Is Rebellion's return trip to the good old gaming days of World War 2 shooters and occult-powered Nazi enemies, painted with a modern coat of glossy graphics and third-person gameplay, a nostalgia-filled trip of fun and adventure or does it, like a poorly-sighted sniper, miss its mark?
A word of advice to future game designers: If you are going to create a game that has a specific action in the title, you might want to focus much of the gameplay on said behavior, otherwise, there’s not much of a point of using it in the title, is there? That’s a reasonable request, right? With that in mind, and, as a once and current fanboy of Return to Castle Wolfenstein, I entered the world of Sniper Elite: Nazi Zombie Army with dreams of once again enjoying a supernatural-themed World War 2 shooter--especially in today’s modernized combat world--where I methodically and quietly picked off Hitler’s army of decomposing goose-steppers as I moved stealthily between firebombed buildings, searching for optimal areas to split zombie wigs with rifles from World War 2.
Unfortunately, that's not the experience Rebellion provided.
It’s not so much that it's a bad game; instead, Nazi Zombie Army commits perhaps an even greater sin in the video game universe: it’s pretty boring. The would-be fun starts--after a cutscene of Das Fuhrer enacting “Plan Z”--by dropping the (assumed American) soldier behind enemy lines, somewhere near Berlin. From there, you simply advance to the next yellow dot, (checkpoint) and dispatch a few dozen Nazi Zombies, complete with a nifty cutscene for every headshot (BOOM!) or vital organ hit.
What, perhaps, should have been an exercise in locating secluded areas to pick off Zacked-out Nazis, stealthily moving from one to another in an attempt to stay hidden from your brain-eating enemies, has been reduced to “survive the next wave of zombies with limited ammunition” gameplay as the player moves from checkpoint to checkpoint, periodically arriving at safe houses where supplies can be replenished. From here, the act is repeated: move the next yellow dot and survive the next round of incoming zombies. Rinse, wash, repeat. Perhaps the most grating thing here is sniping isn’t a necessary part of the game to survive the impending undead onslaughts.
Throughout the game, players have access to automatic weapons, shotguns, Panzerfausts(!!!), as well as a litany of throwables like dynamite and grenades. The developers captured the look and feel of that era’s guns quite well, at least for my taste. Granted, I am not an expert of firearms, but I did enjoy "the feel" using the rifles Rebellion makes available to the player. Their presentation adds to the atmosphere, and I would’ve liked to use them in more favorable conditions. Unfortunately, the presentation of the rifles was one of the game’s few bright spots.
As for the gameplay, the control isn’t horrible, but the third-person presentation limits the title in ways the FPS presentation would not. Perhaps I am spoiled, but the first-person perspective would have contributed significantly Nazi Zombie Army’s enjoyment. With the over-the-shoulder view, movement is laborious and the range of vision is frustrating. The camera moves in a deliberate manner, making swift, quick movement associated with such a stealthy act as sniping almost non-existent. Speaking of sniping, players can use the scoped rifles if they want to, but the act of kneeling in the middle of the road, picking off a group of slow-moving ghouls in SS uniforms as they try to outflank you are not the actions of a sniper.
In fact, snipers avoid exposure to wide-open areas with large groups of targets altogether.
If you add the lack of coherent story to the non-existent character developments, and what’s required of the player, the total sum is not representative of a full title. Instead, Sniper Elite: Nazi Zombie Army comes across as more of a mini-game addition one would play after beating the main story. Considering the $15 price point, however, it’s clear delivering a multi-stage game that moves all over Eastern Europe, dispatching Hitler’s minions with stealth and deadly precision was not in Rebellion’s plans. Perhaps my nostalgic love for everything in the RTCW title--including the fantastic Enemy Territory expansion--drives my desire here, but I would be as giddy as a child on soft drinks and cotton candy if such a development came about. Hell, the DLC could feature an “Enemy at the Gates versus Nazi Zombies” scenario set in Russia, and there wouldn’t be a damn thing wrong with that either.
As it stands, for your (granted, smaller amount of) money, you get essentially what amounts to as a rinse-and-repeat survival mode that takes place in a foggy, dark environment, and does not deliver on the potential for fun the title suggests. Speaking of the game’s look, well, it isn’t great, but it isn’t horrible. It’s just bland. And grey. I know it's supposed to representative of a war torn environment, but that doesn’t mean everything has to have a monotone haze to it, either.
For those who are still willing to give Nazi Zombie Army a shot, there is a cooperative gameplay mode where up to four players can deal out lead-lined death to the shambling hordes. While this is something of nod to Left 4 Dead, Rebellion’s offering lacks the personality, frenetic fun and the fantastic environments Valve’s does; but then again, Rebellion probably didn’t spend as much time and money developing the Sniper Elite series as Valve did with L4D. There are safe houses though. The co-op is not a make, nor is it a break. I just hope you have luck finding a game.