When I was a kid, I’d sometimes take a dandelion — or a couple dozen of them — and pinch off the head with my thumb while quietly singing “Momma had a baby and the head popped off.” Now, that may sound like an origin story for Leatherface, but it was a fun, and admittedly a little creepy, springtime activity my friends and I would partake in each year.
I’m sharing this because that sums up the essence of what the Zombie Army Trilogy is all about. You find a target, and you pop off its head. The only difference is you’re picking zombies from a horde, as opposed to dandelions from a field.
This is a series that has always known what it is. Developer Rebellion hasn’t done much to change or even refine the formula since the first Nazi Zombie Army game released two years ago, so the first game looks and plays essentially the same as the third, which comes exclusively as a part of this Trilogy bundle.
It’s stubbornness to change is as charming as it is frustrating. It’s unfortunate that greater efforts haven’t been made to improve this series, to elevate it above what it’s been for years now — a confidently C-grade horror game with B-movie charm — to something that’s a more mechanically sound and polished experience. It’s held back by its unwillingness to evolve.
It sounds like I disliked this game, but the opposite is true. The Zombie Army Trilogy is campy, gory fun that borrows heavily from B-grade horror movies from the 80’s. I love that. It’s nostalgia factor can sometimes be overwhelming, especially if you play it with 2-3 horror movie geeks, as I did.
That reminds me — for the love of zombie Hitler, do not, under any circumstances, play this alone.
It’s not worth it. This series only shines when you’re a part of a team. Playing solo takes away its greatest strength. All three campaigns, as well as the new Horde mode, are playable with up to four people, and I highly recommend you never play with less than three.
Let’s talk about that Horde mode for a minute. I don’t get it. Wave survival modes are all the rage, or they were a few years ago. We’ve seen different takes on the popular mode in everything from Halo to Gears of War, Resident Evil, Dead Island, Left 4 Dead, Call of Duty and even Uncharted. Most of the time, its inclusion makes sense. I won’t deny how fun it is to mow down waves of enemies in an arena that’s brimming with them — it just doesn’t make sense here.
If you haven’t played a Zombie Army game, it’s basically a series of arenas that are filled with hordes of enemies that get progressively more difficult. There’s already a Horde mode, it’s called the Zombie Army Trilogy.
So while I can understand wanting to give players another way to play your game, everything you do in its new Horde mode is literally the same thing you’re already doing in the campaigns.
The three campaigns that come bundled in this game are the real reason to play it. I enjoyed playing through them in order of release, because they get more creative the farther you get. The first game was clearly an experiment for Rebellion, and it’s one they’ve clearly had more giddy fun creating over the years.
It should come as no surprise that the third campaign is the strongest of the bunch. The environments, enemies and situations are more enjoyable, and there’s more of a reason to explore all those creepy environments, which had to have been inspired by every haunted house that’s ever been or ever will be. If Alien: Isolation is a haunted house game in a design sense, the Zombie Army Trilogy is in a literal way.
Continuing that haunted house analogy is the narrative, which I don’t think is an exaggeration to call practically nonexistent. That doesn’t necessarily hurt the experience, but it is one more thing that holds it back, because outside of the creative license Rebellion took from the common knowledge that Hitler was somewhat obsessed with the occult and, in the games, used that to raise an army of the undead, I have no idea what else there is as far as the story goes.
The third game does a better job of introducing new NPCs, including a faction of survivors you need to help early on, but the first two still don’t offer much in that department.
There are clear sparks of creativity scattered about its substantial amount of content which I find really appealing, even if much of it is consolidated to small parts, rather than spread evenly throughout. The new Summoner enemy, who spawns hordes of fiery smoke demons, or the new variant of Elites that come armed with chainsaws — because comically tall zombies with LMGs wasn’t terrifying enough — are welcome additions to the series.
The x-ray camera that activates when you pull of a particularly good shot is still the stand-out feature. Watching a bullet whiz by unsuspecting ghouls so it can reach the cranium of the guy in the far back for maximum pointage and in glorious slow-mo is still as satisfying as ever.
They’ve added a new dismemberment mechanic, which I genuinely can’t believe wasn’t in there already — I had to boot up the second game to be sure — so you can really tear those walking corpses apart before you land your killing blow.
Speaking of dealing out killing blows, the kick move felt like it had been made exponentially more useful. Two kicks can kill zombies and only one is required to blast apart a skeleton. I kicked so many skeletons in their stupid, ugly rib cages, you have no idea.
Rebellion also introduced four new female survivors, because the first two games were sausage fests, and the campaigns have been “remastered” to run more smoothly. Visually, I didn’t notice any differences between this and the PC version, which I played on its max settings. There may be a small difference, but if it’s there, it’s negligible.
The Final Word: The Zombie Army Trilogy is silly, B-movie fun. It’s a game that embraces its cliches so it can douse them in gore, haunted house style scares and addictive, if moderately repetitive, co-op goodness.