Considering that World War Z, the film starring Brad Pitt based on the book that didn’t star Brad Pitt, came out waaaaay back in 2013 it seems a tad odd to release an official World War Z videogame some six years later. And yet here we are. But despite being based upon the movie World War Z is much more like a sequel to Left 4 Dead 2 in spirit, if not in name. Also, this doesn’t star Brad Pitt, either.
Instead of one big narrative that perhaps acts as a sequel to the movie there are basically four mini-campaigns spread across four different regions: New York, Jeurselum, Moscow and Japan. And each of those gets 3 small missions. In a nice touch each of the four locations has its own band of playable characters, so you’re basically following four short tales of survivors attempting to escape, rescue somebody or both. But ultimately these characters are forgettable and the stories are as strong as wet paper. A few cutscenes attempt to justify what you’re doing, but you’ll have forgotten them as soon as they’ve finished.
But let’s be honest, none of us are here for the story. Nah, we’re here for the zombies and the shooting of said zombies. Right, so here’s the basics; you and three other players will team up to run through levels while picking up weapons and gunning down hundreds of zombies. There’s not a lot to actually talk about when it comes to these core mechanics; the 3rd person combat is fine, though the guns feel a little weedy. Zombies can be mown down with ease, especially if you nail those headshots, and they can even get their arms and legs blown, shot or chopped off.
What sets this apart from its obvious Left 4 Dead inspiration are the six classes that you can choose from. Every class has about 30 different perks to purchase. My preference was the medic because many of the perks are geared toward helping others to benefit yourself. One perk, for example, makes it so that using a med-kit on another player heals me for 50% as well. You can take one perk from each column, totalling 6 perks. This gives plenty of room for specializing your build.
In terms of shooty stuff there’s a pretty standard selection of weapons. Assault rifles, shotguns, SMGs and more are strewn around the levels just waiting to be picked up and put to good use. As you use them you’ll unlock more powerful versions that can be bought using the supplies you earn after each mission. Combined with purchasing perks there’s a lot to unlock and play with, provided that you’re willing to grind a bit to get it all.
This is absolutely meant to be played with friends, but you can also play with A.I. in case you want to avoid humans entirely or with a mixture of people and A.I. These artificial players are something of a mixed bag, being surprisingly helpful when it comes to gunning down zombies and picking you up when you’re downed. However, when it comes to their fellow A.I. they are strangely uncaring and will happily watch on as an A.I. is brutally massacred in front of them. It’s frankly a little creepy. I mean, I’ve seen A.I. being mauled to death by a Lurker while his comrade watches on, almost like there’s some sort of dark, personal history between the two of them.
In other words, while the A.I. works and is fun to play with this is a much stronger game when played with friends or random players. For this reason I appreciate that the developers did include a few tricks to help people who don’t play with a mic. You can drop markers on the map and even highlight weapons or equipment pickups, as well as point out specific enemies. Good stuff.
What isn’t so good is trying to heal other players. There’s a notable delay between looking at another player and the option to heal them popping up, and in that time they’ve usually run off. To be fair, if you have a mic you can simply tell them to stop being a stupid bitch and stand still, but quite a few times I went in without a mic and wound up in absurd chases around the map trying to heal players.
I did appreciate that stealth is an option, too. Typically, you start off with a silenced pistol, but other quiet weapons are available. Providing you nail head shots or take a zombie down quickly then nearby undead will ignore you. With some careful teamwork you can work through whole chunks of levels without having to deal with rampaging hordes of zombies. Of course, when playing with random people things tend to be more…er, chaotic.
Individually zombies are about as threatening as a pissed off bunny rabbit. But as a horde they are much more formidable. This is where World War Z excels; zombie hordes include hundreds of corpses and they flow across the landscape like a decaying tidal wave of flesh. It’s a cool sight to behold, and just like in the movie the zombies will form pyramids out of themselves in order to get up to high areas. Unload a couple of magazines into the unfortunate zombies stuck at the bottom of the pyramid and you can bring the whole thing crashing down like a crappy cheerleading team. Facing off against the mega-hordes of putrid undead is a great moment that never actually got old. Everytime I saw them gushing out of pipes and pouring over fences it brought a grin to my face.
A few times throughout a level you’ll be informed that a massive swarm is on its way. With about 90 seconds on the clock your team have a chance to gather up and deploy electrified fences, heavy machine guns and autoturrets. I love these moments where everyone frantically grabs when they can, snatches up some ammo and then turns to look at the horizon, just waiting for inevitable wave of putrifying corpses to come crashing down. On the harder difficulties it takes genuine skill and teamwork to come through unscathed.
over the years we’ve seen so many interesting types of zombie in video games to battle. It’s a little frustrating, then, that World War Z has just four distinct zombies outside of the standard shambling variety. There’s the bull who simply charges in to grab a player; the gasbag who explodes into a cloud of poisonous gas upon death; the screamer that will alert endless hordes of zombies until gunned down; and finally the lurker who loves to hide around corners and leap on unsuspecting players. Comparitvely speaking Left 4 Dead 2, which launched in 2009, has eight special zombie types.
Perhaps worse is that you’ll fight against all of those zombies in the first 30-60 minutes of the game. In fact, you’ll have experienced everything the game has to offer within that time frame. There are no new zombies to encounter, no gameplay twists along the way. Nothing. And while the levels may look visually different they have nothing else to set themselves apart. One level plays exactly like the next, though there are a couple of fun set-piece moments like running up a staircase while zombies rain down from above.
Replay value suffers because of this, too. You’ll blitz through the campaign in a couple of hours and the idea is to play through it again and again. But whereas Left 4 Dead 2 had a special A.I. designed to alter enemy and item spawns based on team performance, World War Z has nothing like that. Or at least, if it does I haven’t noticed it. Every level will play out mostly the same as it did before.
BUT! Here’s the important bit: this is a budget title, clearly made without massive backing and it’s being sold at a budget price of just $40. The clear limitations are much easier to overlook when you aren’t having to break the bank account to buy the game. So far it seems World War Z has sold pretty well, shifting over a million copies, and that opens the way for DLC and updates which expand the amount of content on offer.
Plus, you’ve got the much more challenging difficulty levels to tackle which ramp up the zombie threat by whole hell of a lot. Defence sections become desperate battles to hold on, team-mates get pinned under a mass of seething bodies and it’s just a much more fun and engaging game overall.
If you get bored with fending off tides of undead with a few other players there’s also a competitive multiplayer on offer. Two teams of four players each face off across a couple of standard game modes. It’d be nothing more than a small distraction if it wasn’t for the fact that zombies are thrown into the mix. Suddenly the choice of whether to hold an objective point or not becomes much more interesting when a horde of undead are inbound. The core combat is nothing special and certainly wouldn’t hold up to much if it was purely player vs player, but with zombies mixed into the action you might actually find yourself sinking a chunk of time into it.
In many ways I could argue that World War Z isn’t a very good game. The combat is nothing exciting, there’s not much content, there’s very little story and it features one of the most overused enemies outside of Nazis. But there’s a fun simplicity to the action, like sitting back with a bucket of popcorn and enjoying a B-grade zombie flick. Mowing down an impressively vast horde of undead is cathartic. I’ve found myself with the urge to go and play a match or two each day.
If you’re looking for a co-op game with a Left 4 Dead flavor then I’d recommend Warhammer: Vermintide 2 first and foremost. But if you absolutely must have zombies and guns then World War Z is surprisingly entertaining stuff that might fill the void that has yet to be filled by Left 4 Dead 3. Maybe. Standing your ground against a tidal wave of corpses is thrilling stuff.
3.5 out of 5