Much like the creatures that inhabit it, the zombie genre in general feels like it’s been slowly decaying for some time now. The announcement of ‘another’ zombie game is met with almost as much apathy as ‘another’ battle royale title, but nevertheless there’s still a slight feeling that the genre ironically still has some life left in it. Enter World War Z, a AA third-person co-op shooter from Saber Interactive that draws heavy inspiration from the runaway hit Left 4 Dead. So is it a title worthy of snacking on your brain and wallet, or is it a case of World War Zzzzzzz?
Black Hawk down
As could probably be gleaned from the title, the game is inspired by the 2013 film of the same name, which itself was inspired by the 2006 book of the same name. ‘Inspired by’ ends up being a very loose term indeed, as the links to the film are tenuous at best. In fact, the campaign is nearly devoid of any meaningful story at all (like the movie), so for anyone hoping Brad Pitt will swing in and give the narrative some substance (or just stare longingly into your eyes, who am I to judge?), you will be sorely disappointed. The game is first and foremost a zombie-murdering simulator, where you and three other survivors battle through waves of the undead for fun and profit.
The major selling point for World War Z is the sheer number of Z’s that can attack you at once. Being the faster variation of Zeke made popular by 28 Days Later and (the far superior Korean film Train to Bhusan), when you’ve got hundreds of these bad boys running at you, the result can be fairly impressive. Each mission within the four episodes generally has the same flow – get from point A to point B then hole up and defend point B before moving on to point C (then hole up and defend point C, of course). It’s a fairly basic setup, but the missions flow well and are fast-paced. The defence objectives are definitely a highlight, as the game flexes its ability to throw hundreds of zombies at you at once, and you are forced to fortify a position and keep them from overwhelming you and your survivor friends.
The gameplay of the campaign would wear thin very quickly due to its repetitive nature, but is elevated by a persistent levelling mechanic and class-based system. Playing as a particular class (of which there are six) gives you access to specific perks and starting weapons, and as you level up your class you’ll get access to more powerful weaponry and better perks that you can then customise your build with. This becomes essential if you want to tackle the higher difficulties. I took a shine to the straightforward Gunslinger class, which offers perks involving improving weapon handling and damage buffs, but you’ll no doubt find a wide variety of people wielding many classes, as all are useful, particularly at higher levels. Separate to this, guns will also level up as you use them, and these are shared amongst classes.
The levelling and sense of progression is something that drew me in with the campaign and made the idea of running through repeat missions palatable, however there are some design choices I was not enamoured with. First up against the wall is friendly fire. This is a feature that WWZ shares in common with L4D, and it is just as annoying. I don’t think it really adds much to the experience except for getting in the way (quite literally) of a good time, and if you’re playing online then you’re also going to have to deal with the folks who think a friendly fire mechanic is carte blanche for general arseholery. Secondly, the missions do not have checkpoints. In the game’s defence each mission is quite short, but the pain of a complete restart is a little off-putting in a title that is already flirting dangerously with repetition. Lastly, escort missions. Cast them to the fiery depths of Hell from whence they came. There are only a couple of sections where you have to escort someone here or there, but failing a mission because an NPC carks it is a mechanic that is universally disliked. It is known. As a side note, it is criminal that the game can’t be played on local split-screen, as it an experience that is much more fun when shared with friends.
Stop, criminal scum!
These are not your grandaddy’s zombies…
World War Z is a game that continually surprised me. In a genre that is showing clear signs of fatigue, WWZ managed to pull me in with some simple-minded zombie killing bolstered by meaningful progression and thoughtful class-based gameplay
Separate to the campaign, WWZ also totes a dedicated multiplayer mode. Like a doomsday prepper I was ready for the worst, but all in all I found it surprisingly engaging. The same enticing progression and class-based system from the campaign is present here, and gameplay is spread across several fun modes. Due to a lower player count your best bet is to jump into the Quick Match selection, which true to its name quite quickly matches you up with other players in a random mode. Despite the fact the search area is quite wide (I’m from Melbourne and I was getting matched up occasionally with players from South East Asia), matches are mostly smooth and stable. It’s testament to the dedication of a small team in bringing good quality multiplayer to a title that runs well rather than just tacking it on.
In terms of multiplayer modes (all of which are small 4v4 affairs) you have your run-of-the-mill Team Deathmatch, Domination and King of the Hill variants, but there are also solid additions such as Scavenger. In Scavenger you pick up supply caches which contribute to the overall score of your team. In a fun twist, if you are killed then you drop your collection of supply caches (and your team loses the associated score), which are then able to be picked up by the person that killed you. Towards the end of the match there will be a few characters carrying a large amount of caches which are up for grabs if you can kill them, and the score flips back and forth wildly.
Zombie aligning his chakras with yoga
The stealth approach
Of course, all these modes feature varying amounts of zombies, and periodically a huge wave of them will appear on the map in a random location and wreak havoc. You can kill them for cheap XP, but in general it’s better to run away and hope you can pick off an opponent who is getting harassed by them. The only criticism I would have in the multiplayer is that movement feels a little stilted, particularly the unresponsive sprint toggle. The stiff movement is something it shares with the campaign but is more marked given the fast-paced competition you’re up against in fairly tight maps. All things considered though, it’s the multiplayer that will likely keep me coming back to World War Z.
World War Z is a game that continually surprised me. In a genre that is showing clear signs of fatigue, WWZ managed to pull me in with some simple-minded zombie killing bolstered by meaningful progression and thoughtful class-based gameplay. While it’s not the prettiest or most polished zombie experience getting around, it nails its brief of being fun and engaging. Like the humans that feature in this zombie apocalypse, WWZ’s survival is not certain, and in a market rich with online titles vying for attention only time will tell if it’s got the legs to form a dedicated community . It’s certainly worth a shot if killing zombies is your jam though, and might just tide you over until Left 4 Dead 3…
Reviewed on PS4 | Review code supplied by publisher