Zombie Army Trilogy Review
Yes, I’m aware that zombies are here to stay. They’re iconic villains, especially in the world of video games. I’ve got no problem with their legendary status and let’s face it, what would Resident Evil be without zombies? I also have no problem with re-released packages of older games, especially when considering the typically appreciative fanbase. However, when the games in question simply reek of old age and low budget constraints, and the gameplay suffers from a variety of tedious and irritating drawbacks, we end up with a wholly underwhelming compilation. Despite the decent fun factor, that’s the best way to describe Zombie Army Trilogy.
Nobody is going into this game expecting a visual masterpiece. And it’s not like the game looks bad, per se; it’s just drab and dated. The level design feels boring and repetitive, the enemies – while expectedly faceless – are even too one-dimensional for zombies, and the animations and effects are merely average. Each of the three installments have similar shortcomings and nothing really stands out. I just don’t know how many times we can mow down zombies in uninspired settings; if we don’t at least have the benefit of raucous, eye-popping effects and a ragingly cool atmosphere, we lose interest fast. I guess fans of the original titles won’t care but by today’s standards, the graphics are mediocre.
The sound doesn’t fare any better due to a low-budget cornball soundtrack, filled with generic synthesized drama and no voice acting. Some of the gory effects hit the earphones with satisfying impact and a few of the weapons sound cool, but that’s about it. There’s also a distinct balancing issue, another clear sign of an older production. None of the games really seem to get much better, either; it’s as if they were all cut from the exact same mold, and little effort was made to improve each installment. I guess Rebellion just assumed that those who play such games aren’t overly demanding. Okay, maybe that’s a fair point; they just wanna shoot zombies. Even so, this simply feels tired and overdone.
You can toss out the story and characters in the first breath. You’re likely not anticipating an excellent narrative and you’re right; it’s a predictable, throwaway script for each game. Bear in mind that I don’t even consider this a strike against the game, provided the gameplay stands tall. That doesn’t really happen here, though, despite the rampant and occasionally entertaining violence that gets splattered all over your screen. You run around inside these box-like levels, shooting anything that moves and taking advantage of a few nifty tools like landmines and trip-wires. Then there’s the lone gameplay feature that stands out, and those who are familiar with Sniper Elite know what it is…
It’s the X-ray kill-cam, which involves a slo-mo, close-up shot of a particularly well-placed bullet ripping through a hapless foe’s body. You can see the tiny piece of lead tracing a devastating path through skin, bone, muscle and organs, and it’s clearly supposed to be a highlight of the experience. Well, it is and it isn’t. On the one hand, it’s a visceral prize for the dead-eyed shooters, and I didn’t find it particularly tiresome. On the other hand, if you’re desperately trying to keep this one feature in the crosshairs (pun intended) throughout the experience, you will invariably force awkward situations on the player. Unfortunately, that does happen quite a bit in Zombie Army Trilogy and it really interrupts the flow of the game.
While you can alter the frequency of the slo-mo kill-cam (or turn it off entirely), you can’t dismiss those forced sections. Each game is only about 4-5 hours long and in every one, you’re expected to use your sniper rifle as often as possible. Sometimes, with mobs of zombies coming at you, it just doesn’t make any sense and yet, you can tell the game is whispering, “get the x-ray cam, get the x-ray cam!” over and over. Due to the lack of inspired design, you’re basically just running around in circles, trying to scope out a zombie and land that critical hit. You can toss dynamite if you want, and you can experiment with other weapons, but none of it is as prominent as the sniping. And the shotgun sucks hardcore, for some bizarre reason.
There are only so many times I can attempt to withstand another siege of the undead, coming at me from all directions. I have no idea how many times Rebellion used this objective in these three games, but I think they were going for the record. Sure, they try to mix things up with some exotic zombies but more than anything else, they just feel cheap. For instance, the Super Elite zombies are just big brutes that come at you with an LMG, taking bullet after bullet without even flinching. It’s especially ridiculous in the first game but even the toned-down brutes in the following installments are too tedious. How’s about giving us an enemy that – gasp! – makes us think for two seconds? Asking, “gee, how do I beat this guy?” isn’t necessarily a bad thing, you know.
Above all else, the one thing that bugs me is the design concept: Why, why do you make a game where the highlighted feature simply doesn’t fit inside a constant mob scene? It works in Sniper Elite. It doesn’t work in a set of games that almost never encourages you to snipe, because it rarely gives you a decent opportunity. It’s just a bad idea. I will say that the third game is a little better than the first two, as a bit more effort was put into the overall production. There’s more variety and more bombastically cool situations, even though many of the same flaws linger. Of course, this only amplifies the issues in the first two games, but whatever. At least there’s some visible improvement.
It’s just…all these games scream “old,” you know? The checkpoints are erratic, the repetitive nature of the combat is just plain ridiculous, and the technical aspects are average at best. I guess these games were probably better-received and more entertaining when they first arrived but even then, they didn’t exactly score off the charts. The only way this trilogy was really going to work is if Rebellion rebuilt and/or re-imagined a lot of the content. Obviously, that didn’t happen. What we’re left with is a mildly amusing, very predictable zombie jaunt that’s only fun for a few hours. On the plus side, if you’ve got a willing friend, co-op is a far better option. It actually reminds me of playing those old House of the Dead games in the arcade.
Zombie Army Trilogy is familiar and fun for a short spell. The third game is a good deal better than the first two but for the most part, it’s a ho-hum action blast-fest that doesn’t have enough “oomph” behind it. The low production values are a definite problem, as is the uninspired and outdated level design and hugely repetitive gameplay. The x-ray kill-cam is still pretty dang nifty but you can’t base a fast-paced shooter around a sniping mechanic, no matter how viscerally appealing it might be. Playing co-op can significantly extend the action but if you’re stuck with the single-player campaigns, you’ll probably be unimpressed. There are just so many games out there that are similar, and many of them are better, so it’s hard to recommend this collection.
The Good: Generally well-paced. X-Ray kill-cam remains a gory highlight throughout. Marked improvement in the third game. Decent control. Some fun to be had playing co-op.
The Bad: Low production values. Outdated design and tediously repetitive gameplay. Story is simply a waste of time. Not enough enemy variety. A sniping gimmick doesn’t work in a hectic shooter.
The Ugly: “I thought we left those infuriating bullet-sponge enemies behind in past eras.”
7/28/2015 Ben Dutka