World War Z’s mix of swarming zombies, exciting level design, and satisfying shooting make for the best co-op experience this side of Left 4 Dead!
The video game adaptation of the World War Z universe is here, and it’s one of the best licensed titles in recent memory. World War Z is not a timely game. The movie on which it’s loosely based came out in 2013, and the long-gestating film sequel was recently cancelled. Like any good zombie, however, World War Z simply refuses to stay dead.
While its aesthetic is inspired by the film version of World War Z, this game is clearly inspired by Left 4 Dead, Valve’s long-abandoned co-op zombie FPS series. Like that cult favorite shooter, World War Z emphasizes four-player cooperative multiplayer with a slight narrative hook and endless waves of zombies to shoot. The twist here comes with the game’s zombie enemies: the film version of World War Z was controversial for its take on reanimated humans as an insect-like swarm of monsters who flow through their environment like a tidal wave of death.
Developer Saber Interactive cut their teeth on visceral shooters like TimeShift and Inversion, so it’s no surprise that the moment-to-moment combat in World War Z is a gory and satisfying spectacle, with tight controls and a wide variety of weapons, nearly all of which earn XP and can be upgraded multiple times. individual zombies, and even sizable groups are little threat to a skilled player, but the game’s truly massive herds require teamwork to survive.
Each of the game’s eleven levels (split up across four anthologized episodes) feature numerous instances where players are stranded in a large area, tasked with defending against a swarm of the undead. With only a few seconds to loot the area for defenses like gun turrets and barbed wire fences, a team must work together in order to survive, or they will be torn apart. In a group with random strangers, the game can seem unnecessarily difficult, but teaming up with friends (or people with headsets) reveals just how rewarding teamwork can be. A coordinated group can hold the line against a stampede of hundreds of zombies; there’s nothing more satisfying than lining up in front of a veritable wall of flesh, unloading thousands of bullets to stem the tide of impending doom.
Each episode is set in a different location around the world, from the streets of New York City to a top secret Russian military base. The four episodes each star a different set of characters, which keeps the repetitive dialogue from becoming too stale. Levels have a great flow, organically transitioning from tight corridor shooting to arena defense sections and tough objectives which require players to scour an area for a set number of supply crates to deliver to a central location. It’s not mind-blowing or particularly lengthy, but World War Z is highly replayable thanks to a degree of randomization with regards to weapon and enemy placement; the roulette makes swarm defense sections particularly enjoyable on replay.
Progression is found via weapon upgrades and character classes. There are six classes to choose from, though they are differentiated more by the special item they carry into battle (grenades, molotov cocktails, explosive ammo drops) than by any fundamental differences in how they play. That being said, things really start to open up after upgrading a class past level ten, where they begin to become a bit more distinct in their passive abilities. Everything, from weapon upgrades to class perks, costs credits, which are earned for completing missions. Progression can seem a bit slow, but the curve is surprisingly natural, since it’s always enticing to try beating a level on a higher difficulty to earn more credits and buy stronger guns and better perks.
The core gameplay of World War Z is so strong, it’s easy to forgive some strange design decisions, like the limited mobility options. Characters can climb over some waist-high objects, but not others. It’s cool to stand on top of a car or van while shooting dozens of advancing zombies, but there’s little rhyme or reason as to which cars can be climbed and which cannot. There’s also a noticeable lack of a dodge function, which would be really useful when dealing with charging “bull” zombies, or just do buy a second of respite when trying to escape a torrent of zombies. On top of this, the movement speed generally feels just a bit too slow, which can be somewhat annoying at times. Then again, it does discourage “lone wolf” players from venturing too far away from their teammates.
Less forgivable are the numerous bugs and crashes. World War Z is dangerously close to having too much jank. It’s still early days for World War Z, and patches have been released which address some of the issues, but we still encountered an unfortunate frequency of bugs and crashes in our time with the game. One particularly nasty crash erased the last several matches of accumulated XP and perk upgrades. On day one, it was practically impossible to connect to the online servers, but that issue seems to have been completely rectified, at least on PlayStation 4. There are also smaller bugs which hinder the game, like getting grabbed by a zombie and warping to the wrong side of an impassible barrier, or inside a wall.
While four-player co-op, or PvZ, is at the core of World War Z, the game also features a more traditional multiplayer suite, dubbed PvPvZ. Essentially, it’s a standard assortment of 4v4 versus modes with addition WWZ’s unique zombies. A smattering of undead populate each of the small maps, but the matches are frequently broken up by a sudden onslaught of infected. Unfortunately, the game’s aforementioned issues with mobility are much more pronounced in a PvP setting, which never manages to rise above the level of a fleeting distraction.
The console versions of World War Z run at a fairly steady 30 frames per second, and many enemies animate at 15 frames per second when the action really heats up. Enabling the default motion blur setting smooths over this issue somewhat, though it’s still glaringly noticeable at times. There’s also a lack of environmental destruction and enemies sometimes disappear awkwardly upon death. To be honest, though, it’s surprising more corners weren’t cut in World War Z‘s presentation. It’s hard to overstate the pure spectacle of having 500 zombies on screen at once, and the rest of the game isn’t too shabby, either. The environments are picturesque (especially the New York and Tokyo levels) and character models are detailed, even the zombies, who get literally blown to bits as a barrage of gunfire sends them flying in a display of glorious ragdoll physics. Sometimes, the simplest pleasures are the most satisfying.
At its core, World War Z is dumb, jolly fun. With only eleven levels, it will wear out its welcome pretty quickly for those uninterested in the admittedly extensive progression systems and higher difficulty modes. For players with a dedicated group of friends, however, World War Z is a prime destination for friendly multiplayer excitement, especially if Saber Interactive follows through on their tease of additional episodes coming in the future.
It’s easy to compare the game to Left 4 Dead, but even that game’s impressive zombie swarms can’t compete with the jaw-dropping sight of World War Z‘s enemies. Plus, it’s been ten years since the release of Left 4 Dead 2, so it’s only natural for a new game to come along and fill the void left by Valve. World War Z abides.
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World War Z is out now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Screen Rant was provided with a PS4 download code for the purposes of this review.