World War Z: review

  • Format: PS4 (version reviewed), Xbone, PC
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Focus Home Interactive, Mad Dog Games
  • Developer: Saber Interactive
  • Players: 1 (offline), 2-8 (online)
  • Site: https://wwzgame.com/en/ 
  • Game code provided by the distributor

Making a game with zombies in it, appropriately enough, is an idea that just won’t die in this industry. Sure, there are plenty of titles out there that can make you feel that this is a bad thing, but World War Z isn’t one of them. It seems that few people held out much hope for it in the weeks and days leading up to release; but it’s reached out from the grave of indifference to grab the leg of your attention, and chow down on the ankle of your free time. Or, er, something.

The game doesn’t follow the film or, to the best of our knowledge, the book. There’s not even a digital Brad Pitt to slobber over, which does raise the question of why the licence has been used at all. The only similarities to the movie, really, are the behaviour and sheer volume of the zombies, something we’ll get on to shortly.

This is, like football, a game of two halves. There’s a four player co-op campaign (playable offline with bots), and several PvPvE modes. The campaign consists of eleven missions spread across four countries, each country telling a simple and self-contained tale. This mode is… fine. Doesn’t make any silly design mistakes. It can be fun to play for sure, but we could never shake the feeling that a lack of ambition held it back from greatness waiting just around the corner.

“You’ll catch your death out there!”

The scripts are simple and forgettable, but that’s hardly an uncommon complaint in the land of videogames. What it does it does well, but it also does predictably. It casually strums all the co-op chords you’ve hummed along to in other games. There are doors that won’t open until everybody’s standing together, there are enemies that will pin you down, rendering you helpless until a buddy helps you, there are regular sieges, there are escort sections and fetch quest sections. Nothing surprising, but all competent.

Nonetheless, it would be disingenuous to say that the campaign is entirely interchangeable with a dozen others. The much-pimped feature of enormous zombie hordes plays its part extremely well. The aforementioned sieges involve preposterously huge waves of fast, aggressive zombies in numbers that you won’t have seen outside of a Dead Rising game. They’ll also climb over one another in ‘pyramids’ to reach high ground, like they do in the movie. In truth, a half-decent team will never be overwhelmed on the lower difficulties, but it’s quite a sight. It also can’t be overstated how brilliant a decision it was to not include any boss characters of any kind. There are still a few ‘special’ zombie types (charging tank, screamer who attracts allies, etc), but they’re never overused. The ebb and flow of gameplay is never frustratingly interrupted.

As for the zombies themselves, their behaviour is – thankfully – great. Their AI isn’t brilliant, but then, it doesn’t need to be (and besides, zombies are famous for eating other people’s brains, not using their own). Each PvP mode takes place in a map littered with zombies, with periodic hordes swarming in from one area or another. Watching a tidal wave of the undead rush past a short distance in front of you can be quite tense. If you stay away and stay quiet, a few will probably break off to attack you, but you will (hopefully) otherwise be safe. Conversely, if you get caught at a swarm spawn point – defending a capture point in domination, for example – your chances of survival are virtually nil.

The way that PvP combat, zombie swarms, and the radar bounce off one another is wonderful, and bordering on genius. The radar, as is the case in many online games, functions based on sound. If you fire a weapon or run, your position is indicated to the enemy team on the radar in red, the clarity of the wedge dependent on how close you are to them. So far, so standard.

However.

With zombies around – who will run with great speed to attack any nearby player they get a whiff of – there’ll be plenty of sprinting and shooting by players manically trying to defend themselves, too distracted to use caution or look for enemy humans. There’s many a gleeful zombie-assisted kill to be had. That’s still not quite the end of the murderous story, either, as zombie swarms add an extra layer to this. They create such a huge noise, the on-screen radar for the surrounding area is flooded with red, rendering it temporarily useless. The perfect time to make a run for an objective, or wildly empty a magazine in the general direction of a nearby enemy.

It makes for gripping online play, but there are still problems, not least of which is the fact that there are just four maps (one for each country in the story) for the competitive modes. While no two matches are identical, the lack of map variety soon begins to take the sheen off what is initially a unique and exciting experience. The unlock and upgrade system, too, was a decision made with questionable wisdom. The campaign and multiplayer both have separate groups of classes, separately and slowly upgraded through XP (for the campaign, each weapon has its own mini upgrade tree, too). In addition to that, the weapons and perks that you unlock must be ‘bought’ with in-game currency. There are no microtransactions at time of writing, but the rate at which ‘supplies’ are earned ensures that you can’t immediately gain access to everything as soon as you’ve unlocked it.

The game certainly needs a tidy on a technical level. Problems are rare, but annoying when they strike; once, we were locked into a menu, and another time the game crashed completely partway through a campaign mission (and while we’re at it, gunplay could do with a little tightening, and more efficient matchmaking would be nice). Despite all of this, World War Z manages to make zombies feel lemony fresh.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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