Drink Every Time You Read The Word ‘Zombie’
Alongside Days Gone, a zombie game that wasn’t really as good as it should have been, we have World War Z, a zombie game that is just slightly better than it should be. A game that takes the name of the excellent Max Brooks novel, a compelling series of diary entries about the wider-reaching effects of a hypothetical zombie apocalypse around the world rather than the usual western-centric view, but like the film has little else to do with it. Sure, both this game and the novel have an essence of globe-trotting, but this is greatly simplified by this most recent addition to the franchise.
WWZ is a third-person, squad-based, class-based shooter, for fans of hyphens. There’s no traditional single-player campaign, but four episodes based in different cities that take roughly a couple of hours each. Each episode sees you taking on the role of one of a band of survivors in that particular locale, each with it’s own mission, but obviously it usually revolves around anti-zombie things like running away from zombies or killing zombies or rescuing people from zombies. Y’know, zombie things. There’s also special types of zombies, like especially big hard ones, and gassy ones, and ones that shriek to attract other zombies… It’s sort of like Saber Interactive thought “Valve aren’t making Left for Dead 3 so we may as well”.
There’s also a multiplayer mode which aims to put some pizazz into familiar modes like King of the Hill, Capture The Flag, Deathmatch and so on by adding swarms of zombies. As basic as this formula it, it largely works. Turning a corner to face a sea of zombies migrating south for the winter or whatever they’re doing certainly livens up a game that is otherwise fairly by numbers.
From the durations of each episode above, you’ll note that WWZ is not a game that outstays its welcome. This is definitely to its benefit, as the game only really has one trick and a very short gameplay loop. Typically you’ll start a level, run around a bit and pop a few bullets in a few undead walkers, then get to a set-piece you’ll have to set up some defences before a big old swarm of zombies attacks, then you’ll have to solve some incredibly basic puzzles that amounts to finding an item or a key for door, then repeat. The main trick here is the volume of the zombies, rather than the quality of the zombies.
The result of this is that many games in the campaign mode become a race to charge out in front to get as many kills as possible, rather than really having to use teamwork. While it isn’t the game’s fault, but instead the fault of idiots on the internet, this often leads of friendly fire situations as over-keen teammates run in front of you to bag more kills to rack up in-game currency and XP. Still, you can use this to purchase perks on the type of skill-tree you’ll be more than familiar with if you’ve played literally any game in the past five years. The upgrades you can get are dependant on which class you’ve chosen; Gunslinger, Hellraiser, Medic, Slasher, Fixer, Exterminator. It’s nice to have the options, but with the emphasis of the game being on killing and with respawns being fairly generous I usually stuck to Gunslinger.
The game does a fairly reasonable job of forcing you into teamwork, however, despite at times feeling like a competition rather than a cooperative experience. Several of the special zombie types, as well as some of the hordes, can pin you down without any chance of saving yourself. In these situations, only your teammates can rescue you, so you’re advised against going exploring alone lest you run into a hidden creeper far from the rest of your squad. The only issue here is that I ever encountered a single other player using a headset, and communication options n the d-pad are very limited.
Indeed, the fact that this arrives at around the same time as Days Gone could be bad for WWZ, as both games hinge their appeal on knocking out loads of zombies at once. WWZ ain’t no tense, survival horror. There’s no shortage of ammunition, and no shortage of things to pump it into, and the amount of zombies is often hilarious as they not only swarm over fences by forming shaky pyramids but often just fall from above you, over ledges and from pipes and rooftops. It’s an obvious twist on something like, say Last Of Us or Resident Evil, but as far as panic-causing mechanics go, turning a corner and being confronted by 100 charging zombies may be less subtle than being backed into a corner by a single zombie with only a knife for defence but it still works.
Setting up defences can be fun, but it’s a little limited. You can collect turrets and traps, but you can only place them in set positions rather than go crazy with the tactics. With so many incoming things to kill, a more in-depth tower defence scenario could have been great here.
On the surface, World War Z looks more than a little throwaway and is far from being the best-looking zombie game out this week, let alone this year. From the off, menus are basic and empty-looking. Things take a while to get moving when you start playing; the regular campaign isn’t so bad for getting started, but multiplayer can be incredibly hit and miss for matchmaking; sometimes even when you finally get into a game, it’s short lived before the game kicks you out for connection problems.
When you get into things, you’ll note the visuals aren’t that tight. Playable characters are fleeting as they only stick around for one episode, but even then they’re remarkably generic and forgettable. Environments funnel you through clearly enough, but there’s nothing to take your breath away unless you’re really into dingy interiors, and things clip through other things like no one’s business. The frame rate is fairly solid for the most part, but not averse to buckling when things get hectic, such as when the swarms hit like Black Friday at ASDA. I had a couple of issues with the game freezing or straight-up booting me out of campaign missions online.
Perhaps the worst aspect of World War Z is the voice acting; how you get from earnest assessment of a realistic zombie-war, to Brad Pitt, to hammy voiceovers giving wooden life to every national stereotype going is quite a leap. It is genuinely terrible, and undermines the whole dingy atmosphere, nevermind the original intent and atmosphere of the book. Quite where they found such awful, hacky actors with stereotypical accents is anyone’s guess. I suppose animating thousands of zombies ain’t cheap and you’ve got to save money somewhere.