Developer: Saber Interactive
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One
Version reviewed: PC
As games go, World War Z could not be more generic. It’s a third-person cover shooter in which you shoot almost literal waves of zombies, an inferior Left 4 Dead clone that’s launched about a decade after the peak of zombie popularity. In fact, I’m convinced World War Z was actually made by Saber Interactive in 2009, but it accidentally misplaced the source code and then rediscovered it 10 years later.
Here’s the thing, though: I don’t mean this entirely as a criticism. Despite having roughly the same originality as a chair, this unashamed throwback to Xbox 360-era shooters is enjoyable in a mindless sort of way. World War Z never even considers pretending to be more than what it is, and there’s something weirdly admirable about that.
Let’s make one thing clear: This game is based upon the World War Z film, not the book. Even then, it’s a loose adaptation. The only real connection to either franchise is the fact that each campaign mission takes place in a different city around the world. Beyond that, Saber could have slapped any zombie franchise on the cover and nobody would’ve batted an eye.
Indeed, the more pertinent comparison here is not World War Z, but Left 4 Dead. World War Z apes Valve’s incredible cooperative shooter in every way save the camera perspective. Up to four players assume the roles of survivors during a zombie outbreak, across four separate campaigns split up into several chapters.
Anyone who has played Left 4 Dead will be instantly familiar with how World War Z works. You need to work together to fend off the zombie hordes, while scavenging more powerful weapons and equipment and occasionally helping allies to their feet. World War Z even has its own variants of Special Infected, all of which are similar to examples in Left 4 Dead. The Creeper, for example, is basically Left 4 Dead’s Hunter, but without a shirt on. The GasBag, meanwhile, is a HAZMAT-wearing zombie that expels a cloud of its own rotting gases when killed, basically a combination of Smoker and Boomer. The most original (and dangerous) of World War Z’s special zombies is the Screamer, who triggers endless waves of undead until he’s killed. The Screamer also excels at hiding in awkward places, which means you often need to take risks to eliminate the blighter.
World War Z isn’t a complete copy, however. Perhaps the biggest difference is how the Zombies, or Zekes as they’re known in WWZ, behave. World War Z’s zombies don’t so much horde as surge, moving like a liquid as they attack in terrifyingly large numbers. Indeed, the game’s most unique mechanic is how the zombies create giant, writhing pyramids of bodies to clamber up walls. Killing enough zombies at the base of this pyramid will eventually cause the structure to collapse, sending zombies tumbling back to the bottom and buying you a little more time.
The other key difference is that World War Z is more objective-based. Left 4 Dead’s structure was basically 'Get to the safehouse and don’t die,' whereas each mission in World War Z has a specific goal. In one mission you help guide a train through an industrial railway yard; in another you must rescue the crew of a downed military helicopter in the centre of snowbound Moscow.
Each of these missions is broken down into smaller sub-objectives, many of which involve establishing a defensive perimeter and holding off the Zeke swarms. These areas are conveniently equipped with deployable defensive equipment, such as rolls of barbed wire, automated gun turrets, and even mortar-pipes.
It’s in these dramatic set-pieces where World War Z is at its best. An early example in that aforementioned trainyard, which sees you establish a fortified position on a gantry, fending off a massive swarm that pours over tiers of parked rail carriages like a fleshy waterfall.
The technology behind those swarms is pretty neat. I’m assuming it’s some kind of shading wizardry, but that’s only an educated guess. Aside from that, however, at a technical and mechanical level World War is somewhat roughshod. Visually, it looks a few years out of date, but the bigger problem is combat doesn’t feel punchy enough. Compared to Left 4 Dead, the weapons feel flat and underwhelming, while the zombies appear to be made from damp cardboard. Explosions in particular are nowhere near spectacular enough. Chucking a pipe-bomb into a crowd of Left 4 Dead 2’s infected still has more visual impact than the same action in World War Z, despite the latter having much bigger zombie crowds.
The other issue is what you get for your money. You can breeze through all the campaigns in about six hours. From my perspective this is absolutely fine, because oh boy there are enough 30+ hour monsters out there at the moment. But at over £30, six hours of play is not sufficient. There are five difficulty modes, of course, and a complex upgrade system for both weapons and equipment to help you progress through those higher difficulties. But I don’t see why you’d want to play through the campaigns more than once or twice.
There’s no way I can recommend World War Z, as there are so many other games available which are more worthy of your time. That said, I didn’t hate it by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, at a time when every other game wants you invest either in its massive world or complex story or labyrinthine progression systems, there’s something refreshing about a game that lets you switch off your brain for a few hours and just go with it. World War Z may be braindead, but that suits the game just fine.
January 28 2021 | 14:07