Unpopular opinion, but I absolutely loved World War Z the movie. So much so that I was truly gutted to learn that its sequel was cancelled earlier this year. Though, not all was lost, because despite my crushed heart, I knew World War Z the game was on the horizon. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. Yet again, another zombie game, right? Well, normally I would be right there with you, but in the face of the cancelled Overkill’s The Walking Dead, World War Z has that extra bit of weight riding on its shoulders, and let me tell you, now that it’s here, it isn’t half bad.
Think of World War Z as a take on Left 4 Dead, only trade first-person perspective for third person-perspective, and slap a movie license on it. Does it work? Yes, despite a range of issues, it works a lot better than I thought it would. Sadly, the story is what holds it back quite a bit. The shame here is that this could have been its greatest strength had the developer spent time toying around with the source material, but instead, we merely get a half-baked attempt in its place. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some interesting moments, but it’s far from captivating.
The game’s campaign is split into four episodes, each taking place at different parts in the world, with each sporting a unique cast of characters. Regardless as to where you are or who you’re playing as, the main underlining objective is to survive. The game can be played with up to three additional players, with online functionality to boot. The first of the four episodes takes you to New York and throws you into the role of four survivors that need to escape through the subway to get to an evacuation center on the Hudson River. Sounds simple enough, right?
Wrong. The city is heaving with zekes (that’s zombies, to you and I) that want nothing more than to crash your party. You’ll need to play carefully yet fiercely if you want to make it through in one piece. There’s set objectives that you’ll need to contend with throughout, but for the most part, simply staying alive is the prize catch. Throughout the course of natural play, you’ll unlock character biographies that can be viewed in the main menu hub for some added insight, which also helps to add a bit of background info and ultimately lends the story some weight.
The second episode of the package takes you to Jerusalem, with the third sending you to Moscow, and the fourth to Tokyo. Each episode brings a distinct challenge and some episode-specific objectives, though for the majority, the gameplay tends to remain the same. This is where most comparisons between World War Z and Left 4 Dead will be drawn, being that much of your time spent in each episode consists of little more than constantly fighting back against the hordes of the undead, with a few of the aforementioned objectives spicing things up.
The objectives themselves are not really innovative so to speak; defend this, gather that, kill a set number of these. There’s nothing wrong with that, mind, but don’t come into this with any expectation that the developer has used gameplay originality, because they haven’t. That being said, there’s one element of play that effortlessly stands out; swarms. Now, if you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about, simply due to how distinct of an effect it is. Essentially, zekes will flood the screen in ways that puts Dead Rising to shame, three times over.
Hundreds upon hundreds of zekes can overthrow you at the drop of a hat, and to avoid this as best you can, you’ll need to travel lightly. Zekes almost always travel in packs, often in groups of three to four, shuffling about in silent unity. However, make the mistake of making a loud noise, and you’re going to get swarmed. If that happens, and much like in the source material, zekes will come at you from all angles, and retain the ability to form a pyramid pile-on to reach greater heights and overthrow you. What’s especially impressive, however, is the detail.
Not only has the developer managed to perfectly replicate this rather terrifying encounter, but they’ve done so with a great deal of distinction from zeke to zeke. No two zekes look identical, each sporting their own clothing and expression. It’s a technical triumph that simply must be praised. These moments of swarming is what really helps to sell the experience, and despite how many zombie games I’ve played in my time, the tension that strikes when a swarm is upon you is like nothing else. It’s thoroughly gut wrenching and terrifying, and it never, ever gets old.
Of course, all is not lost when you do find yourselves swarmed. Some player to player coordination and timed attacks – such as shooting the foot of the pyramid – will see you through most encounters, but you’ll need all the ammo you can get to see most bouts to an end. There’s a few variations of zekes to work through too. Not only will you have your bog standard zekes to kill, but special zekes; such as riot-gear zekes, zekes that emit harmful toxins once killed, and more. There’s not a great deal of depth on this front, but enough to keep it feeling stale.
The game sports five difficulty settings to work through, beginning with easy through to insane. The differences in difficulty is night and day. For instance, on easy, friendly fire is not a bother and you’ll find heaps of materials all over the shop. Insane, however, is brutal, even the slightest spot of friendly fire can kill you, zekes are relentless, materials are scarce, and worse, you cant be revived. There’s enough choice on offer to give you some variation, and a neat quick-play feature to get you straight in if you want to test out different options.
There’s six classes to choose from; gunslinger, hellraiser, medic, fixer, slasher, and exterminator. Each class has thirty upgrades to purchase and select, which mostly unfolds throughout the course of play so long as you’re getting your hands dirty. There’s enough distinction on offer here to make each class feel unique and robust, each coming with their own unique pros and cons. I can say the same about the game’s weaponry. Spread across three sets of base weapon types, all weapons come with a maximum of five tiers.
You’ll work through these tiers by using whatever weapon you gravitate towards, ultimately increasing power and effectiveness as you take down more enemies, complete with attachments and further useful tidbits that bolster your overall capability. When you’re not using your primary and secondary weapon, you’ll be enjoying the game’s more outlandish firepower, the heavy weapons. These tools of destruction can get you out of a tight spot in the blink of an eye, and range the likes of chainsaws, rocket launches and so forth.
The trade-off, however, is that the heavy weapons tend to have very limited ammo, so it comes in handy to use these as and when you need to. Either way, the core systems that uphold World War Z, although nothing new, certainly do a fair job at keeping the whole ordeal grounded. That, ladies and gents, is the crux of play. You’ll pick a class, grab a weapon, dive on in and slaughter zekes as you collectively work towards the endgame. The replay value isn’t quite as bulky as Left 4 Dead, but there’s a basis for repeat fun nonetheless.
Unfortunately, the game falls a bit flat elsewhere. The game’s performance is top-notch, rarely ever compromising in framerate when the action picks up. Sadly, I cant be as forgiving when it comes to the game’s bugs, and there’s a fair few to be mindful of. Whether you’re being swallowed by the map, getting stuck in objects, or witnessing breaks in the game’s audio, you’re unlikely to make it through an episode without seeing the odd blemish. Nothing a post-launch patch cant fix, but immersion breaking all the same.
It’s fairly easy to overlook in the grand scheme of things, especially in the face of what the game gets right. It’s just a shame there’s not a great deal of objective-based variation to help keep things fresh for those that anticipated a healthy dollop of longevity. Still, with that in mind, there’s a lot to enjoy here. I especially commend the game’s zeke design, being that they all look great close-up, and more so when you’re blowing body parts away in rapid succession. It’s a gratifying experience to say the least, and one that sits well with its source material.
When you’re done with the campaign, a PvPvZ mode is available to soak up. The game’s multiplayer sports ten pre-set classes to select from, all of which will be upgraded the more you use them. There’s five modes of four vs four to dive into here; swarm domination, king of the hill, swarm deathmatch, scavenge revenge, and vaccine hunt. They’re all distinct enough to stand out individually, and much like the campaign, the game’s performance remains on point regardless as to how much action appears on the screen at any given time.
Swarm domination is a mode in which you capture zones to earn points. King of the hill needs no introduction; control the hill to earn points and win the round. Swarm deathmatch is my personal favorite. Here, two teams go head to head alongside hordes of zekes and then battle it out for point scoring supremacy. Scavenge raid is a bit more relaxed, tasking you with collecting as much gear as you can from fallen enemies around the map. Vaccine hunt, on the other hand, is a bit like Halo’s capture the skull; grab the vaccine and survive for as long as you can.
What sets the game’s multiplayer apart from its contemporaries is its swarm invasions, being that armies of undead can invade the map and alter the course of a battle in a pinch. Moments like this make for some truly action-packed encounters, and the sheer level of tension rarely buckles. Between the game’s campaign and its multiplayer, there’s enough content on offer to justify the game’s full-whack price tag. I’ll admit, I didn’t expect the game to be as fun as it is, nor run as well as it does. Whilst there are indeed some drawbacks, it’s a solid overall affair that does well with its licence.
In regards to the game’s visual presentation, overall, World War Z gets a thumbs up for the most part. There’s a good level of detail to behold across the entire package, and although some locations are much better designed than others, there’s no denying the game of its quality. I can say the same about the game’s audio design, being that everything sounds as good as it looks; from every unique weapon, right up to the thunderous, gut wrenching noise of the swarm. Bottom line? If World War Z has piqued your interest even just a little bit, you should certainly consider picking it up.
World War Z offers a fun experience that, despite a few technical issues and some visual blemishes, utilizes its source material rather well. Whilst it would have been nice to see more focus on its story elements, its tense gameplay, its mechanical depth, and its decent variation across the board, largely offset its blatant downsides. Indeed, it barely holds a candle to Left 4 Dead, but, it certainly achieves much of what it set out to accomplish.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.