It wouldn’t be unfair to suggest that World War Z is a little behind the times. Since the movie was released (and had nothing in common with the book apart from the name), we’ve seen two different World Cups, Marvel and Netflix enjoy a love-in and then a falling out, and a sequel for the movie itself getting cancelled and revitalised about nineteen different times. It’s apt, because the World War Z game itself doesn’t exactly feel entirely current, though that’s not to say it has nothing to offer. In fact, it’s provided some of the most fun I’ve had with a game all year.
World War Z pits four players against waves of zombies as they complete simple objectives as different characters from all corners of the endangered world. It’s fairly derivative of Left 4 Dead (as is every action-oriented zombie game with teamwork, in truth) with it borrowing many of the same zombie types: there’s the burly lad who will chuck you around if he gets too close, the one who leaps on you out of nowhere, and the toxic pain in the backside who will fart on you if he gets too close. These are archetypes for a reason, and that’s because they work so well at keeping things interesting.
It’s lucky that there is this variety, otherwise World War Z would be a total cakewalk. Even on the higher difficulties, the game never poses much of a threat as its “grunt” zombies go down after a couple of good shots. They’re all of a very similar height, so it’s easy to train your crosshair on a similar position for a parade of the blighters and rack up the headshots. This might sound boring, but World War Z’s combat is actually rather oddly cathartic and always satisfying. Things do become considerably more intense when a “swarm” of zombies comes your way during one of the campaign’s setpieces, however.
Even if you don’t have fond memories of the movie on which this is based, you surely remember that jaw-dropping Jerusalem scene. Well, you get to re-enact that many times over here as a regular highlight and probably the most original idea the game possesses. These sequences bring on the zombies in their hundreds thanks to the Swarm Engine, and while you can set up traps and turrets to slow them down, there are simply too many of them for you to not come away with a few scratches, or not come away at all. If you die in World War Z, your reanimated character gets added to the swarm. It’s a nice touch, though you do respawn after a short amount of time.
As mentioned before, dispatching zombies in World War Z is satisfying in a primal way, especially when the bullets rip through them as emphatically as they do and the gunplay feels this tight. Limbs will fly with just a couple of bullets, and it’s always “nice” to see a newly decapitated zombie hobble around for a few seconds before collapsing. There’s a surprising amount of detail here and it’s easy to distinguish one zombie from the next, even when they’re piling up on top of each to form a gross ladder.
In terms of the weapons of dead mass destruction at your disposal in World War Z, there’s a welcome amount of variety and depth that you might not have expected. Players start off with the basics (SMG, pistol) before eventually working their way up to beefy assault rifles, shotguns, and more. I personally prefer the carbine as its rate of fire allows me to line up headshots easily and use up less ammo, but I am also very keen on picking up a chainsaw whenever I find one. Classified as heavy weapons and limited in use, these, along with other weapons in the category, allow you to control swarms more effectively, which, when combined with a bevy of traps and good teamwork, can cause utterly joyful carnage.
World War Z aims for longevity by providing players with a fairly robust progression system that allows for weapon and class upgrades. Improving your weapons gives them better accuracy and power, whereas class upgrades can give you better starting weapons, more of a particular equipment, or even better health. It’s a pity, then, that the class system in World War Z feels like such a lightweight and pointless addition that only really becomes at all noticeable on harder difficulties. Some classes are also significantly better than others: I rarely played with people who were anything other than Gunslinger or Medic classes, just because they are the most useful by far. It’s appreciated that Saber Interactive were trying to add more depth, but they must just missed having the right balance.
As for grinding to earn skill points for these unlocks, it really comes down to how often you mind repeating the same handful of missions. There are four locations in total (Jerusalem, New York, Moscow, Tokyo) to visit with most having three missions apiece (it’s a real shame that Tokyo only has two), each taking about twenty minutes to go through. While Left 4 Dead similarly doesn’t have the widest variety in levels, it does have more dynamic gameplay thanks to the now infamous director AI. By comparison, World War Z is far more predictable and linear, so you’re almost always aware of the threat that lies ahead and it’s generally a lot less challenging and intense as a result.
If the PVE becomes too repetitive, you could always venture on over to PVP and see what it has in-store. Here’s a quick tip, though: don’t. The PVP in World War Z really feels like an afterthought, a last-minute deal sweetener that’s not wholly necessary. If I didn’t have to play it for this review, I wouldn’t have — the campaign is always what you should come to a game like this for. Spawns are horrendous, firefights come down to strafing while spamming hipfire, and it’s also severely underpopulated by comparison. The only mode anyone ever seemed to want to play to was Swarm Deathmatch, PVPVE where too much noise brings on a swarm. Certainly a novel idea, but not enough to save PVP from feeling insipid overall.
World War Z’s PVE should be fun enough to tide you over until you get your money’s worth, and maybe even more than that. I played for a while with fellow Vulture Darryl and had a whale of a time while we caught up, which was only possible because World War Z doesn’t demand a huge amount of the player. It’s a fantastic social game, one that you can dip in and out of and not feel either under or overwhelmed by. You will just be “whelmed”, and we need more games like that sometimes. As I mentioned in my preview piece, World War Z is reminiscent of games I used to rent for a weekend and have straightforward fun with with some friends. It’s neither too light nor too heavy, and doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is: pure popcorn entertainment.
It's not revolutionary by any means, but World War Z is a fun zombie shooter that actually surpasses the movie on which it is based.