating. To be frank, even with enemy variety, the game is incredibly repetitive, and after a while burnout begins to set in.
Thankfully, liberal checkpoints mean that you can drop in and out almost at will without having to retrace too many steps, so you can get on with your life until another itch needs to be scratched. This isn’t a game you marathon, but its dumb-and-dirty gameplay is intensely satisfying in small doses.
Graphically, the game’s gently enhanced over its predecessors, which is to say it looks good, although the inherent dinginess of its subject matter and environment limits the palette to a variety of earth tones and red. The x-ray effects are suitably nasty, and maxing out the occurrences of the Kill Cam leads to plenty of morbid moments as zombies are reduced to chunks of cheap chuck and burned brains. Audio is suitably powerful, with the firearms delivering a punishing punch in the bass department, and the music…oh the music. The music’s brilliant, calling to mind the synth-heavy works of Goblin and Fabio Frizzi, which adds immeasurably to the experience.
Its performance on Xbox One (it’s also available on PS4 and PC) was uneven at times, with frame-rates plunging more often than one would expect, but not so much as to make it unplayable. There’s also a lean host of multiplayer options, including co-op play for up to 4 players and a “horde mode” that strips out the story entirely for surviving wave after wave of zombies. It’s not particularly deep or revolutionary, but it’s the sort of dumb fun that less cynical gamers will appreciate.
Zombie Army Trilogy isn’t a particularly deep or affecting experience, but its bombastic b-movie blitzkrieg offers plenty of cultish carnage.