Review: World War Z – Getting the zombie hordes right, but at a cost

World War Z is here and Saber Interactive is ready to show off the brilliance of their coop-focused title set in the World War Z movie universe, but the bigger question yet, does it actually work?


Pros:

  • Hundreds of zombies in a single horde that intensifies the sense of survival urgency
  • A progression system that offers some replayability in both multiplayer and coop modes
  • A worthwhile title for those looking to satiate their zombie-slaying craving
  • Performance is some of the best on the market thanks to the Swarm Engine
  • Leaves room for plenty of story-based DLC missions post-launch

Cons:

  • Repetition sets in after a few times through each of the maps no matter the difficulty
  • Server issues can cause the game to lose enjoyability
  • Multiplayer feels uninspired and comes out as rather unbalanced

In many ways, I’ve come to terms with one simple fact: Left 4 Dead 3 will never happen. Even after all these years of teasing, it’s apparent that Gabe Newell and Valve have moved away from being game developers to software engineers, ultimately seeking new ways to power their digital storefront for the betterment of gaming on PC.

With this knowledge, I’ve come to also accept that many developers will attempt to recreate or even improve upon the very offerings that Left 4 Dead and its sequel, Left 4 Dead 2, continue to offer eleven and twelve years since their launch. I’ve even come to accept that no matter how many developers actually try, nothing will ever replace the timeless classic, nor should they by any means necessary.

But, some will come close, almost nailing that formula that will set their title apart from the previously mentioned franchise. Games such as Strange BrigadeSpace Hulk: Deathwing, and even Overkill’s The Walking Dead left a lot to be desired from the coop-shooter genre, leaving us with little excitement to be had, and even little less success in post-release life.

Strange Brigade got a few small DLCs that let us embark on various missions across the mummy-ridden sands of Egypt while Space Hulk: Deathwing took us across the stars, allowing us to tactically blast our way through endless hordes of genestealers and their various forces while Overkill’s The Walking Dead was dead on arrival due to the bugs, glitches, and errors that plagued the game from the moment that the highly-anticipated game launched and never really even had a chance to grow before it was abandoned.

Now, here we are, with another hopeful second (or tenth) coming of the horde-based shooter genre, one that revels in the very fact its set in a pre-constructed universe created by writer Max Brooks and the Hollywood title brought to life by front-man Bradd Pitt and director Marc Forster. Being the game’s based on the latter of the two, there’s plenty of room for the universe to grow, and ultimately become something great.

The bigger question now is rather clear: Can Saber Interactive with former Left 4 Dead director, Mike Booth, deliver on an unspoken promise?

World War Z is everything a modern Left 4 Dead would have been

When I think of Left 4 Dead there are several things that come to mind as it is quite possibly the Godfather of the horde-shooter genre. First, I think about atmospheric story-telling, character development through those narrative pieces, but I also think about gameplay mechanics when said and done.

Since World War Z is in an established universe, I had some idea of what was going on, how lethal this virus is or was, and just what the zombie hordes were like going in. Unlike Left 4 Dead and its horde of twenty-to-thirty zombies, Saber Interactive has put the pedal to the metal and doubled down on what their engine can actually do.

As the ball gets rolling, so do the hordes of zombies, numbering in the hundreds, if not thousands at any given time. Gearing things up, I decided to spend the past week and a half with what World War Z actually had to offer. First thing on the list is what we all would possibly hope for, an episodic campaign is broken down across four different locations, featuring more than a dozen characters, and equally as many settings.

Each location has three chapters to its story, featuring more than a dozen objectives each, which seems like they’d require tireless effort made by each of the four players (yourself included) in the group. Since this is a class-based shooter, it’s also advised that you choose your class carefully as there’s no real added bonus to late-game perks that buff your party and yourself.

During your time in each of these locations, each taking place before or during the events of the movie, you’ll find that the epidemic is a lot worse than the movie plays it out to be. The death toll is in the millions and the infected rate is almost just as high, seemingly nearing the 75% of the world’s population mark.

Unfortunately, there’s a flaw to this. Due to this Left 4 Dead style approach, character development doesn’t happen as you would expect and is only presented to the player through twenty-to-thirty second snippets that can only be obtained if the player were to complete a mission with each and every character the game has to offer.

Left 4 Dead bleeds into the game, giving both good and bad design flaws some spotlight to be seen

Since this game does bleed much of Booth’s prior games into what it has to offer, World War Z, for better or for worse, could technically be considered the Left 4 Dead 3 he’ll never get to make due to Valve’s persistence stance on their games never having a trilogy.

Because of this, Booth and the team at Saber Interactive have put some blood, some sweat, and certainly some tears into their budget title that bleeds Left 4 Dead while bringing some entirely new design choices to the table. World War Z, for what it’s worth, follows in the steps of Left 4 Dead and uses its ability for atmospheric story-telling to its advantage.

Each set piece gives a grim look at the zombie-induced apocalypse, giving us an idea of how bad things have gone, and just how much worse that they can get. Due to the Brad Pitt-led sequel getting canned, we can only hope that future DLC will give us more to chew on and more bullets to send down range at some undead nuisance.

However, due to this game taking on many of the core mechanics for Left 4 Dead, there’s also a lot of flaws that come with these very design choices that were made. First off, many of the special infected will come off as rather familiar to you if you’ve played either of Booth’s prior works and for a rather good reason.

Special infected such as the Bull, Gasbag, Lurker, and even the Screamer should all come off as familiar enemies you’ve faced off in previous games. That’s because you have, you’ve killed the Charger, the Bloater, the Hunter, and even the Witch (previously the Screamer before it was scrapped altogether) once before. These newer variants are only redesigns of Booths’ previous infected.

Oddly enough, it doesn’t matter, because they work. They are welcomed variations that are more volatile, unexpected, and all the more well-rounded than the disfigured mutations we’ve encountered all those years ago. Each one is just as lethal as the prior and each one comes with their own set mechanics. Unfortunately, each one also dies just as easy as their progenitors.

Same can be said for objectives. They work much the same. Go to point A, hit a lever, push a button, or even set up a defense, and then wait for the Swarm (not a horde) to come. The horde, however, isn’t as intimidating on the first few difficulties as it sounds. At that point, it’s simply a matter of holding a trigger, aiming at a target, and then holding down the trigger in order to hose down a zombie-made pyramid ladder.

The Swarm Engine sets this game and the other games miles apart

Admittedly, one of my favorite features about Horde-themed games is the hordes themselves. I love knowing that when the action picks up, it’s really going to kick it up a notch, and my skills are truly going to be put to the test. In any horde-based title, that very moment is when the adrenaline gets to pumping, anticipation gets high, and the games actually get rather fun.

The downside to the titles of yesteryear, their hordes were tiny but rather lethal. Each horde might consist of twenty-to-thirty zombies in a horde with a few special’s sprinkled in for the assurance that a player will go down or go out. However, the Swarm Engine takes that theory one step further, making it so that up to five hundred. Yes, 500, five hundred or five-hundred, zombies can be on screen at once.

Each of them unique in their approach to combat, specials included, and never once causing the A.I. director to bug out at any given time. During the games most intense moments, during objectives or a finale, the hordes get more intense, throwing several waves of several hundred zombies at you all at once. While you will set up defenses such as turrets, barbed wire, and even explosive ammo, these are only means to an end, and the defenses themselves shouldn’t even give a shred of hope for tactical gameplay.

Truth is, World War Z is all about killing zombies, the good old-fashioned way: Blowing them up into bits and pieces. The best part about it is the weapons you get to use doing it. Thankfully, just like any other horde-shooter on the market, limited-use weapons are a thing. Each of them ranges from weapons such as a rocket launcher, grenade launcher, to a sniper rifle with explosive rounds.

It’s a delight to see, especially when the undead come running at you, only to see their bodies flying in tiny chunks or pieces with a Michael Bay-worthy explosion going off behind them. With making massive promises with their swarm tech, Saber Interactive’s biggest fault would have not been delivering on their promise that ensured zombies would be terrifying to go up against. For the most part, they did what most developers haven’t done this generation with games this ambitious.

Performance, graphics, and game stability is impeccable

One of the problems I’ve had with recent games of this genre, namely Space Hulk: Deathwing and Earthfall is that their performance could use some massive work. The games are far from stable and their framerate and graphics even worse. While both offer quite a different experience than that of what World War Z has to offer, they should serve as examples of what not to do when making a game such as this.

Graphically speaking, World War Z is a top-notch title for a budget-based game. It’s a game that entered development with minimal budgeting, doing what it can do best, and trying to deliver on those promises. Because of this, graphics are an important feature for a game of this status, whether it uses comic-book stylized cel-shading or photo-realistic imagery.

Shooting for what feels like a blend of Left 4 Dead meets EarthfallWorld War Z delivers, and it’s not abashed by how it appears. This is purely a title where spray-and-pray will get you further than aiming for a head. If you can do that, go for it champ.

Graphically speaking, it passes, but it won’t stand out against higher-budget titles such as Call of Duty or Far Cry New Dawn. Rather, it’s a game that certainly and feels like an indie title while coming with all the features of a much larger budget title.

Unfortunately, while the game itself is stable, its servers aren’t, and that is quite the problem. Whether you are on PC, PlayStation 4, or Xbox One, there are problems plaguing the servers across the board with the disconnections, server lag, and players timing out is a problem over the course of our time spent with the game.

Unfortunately, replayability is slim pickings and the only way for this to post-release content

On the campaign front, World War Z isn’t what you’d hope it would be in comparison to titles such as Left 4 Dead and Earthfall. Missions are far and few between, offering only 12 total missions that can be completed in an estimated four hours time. Due to that, you’ll find yourself mowing through a few dozen swarms before moving on, shaking your head due to disappointment.

Unfortunately, the gameplay loot isn’t what you think it would be. It’s focused on simply killing each of these swarms on higher difficulties while pushing your way through a few dozen objectives with your crew in tow. Unfortunately, this can all completed alone, without the help of the others if they decide to leave you behind outside of the handful of special-type mutations you’ll face down against as the game progresses and the difficulty begins to spike.

With the added bonus there is PvPvZ (Player versus Player versus Zombies), there’s still a lingering hope it could improve, however, that’s not the case. The idea is that while it is fun, it ultimately does struggle to deliver a memorable experience. While playing with a group of friends does lighten up the problems a bit, it doesn’t help the fact there are some major design flaws in the mode itself.

Classes are extremely unbalanced, rather, the weapons are extremely unbalanced so to say. Often times, you’ll see many players running around as the exact same class, each taking advantage of the power of the rifle given to them along with an AT-4 rocket launcher. The other issue becomes even clearer. The AI can be a problem and fighting other problems with a horde an even bigger problem due to the amount of craziness going on.

While it does add to the longevity of the game, it does leave room for one to wonder if that time could have been spent furthering the games overall narrative by adding more settings into play, and even giving more incentives to replay the missions over and over again.

The Conclusion

Overall, for its price, World War Z isn’t an unfair package as a title of its kind. With the ability to add more content later, repair its unbalanced multiplayer, and hopefully deliver an experience worth undertaking in the future. In its current state, it’s just a short-lived experience without any longevity to it.

 

World War Z
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One
Platform Reviewed: PlayStation 4
Developer: Saber Interactive
Publisher: Saber Interactive
Release Date: Available Now
Cost: $39.99

Shortcomings aside, there will be a crowd that will enjoy a title such as this, one that’s easy to pick up and go with, making their way through everything that the game has to offer, not finding any reason not to enjoy it as they would any other title on the market.


Our review is based upon a retail version that was provided to us by the publisher of the game. For information about our ethics policy please click here.



About the Writer(s):

dustin_batgr_prof

Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.

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One thought on “Review: World War Z – Getting the zombie hordes right, but at a cost

  1. Pingback: World War Z’s 90-day post-launch roadmap | Blast Away the Game Review

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