A title says a lot about a game. Take the recent expansion for last year’s Sniper Elite V2. You could conclude that, by the derivative subtext, the DLC includes Nazis, an army, and zombie variations thereof. You would be correct in those assumptions, as the concept seems as unoriginal as the source material implies. But contrary to the game’s sudden release and many of the reused locations from the original campaign, there’s nothing offensive about the existence of Nazi Zombie Army. Rebellion's DLC nails the cheesy B-movie atmosphere, the X-ray killcams still reward players with anatomical depictions of pierced innards, and there’s an abundance of cooperative entertainment to be had behind the shallow heading.
The term “shallow” largely applies to the vacant exposition. As Russia and North America’s battalions surround Berlin, shaking the foundations of Hitler’s underground bunker with artillery, the foolhardy Fuhrer executes Plan Z, where undead corpses start rising from the streets and devouring enemy and comrade without prejudice. How did Hitler manage such a project? Chemical warfare? Mind control? Supernatural worship? Players never find out, with the DLC actually ending on a cliché “this is just the beginning" cliffhanger.
I have missed headshots from this close before. Don't get cocky.
The DLC never reveals the name of the hero or his mission parameters as well, so here’s a quick summary: Players resume the role of Karl Fairburne, trapped in Germany’s capital when the Fuhrer unleashes his final, unholy gamble. With all further objectives suspended, America’s best sniper must escape from Berlin before the undead make him their next meal. You are not the sole survivor to this catastrophe online, however. The campaign supports three more players, who adopt the identifies of a German officer, scientist, or Russian soldier, but the extra firepower does not give you permission to loaf. The horde’s size scales to the number of characters present, introducing Hitler’s zombie elite earlier. For example, the first siege populates the roads with dozens of zombies when playing alone. Adding several friends rocketed that count into the hundreds. Literally.
The frame rate rarely wavers when 30-plus undead parade through unoccupied streets, graveyards, and subways. On the other hand, the presentation drops multiple frames when peering down rifle scopes in single-player. The glitch refused to surface during cooperative sessions, whether I was hosting or joining another player’s match. That’s okay, though, because Nazi Zombie Army deserves to be shared with a friend. Thousands of infected (barely) stand between Karl and open water, and Plan Z conspires against you personally. But the first time you survive an overwhelming assault, just try not to feel proud of your team, or to boast of your quadruple headshot.
You will rarely see so few infected on your screen during your campaign across Berlin.
The siege battles make for the real standout moments, which require your team to operate at peak performance. With seemingly unending tides of undead breaking on your position, the skirmishes merge Dawn of the Dead and the final battle of Saving Private Ryan. Does one player confront the shambling onslaught to lay trip mines while the remaining three provide covering fire? Do you and a friend play overwatch from a building’s second story as your teammates guard the front door? The siege events are thrilling every time, especially when my allies and I divvied the roles between runners, snipers, and medics.
Another upside to the cooperative campaign: Four players remove the growing tedium of slaying the same five enemy types. Ignoring your generic, dawdling infected, the zombie army adds suicidal grenadiers, emaciated skeletons, roof-jumping snipers, and elite MG42-carrying undead to their ranks. That’s five times the variety of the soldiers Karl faced in the regular version of Sniper Elite V2, but you will be murdering thousands of zombies throughout the DLC’s five missions. Even the two bosses fall prey to identical methods of defeat: shoot the floating skulls orbiting their ethereal frames, then unload on their craniums once their bodies materialize.
I would have been less hesitant to buy Nazi Zombie Army had I seen this trailer earlier.
The challenge increases, at least, when you start amping up the difficulty. Whereas the game’s equivalent of normal difficulty (Marksman) only factors for the presence of bullet drop, the hardest setting (Sniper Elite) accounts for wind speeds and stability. Players haven’t a hope of hitting a target while standing or with an elevated heart rate, so serious consideration needs to be given to one's before-mission loadout. Although the developers unlock every pistol, SMG, and explosive from the start, which of the nine sniper rifles do you equip? Semi-automatic rifles like the M1 Carbine and Gewehr 43 deliver their rounds downrange faster, yet their bolt-action counterparts like the Mosin Nagant and Lee Enfield offer better stopping/penetrating power through multiple targets. Thankfully, players may swap armaments at any one of the mid-mission safe houses.
Increasing the difficulty also leads to the game’s most intense encounters, and higher leaderboard scores. The series' X-ray killcams, however, are more for show in this expansion, as games have trained fans to destroy a zombie’s brain to put the corpse down for good. Plus, players do not have the time to practice collapsing lungs or rupturing spleens when 40 infected bear down on their position. Only when a few undead remained – and with extreme self-assurance – did I finally play the part of an eagle-eyed surgeon, puncturing kidneys, hearts, and other vital organs without pause. Ten months may have passed since Sniper Elite V2 released, but the satisfaction of shattering bones with Rebellion's X-ray fatalities has not waned.
Open heart surgery was much more hardcore during World War II.
Ten months later, I recognized many of the settings from the original game, too. While Rebellion do reuse some of the existing architecture, there’s a good 50-50 split between old and new, and the fresh atmosphere evokes a classic horror movie vibe. In contrast to the original shades of wartime brown that colored Germany's cities, Nazi Zombie Army bathes the locations in ominous blacks and reds, occult symbols and graffiti plastered across Berlin’s ruins. Impenetrable fog also rises every now and again to halt your progress, and the ‘80s-inspired soundtrack lightens the tone with classic piano/bass guitar refrains common to the older Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday the 13th films.
Minor imperfections still sully NZA's makeup, unfortunately, due to a less-than-optimal checkpoint system. Progress does not save in the middle of a siege, nor always right before, so you may have to replay the last 15 minutes to redeem your previous follies (teammates can be revived when downed during co-op, however). Worse, I walked off a church’s upper balcony and killed myself upon landing after the first boss battle. Entirely my fault, sure, except autosave kicked in as Karl reached terminal velocity, meaning he respawned, flailed helplessly in mid-air, and fell 20 feet to his death repeatedly, leaving me to restart the mission from square one.
Unashamedly, now, I often proclaim myself as a zombie aficionado, but what does that say when even I hesitated to invest the $15 for Nazi Zombie Army? One trailer and eight screenshots made up the range of media available before launch, so I doubtingly added NZA to my Steam cart before worriedly browsing the forums for known crashes. Slowly, then, I let those fears disappear. Although Rebellion's expansion appears little else than a thoughtless shooting gallery, there is an actual end to the onslaughts (unlike Call of Duty’s Nazi Zombies) that I appreciate much more. And as an ode to campy George Romero films, you could waste a lot more money on mindless cooperative fun.
Release Date: February 28, 2013
Number of Players: 1-4 (Campaign)
Platforms: PC (Reviewed)