Review: Sniper Elite: Nazi Zombie Army
2012’s Sniper Elite V2 was a game I very much enjoyed. As opposed to most other modern shooters, it treated the use of a sniper rifle not as a rare pleasure, but as a core part of the game. You were a lone American operative stuck in the middle of Berlin while the Germans and Russians were fighting it out around you. Everybody was your enemy and you had to use both your brains and your aim to survive. The game neatly emphasized the use of traps to cover your flanks and the bullet-cam was a bunch of gory fun. At the end of the day, there are few things more exciting than killing two Germans and a Communist with one bullet without them even knowing you were on the battlefield.
Sniper Elite: Nazi Zombie Army seems to follow up on all that, though I think it’s safe to assume this a non-canon spin-off game. The single-player intro shows Hitler and his remaining officers inside of his bunker, discussing how the war has gone to hell for them and they need to consider their options. Hitler refuses to surrender and orders them to initiate “Plan Z”, which unleashes the undead upon Berlin. You then obtain control over your character and are tasked with finding out what the hell happened and how you’re going to solve it.
Gameplay is pretty much what you would expect from a game that combines the words “Sniper” and “Nazi zombies”; you sneak your way through the streets of Berlin and occasionally stop to put a bullet in a shambling enemy. Since the engine and mechanics have been largely lifted from the previous game in the series, it all works pretty well and in some areas there are even improvements. For example: alive Nazis often died from a single bullet, regardless of where it struck them. By comparison, Nazi Zombies do go down just as easily, but anything besides a headshot gives them a 50/50 chance to come back alive. This forces you to pick your shots more carefully than ever before. Another nice touch is that the traps you can set are now more effective, since zombies prefer to charge your position instead of taking cover miles away.
That’s about all I can say in regards to the gameplay without mentioning Left 4 Dead, which is the title that clearly inspired this game the most. Both games are a 4-player co-op title about finding saferooms while been hunted by an army of zombies that use a number of special infected to introduce a little challenge. According to Steam, I have played both games in the Left 4 Dead series a collective 156 hours and I am not even the biggest fan of the franchise, so trying to compete with those games is a very gutsy move. After playing it for some hours, both solo and with my colleague Nicholas Quiggle, I came to the conclusion that this game does just enough to differentiate it from L4D.
The first major difference is the lack of loading times in this game. Instead of making it to a safehouse and loading a new map, Sniper Elite shuts the door behind you and allows you to stock up on weapons. There might be some loading in the background, but you don’t notice it since you are refilling ammo and replacing empty sub-weapons. There is also no AI director, so each session features the exact same zombies at the exact same locations. This may seem bad, but the game does alter certain events based on the amount of people playing it and having randomized content could conflict with the boss-fights featured in this game. There’s also a load of minor touches that help differentiate the two titles, such as been able to loot enemies for some ammo and the ability to carry multiple explosive weapons.
Not all changes are for the better, though, and I feel the game has failed to learn some important lessons from Valve’s epic. One notable example is the reviving of fallen comrades, which became necessary when Nicholas managed to die mere minutes after leaving the previous safehouse. Whereas Left 4 Dead allows your fallen friends to spawn in locked rooms, Sniper Elite forces you to push through to the next checkpoint, which can take anywhere from two to twenty minutes. I have also gone on record for saying that the AI partners in most Valve games are absolute shit, but shitty AI is still better than none at all; if you play singleplayer, then you will literally be alone and nobody will be there to help you with some of the boss-fights that were clearly meant to have one player keep Nazis at bay while another deals with the actual boss.
By far my biggest complaint would be with the lack of a LAN mode, though. I know that nowadays playing games online is considered the norm, but there is a still a sizable market of people seeking to play games together with their friends from time to time. A 4-player co-op title is perfect for the so-called LAN-parties, but by limiting your multiplayer to online only, you are actively cutting off a part of your audience. These aren’t just the whines of a guy with poor internet, though; they are the legitimate complaints of a person who can’t ever finish a mission because everybody besides himself will have disconnected two levels into a chapter. Adding salt to injury, it’s impossible for players to join missions when they are already in progress. Finally, be sure to bring your own friends if you plan to play this, because the amount of people who play this game is barely equal to that of a mediocre shooter from three years ago.
Talking about games from three years ago, Nazi Zombie Army kind of looks like one. The textures are very standard and bland, but the level-design is what absolutely kills it. Levels are entirely linear with very little room to move around in, which begs the question why you would bother building a game around sniping if most of it takes place in enclosed environments like hallways and small buildings. Most of it also feels rather pointless because enemies can spawn from pretty much anywhere the designers want to, regardless of whether or not there is an actual entry point. One scene that stuck out was when a horde of zombies entered into the small, one-way alley me and my team dropped into. It was pretty tense and fun, but then the game just popped Nazis into existence right behind us. This is not something you can do in a finished product; I’d personally be ashamed to have that happen in a freaking Beta build.
Since I played this game together with Nicholas (and I am running out of things to say), I decided to let him word his own thoughts about this game before we discuss a recommendation:
“Well, I went into the game expecting to play an uninspired cash in on the zombie craze. I came out feeling the same way, but had a surprising amount of fun. Lining up headshots on the slow moving zombies and enemy snipers felt rewarding as the game scored you based on range. As far as the structure goes, the game is undeniably similar to Left 4 Dead, but overall lacks the charm of that game.”
To end this review, I’d like to say that I had fun with this game. However, way back when I first started reviewing I was given a piece of advice and that advice was “A game that is fun doesn’t necessarily have to be good; a bad game can be fun as well.” This is one of those cases were a fundamentally bad game is rather enjoyable. If you can drum up two or three friends to play this with, then you are guaranteed to have some fun times. If you attempt to play this alone, however, then you will quickly notice the unpolished gameplay and cheaply designed nature of this game.