World War Z is the brand new third person shooter video game, based upon the 2006 book and 2013 film of the same name. Developed by Saber Interactive and published by Focus Home Interactive, the game is now out for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. World War Z is set in a world in which hordes of thousands of zombies hugely outnumber survivors. This game follows groups of these survivors across 4 apocalypse hit cities: Moscow, New York, Jerusalem, and Tokyo. However, does the mixture of these around the world locations, the World War Z brand and zombies provide awesome entertainment? Let’s find out!
Four multi-part missions await players. Taking players on a short “story” arc they are not interlinked, instead being small snapshots into different groups of survivors in the different locations. Whether it is fighting zombies off a train or a boat these aren’t groundbreaking plots, but do enough to feel different and string together the action. Perhaps the biggest issue is that the characters that make up the survivor groups are simply forgettable – they are certainly no Ellis or Bill from the Left 4 Dead franchise.
One saving grace on the character front is that each has their own backstory to unlock. This is a fairly easy task of completing their mission arc as the character, with no obtuse boxes to tick. These backstories give some personality to the otherwise wooden cast, but it comes too late. It would have been more beneficial to grow the attachment to characters before playing as them not after. This was compounded after finishing a level and being completely unable to determine which character I had played as.
Regardless of the character chosen six classes are available. Ranging from the sniper like Fixer to melee crazy Slasher. It is a pleasant change that the game doesn’t railroad each character into a specific class. This may be the cause of the lack of attachment to the individual characters, as they can do any role. This is a necessity given the current drop in and out multiplayer system and the perk system.
Each of the classes has an extensive perk list to progress through, with players needing to unlock a lot if they want to survive harder difficulties. Ranging from the Fixers’s ammo drops to the Medic’s “Good Karma”, which sees the medic get health when healing others, these give players something to unlock along the way. These perks also make characters a bit unique with one players class build different from another players based upon perk unlocks.
The rate at which players unlock perks and gun upgrades is purposefully slow. It is there to instill a wave of replayability via a long list of unlocks. Alas, it can be painful to play a handful of levels with a single gun to only be able to unlock one new part. It turns what could be a rewarding system into a bit of a grind. This won’t be a problem for those willing or wanting to sink many hours in. Nevertheless, it does little to initially encourage this behaviour with an early splattering of exciting unlocks not forthcoming.
World War Z doesn’t skimp on the weapon front. Players will start with a sidearm and primary weapon, from a shotgun to a sniper rifle. These can be upgraded with different stocks, sights and more to buff the weapon stats. Heavy weapons can then be found around the levels, occasionally in horde conflict areas and commonly in breachable side rooms players can locate. Heavy weapons come with limited ammunition and pack a real punch. Grenade launchers for instance are a hyper effective way to blow a blob of zombies up in one go, whilst chainsaws are just satisfying to use.
There is a potential bug for these heavy weapons. Coming with limited ammo they disappear once the rounds are used. However, if a player uses any ammo box they can replenish their heavy ammo too, making levels much easier than they should be. Whilst the upgrading of weapons is a brilliant touch there is a slight issue. It is slightly immersion breaking when you can drop a weapon and a teammate picks it up. Magically your customisation of sights and more are gone. As each player is unlocking and upgrading the classes and weapons individually it makes sense from a unlock system point of view. Simply it rewards players committing to a playstyle, but surely sharing in a cooperative game should be encouraged.
Presentation wise World War Z is a bit of a mixed bag. The levels when looking around are full of awesome details and it is a pretty game at a glance. When in motion there are some lackluster animations that break the immersion of players. The hordes of zombies as a bulk look incredible, almost flowing over and around obstacles. Take a step back and players will notice some of the climbing animation – for getting over cars and such – look like an animation isn’t playing or a placeholder is there at best. Compared to when an awesome pyramid of zombies is forming to climb up a high wall it is surprising animations of such low quality made it into the final product.
World War Z sets itself up for a fall on more than one occasion. A prime example of this is in the Jerusalem level. Part way through players are instructed to retrieve items for a character. Instantly I anticipated an epic battle through a zombie horde to a far away building. Instead, while we got the zombie horde, the journey was merely a trudge next door. There are a few occasions like this where objectives have been added in to bulk out the experience, adding more to do in an area, without ever feeling like something vital has been performed.
The focus of World War Z is cooperative gameplay, working through largely linear missions as a team. There are a couple of variants on this with the option to play the same levels solo with AI teammates as well as a number of adversarial multiplayer modes, which also include large numbers of AI zombies. One glaring omission in terms of coop gameplay is the inability to set up private lobbies to play only with friends if you can’t fill an entire four man team – if you set up a game with a smaller group you will be entered into matchmaking automatically to fill in the remaining slots. A recent twitter post by the developers states that private lobbies are a feature which will be coming soon but at the time of writing they are not available.
The competitive multiplayer sees players in teams taking on each other but it misses the mark on a few aspects. There is a disconnect from the rest of the game in terms of the classes you play as. On top of this it takes the solidly designed story levels, which are ideal for linear progression, and sections out an area to make a map. Tweaks are made but they don’t feel designed for multiplayer in the way players would expect, and are better suited for progression through than a fast shootout. It can inoffensively pass the hours, and having opponents and zombies to deal with is an interesting twist. Still, the drive to continue playing the cooperative gameplay will surely drag many away from the competitive mode.
It might sound like I haven’t enjoyed my time with World War Z and the opposite is true. Blasting pyramids of climbing zombies with a plethora of weapons is always enjoyable. The locations each have their own look to them and the loose story gives some meaning to the linear path from one entertaining activity to the next explosive action section against a phenomenally large horde. World War Z ticks a number of boxes. Where the game lets itself down are issues of not being able to coop with only friends; the way it builds things up to be bigger than they are and a range of odd looking animations. Overall, it feels like a game that should have been released as an Early Access title for the next month or two. With a touch of polish and some quality of life improvements World War Z could be the closest to Left 4 Dead 3 we may get.
[Editor’s Note: World War Z was provided to us by the publisher for the review.]