Hey remember that Brad Pitt zombie movie World War Z? It had big plans and was going to set the world on fire with its adaptation of a beloved novel that balanced horrific and heartbreaking imagery with believable world building? Then I am sure you’ll remember all of its success, oh no, wait, that doesn’t add up.
World War Z certainly didn’t make the kind of waves it expected in the film world but it brought some novel ideas to the genre and when the tie in video game was announced to release 6 years after it hit box offices it was met with equal parts caution and interest. Thankfully what was a neat idea in the movie world makes for a great gaming mechanic amongst a reasonably fun co-op shooter.
Joking aside, if you’re not familiar with World War Z it is a story that follows the international spread of a zombie virus. The novel was told as wonderful short interviews with survivors after the infection has been beaten back. The story telling mechanic allowed the novel to cover a global scale with stories from all aspects of the outbreak and the life of many demographics as they struggled to survive.
While being a fresh take on the zombie narrative the 2013 Brad Pitt film probably didn’t reach the same heights. Following a United Nations investigator it makes a couple of pit stops around the world in what was a fairly generic zombie film. The strongest aspect of the film was in fact its use to the undead. Doing away with the standard slow zombies the film welcomes high speed zombies who in their frantic behaviour would essentially become a wave of spindly limbs and gnashing teeth.
This imagery alone instantly reminded me of video games and my mind was left reeling at the thought of it being incorporated into a game. Thankfully in recent years the growing popularity of a smaller genre of co-op horde shooters was the perfect place to take this franchise. Growing off the popularity of Left 4 Dead we’ve recently seen the likes of Warhammer: Vermintide, Strange Brigade and Earthfall all attempt their own take on it, some more successfully then others. Each have similar connective tissue which they share with World War Z, enclosed levels where 4 co-operative players enter against an unfair ratio of enemies and make their way through the detritus of enemies to deal with objectives and some more problematic enemies.
World War Z offers up a lot of the same beats that are staples to this genre. You have 4 chapters, New York, Jerusalem, Moscow and Tokyo, which really plays into the key theme of the franchise which is a world wide threat. Each chapter will feature three episodes/levels except for Tokyo which strangely only includes 2. So this offers up 11 different levels with fairly unique layouts and objectives ranging from one of the less painful escort missions to holding the last line of defence while civilians get out. Each country/chapter offers a slightly different threat from the verticality of Tokyo to the snows of Moscow.
The most interesting thing about this is that unlike others game you level up one of eight classes instead of your character, classes are your usual medic, melee expert, crowd control and so on. This means that with each chapter you are introduced to four new survivors, each specific to the location that the chapter takes place. This means you can swap between them as you will as they add nothing to the gameplay but do a good job of fleshing out this as a global conflict, even if one or two of the characters backstories feel a little obvious—Yakuza? In my Tokyo? It’s more likely than you think.
With the use of sound triggering the enemy hordes you will be relying on stealth so you can take out majority of your enemies without a problem. While in the early levels this isn’t too necessary you can always set higher difficulties for each level for a better reward and if you go in guns blazing on the higher levels you will get overwhelmed in no time.
“These enemies will turn up at random to make a mess of things however one or two can always be counted on to be in key locations.”
You’ll also be dealing with difficult enemies like the bull who charges you and smashes you against the ground, the lurker who is fast and pounces on you, the gasbag who will leak toxic gas once his hazmat suit is pierced and screamers who will summon more enemies. These enemies will turn up at random to make a mess of things however one or two can always be counted on to be in key locations.
Playing through levels will reward XP for your class as well as the weapons you’ve used through your mission. This incentives focusing in on a particular path rather then swapping backwards and forwards between them and wasting the in game currency you’ll earn to unlock skills and weapon upgrades at each level.
Through out the level you’ll find points where your momentum is slowed as you need to use traps and turrets to set up for an oncoming wave of zombies. All of the traps will slow down the attackers but you’ll need to coordinate with your team to wipe out the enemy. All of this bedlam is compounded by the fact that unlike many other games in the genre you will be competing with friendly fire. While at lower levels it is a mild nuisance, at higher levels it will make or break your run.
While most horde shooters do only have a co-op mode World War Z does intend to shake things up a little more with a multiplayer versus mode. All of the usual modes are here in this 4 v 4 battle from king of the hill, to resource collecting and zone control. You’ll have separate classes to choose from here, a few extra ones with each class being much narrower. These range from a sniper class to a more machine gun focused trooper.
For the most part this is an adequate PVP experience, the gun play is very clearly better designed against AI combatants but it is in no way a bad experience, what really adds an extra level to this mode is that it is actually PVPVZ — Player vs Player vs Zombie. Each of the maps will be broken into sectors, too much noise in a particular sector will trigger a zombie rush. The rush won’t necessarily take you down however it will add an extra challenge and will make your radar almost completely useless. I for one love a competitive mode that includes a nefarious AI invasion, it makes for some fun strategy as you lead your enemy into the fray.
Matchmaking through out the modes worked well, an AI bot will fill in if a player can’t be found and there is also an offline mode. The bots are a little thick at times but are adequate, they will dote on you and save you should you be pinned by an enemy almost instantly however will literally watch their fellow bots get devoured and not lift a finger.
It is obviously better to play with real people, especially in the higher levels, however friendly fire being an option in the game does raise concerns about griefing. On console I actually found that there was no way to mute other players or turn off voice chat which meant that every couple of games I had to deal with someone screaming down the mic, sometimes in a language I didn’t understand, at highly distorted levels — which doesn’t make for a fun game. A ping system does exist but its use is a little limited, however it gets the job done.
The Bottom Line
For the most part I came away from my time with World War Z very pleased, it blended aspects of the film and book to give a nice action romp across a global crisis. Is it the best game in this budding genre? Probably not, but it is certainly a strong entry. The strength of these titles is their ability to expand however to keep players active, hopefully World War Z has a plan going forward or it may have a shorter lifespan against its competitors. For the time being though, you can’t deny it’s fun mowing down hordes of zombies with your mates.