The opening cinematic to Sniper Elite: Nazi Zombie Army gives you all the info you need to know. The Allies are kicking Nazi butt, Hitler’s desperate, some nice, cheesy ‘70s synth style music to set the mood… oh, and the hordes upon hordes of zombies he unleashes. The core of Sniper Elite: Nazi Zombie Army (NZA) is a survival third-person shooter, as opposed to the stealthy third-person shooter that was Sniper Elite V2. As you traverse the supernaturally overcast war-torn streets of Germany you’ll be pitted against the undead hordes of Hitler’s once great army – over and over and over again.
There are a few different varieties of zombies, including a suicide bomber, a sniper that can leap from rooftop to rooftop, and a minigun wielding toughie, that you’ll face in addition to the standard shambling, moaning variety. You’ll find little cover to hide behind that will be of any real benefit, so you’ll be forced to shoot them up close and personal eventually. As a result, NZA feels like Left 4 Dead set in World War II. This isn’t a bad thing as Left 4 Dead was a great co-op game and NZA does have a strong co-op element. Unlike those other two zombie games, though, NZA just doesn’t quite know when to stop - more on that in a bit. Right now, guns!
To help you fend off these brain hungry walkers, you’ve got a small arsenal at your disposal including your trusty sniper rifle, a shotgun or machine gun, a pistol, and a variety of explosives. Getting headshots with any of these weapons will result in the quickest way to dispatch the zombies and conserve ammo (though you can search corpses for more), and of course, getting a headshot using your sniper rifle will result in the famed “x-ray killcam” (when playing single-player). In Sniper Elite V2, this was a really nice effect that helped to highlight a particularly good shot in the midst of a tense firefight. In NZA, you can get 6 of these types of kill shots in a row due to the sheer number of enemies you’re presented with at one time. Enemies that are all slow-moving and don’t shoot back. All that slo-mo, zoom in, x-ray death can get to be a bit much. Fortunately, you can scale down its frequency in the options menu.
They come with the mist...
The particular gear you use can be selected at the start of the mission, and each rifle and gun has its own strengths and weaknesses. Some rifles have a faster fire rate at the cost of a smaller clip or a greater recoil, while others have less bullet drop over long distances. These types of factors, the bullet drop and muzzle velocity, play into things a little more on the harder difficulty levels, but really, it’s all about finding that rifle/gun that you like. If it turns out that a Mosin Nagant isn’t the rifle for you don’t worry – the safe rooms that are routinely placed throughout the level provide you with the opportunity to get more ammo and swap out your loadout. Another little Left 4 Dead nod there, too, with the safe rooms. Anyways, these rooms also act as very critical checkpoints for your progression as, once you start a level, well, you’re in it for the long haul.
Many depictions of a doomsday zombie scenario focus on the seemingly sheer hopelessness of the protagonists’ struggles against the unrelenting tides of walking dead. NZA certainly keeps up with that feeling, though, in its particular execution that’s not a good thing. The typical flow of a level will be to fight off a set horde of zombies in an area then move forward to a new objective or safe room. Rinse and repeat.
These zombie waves are fun and, at times, require some strategic thinking to find the best defensible spot so you can force the hordes into a choke point. The problem is that there are just too many of these situations in one level. The average clear time for one chapter, assuming you don’t die and have to restart at a checkpoint, is around 30 minutes. That may not seem like a whole lot, but when you’re staring down the scope at yet another zombie in a WWII helmet while his buddy’s gnawing on your foot... let’s just say that a few intense moments over a short period of time feel better than a lot of moments over a long period of time.
There is a lot of good creepy atmosphere to the game. A little girl singing a nursery rhyme is heard over this moment
There are a total of five chapters in NZA and if they had split the levels in half to make 10, or even just cut a few of the chapters down to half their length, then things would feel about right. As it is the action tends to drag on a bit. In single-player you can stop and pick up at the last checkpoint in a level; in cooperative play, you’re just going to have to knock it all out in one go.
The length of these levels (paired with the inability to save your co-op campaign progression) and the lack of a drop-in/drop-out system are without a doubt the biggest drawbacks to NZA. When you start up a cooperative game, you go through the usual motions of making it a private/public match, which level and at what difficulty level you wish to play, and inviting friends to join you. Once the game starts, though, you’re locked into things – meaning if anyone drops out due to connectivity issues, you won’t be able to invite them back. Not a big deal if you could just stop the game, invite them back in, and pick up from where you left off. However, if you stop playing the current level you’re on, you have to start it all over again from the very beginning; the past 15 or 20 minutes of hard-fought progress is wiped clean. So like I said before, once you start a level, you’re pretty much in it for the long haul.
The upside to all of this is that the game truly feels like it was made with co-op play in mind. If a friend goes down in the middle of a fight, you have a minute to get to them and revive before they bleed out. If you fail, they come back at the next safe house/checkpoint. The number of zombies you face also scale impressively with the number of players. One additional player can give you and your friend a little bit of a challenge, while a full co-op crew of four will pit you against the entire population of Germany. So, your tactics for a particular encounter may change slightly when you’re playing with just one other friend as opposed to three. As an added incentive there is a scoring system in place that lets you get a friendly little competition going for who can get the highest scoring single shot or who has the highest overall score at the end. This particular aspect helps to lessen the sometimes repetitiveness of the levels.
Red glowing lights and symbols like these are usually signs for a family picnic; something must have gone wrong
Perhaps the greatest aspect of NZA’s co-op is that it captures those little “water cooler stories” that Left 4 Dead was basically built upon. When a friend goes down underneath a group of zombies, fighting through the undead horde surrounding him or her and just managing to revive him or her becomes a story you’ll share with them for some time.
During one particular survival wave, Nick had completely run out of bullets and the end was in sight. I was taking down the threats as best as I could, but I was running low on ammo, too. Then, one of the tough minigun zombies appears. Somehow, Nick found a corpse with just two bullets on it, and between those two bullets and my remaining ammo, we just managed to clear it all. We had just enough time to revel in this victory before we progressed to the next safe house, the next encounter, and the next story.
Sniper Elite: Nazi Zombie Army is one of those games that presents an interesting conundrum. It definitely has flaws; flaws that can seem quite glaring and apparent when played for any length of time. Those same flaws, however, become less noticeable when played in short bursts, and a somewhat minor nuisance when you really get into the thick of things with your friends. There is a strong sense of cooperation that is at the core of this game, and NZA’s $15 price tag makes it worth a playthrough or two with your favorite gaming pals.
Just don’t try to do it all at once.