Hitler’s obsession with the occult is fairly well documented, and while the real world didn’t see the genocidal dictator unleashing supernatural horrors upon the world, that’s provided more than a little fodder for fictional works set in and around World War 2. The Zombie Army series (originally Nazi Zombie Army) might start off with a scene that mimics that eminently meme-able scene from Downfall, but just seconds later you’ll see zombies rising out of the ground across a war-torn Germany.
We’ve been here before, with the series starting on PC in 2013 before heading to consoles with Zombie Army Trilogy in 2015, and it was dug up again in February for Zombie Army 4: Dead War on PS4, Xbox One and PC. But don’t worry, Switch owners, Rebellion hasn’t forgotten about you. Zombie Army Trilogy is out today for Nintendo’s plucky hybrid console.
So, yes, it’s yet another port of a five-year-old game to Nintendo Switch, the zombies that you’ll be shooting at particularly apt enemies given how often this kind of thing is happening. Warming up some great games from yesteryear isn’t necessarily bad – you get to pretend it’s not 2020, for one thing – but there is perhaps a touch of unfortunate timing for Zombie Army Trilogy on Switch.
You see, I’ve just been playing Zombie Army 4: Dead War. That game was a huge step forward for the series, as Rebellion have refined and enhanced their brand of co-op gaming a great deal since the mid-2010s. Going back to Zombie Army Trilogy feels neutered and simplified by comparison.
Admittedly, a big part of that comes from the first two campaigns, which took the levels from Sniper Elite V2 and redressed them for the purpose of letting hordes of zombies shamble toward you. It’s only for “Zombie Army 3” (which was never available outside of this trilogy) that Rebellion came to the table with a blank sheet of paper, drawing up five devilish completely new levels and filling them with enemies and gruelling zombie-killing battles to wade through.
Zombie Army 4 was much more ambitious than that third campaign in terms of level design, but where it really pushed the boat out was with its weaponry. Sure, the fundamentals remain the same, with sniping and landing headshots on zombies the game’s bread and butter, but Zombie Army 4 gives you explosive ammunition in your bullet pouch, electric gizmos to stick on the end of your barrel, characters with unique perks and new elemental melee attacks. Going back to Zombie Army Trilogy feels so much plainer.
Then again, that’s what this game was all along. Even compared to its peers in Left 4 Dead or Call of Duty’s Zombies modes, it was always that slow, methodical sniping gameplay married to sharpshooting hordes of erratically moving zombie noggins. It’s less about fast-paced thrills and spills, and more about the steadily growing pressure as you miss your shots and the mass of bodies gets closer and closer. That’s before you throw in the heavy enemies that require repeated targeted shots. That straightforward gameplay is part of Zombie Army Trilogy’s charms, but it does feel like a backward step.
Playing on Switch, it takes a little while to acclimatise to the controls. There’s a degree of aim acceleration that kicks in after half a second when aiming down sights, that just felt a little bit off when in handheld in comparison to other shooters. To start with, I was constantly overshooting my target and having to re-adjust my aim again. You do acclimatise to it, but it initially feels different to the game on PS4. It took a stint playing with the game hooked up to a TV to realise and playing with a Pro Controller to realise that the Switch Joy-Con’s 3/4″ size was exacerbating the issue. With less travel to the sticks, you need smaller movements to make minor aim adjustments when looking down sights. Strangely, this wasn’t something that I felt while playing Sniper Elite 3 Ultimate, but the erratic motion of the zombies combined with the sway of the rifle scope really amplified it for me here.
Thankfully, just as in Sniper Elite 3 Ultimate, Rebellion have added in motion controlled aiming. It’s not turned on by default – head to Options > Controls > Motion Controls to find the options – but it’s something that I feel is almost essential. It doesn’t completely take over aiming, but instead adds a degree of aftertouch for you to gently tilt your aim in a particular direction. It’s worth trying out and tweaking the sensitivity to your liking.
Thankfully, one thing you won’t be battling is the frame rate, which is practically locked to 30fps during gameplay – cutscenes… are another matter, but it’s not a particularly cutscene heavy game. That’s a step down from the unlocked frame rate fo the game on PS4, but where that version would float between the mid-40s to 50s, there’s an absolute solidity on Switch.
The game’s visual style heavily inspired by 70s and 80s horror B-movies is here in full with atmospheric lighting moody fog, but as you’d expect, it’s not as thick or as high quality as found on PS4. Similarly, shadows are blockier and lower resolution, and there’s no anti-aliasing, which does the game’s often simplistic building geometry no favours. Even so, it’s a straight 720p in handheld and 980p when docked, by our count.
I think the real question for Zombie Army Trilogy is who you’re going to play with. The game is by far best enjoyed with others – well, so long as they’re not dimwits that can’t understand how to revive or who refuse to get into the sodding safe room – but a Switch port of a five year old co-op game is a niche within a niche. The game sports both online and local ad hoc co-op, with support for the Switch’s friend invite system for private games, but if you can’t bring your own buddies, there’s no lobby browser as found in Zombie Army 4, and so you’ll be casting your net to the wind with the Quick Play option.
Zombie Army Trilogy for Switch is a solid port of a solid zombie co-op shooter. It’s not really more than that, but then it’s not trying to be. Just make sure you turn on motion controls, try to bring friends with you, and accept that you won’t have the same whizz-bang toys you would have when playing Zombie Army 4.