Video games that tie in to movies rarely succeed as intended. A game being tied into a six year old movie that was heavily panned on release is, fairly enough, an even bigger gamble. As an unapologetic aficionado of questionable horror flicks even I had my doubts as to what World War Z could pull off. The game needed, at the very least, massive hoards of fast moving zombies that would be graphically intense to pull off. It needed stories, something to pull players in and give them a reason to keep the characters alive in this high risk/low reward world. And it needed camaraderie, a reason to drag your friends through this hellscape with you.
For the first requirement, World War Z pulls out all of the stops. Saber Interactive’s carefully crafted Swarm Engine allows the game to populate with up to five hundred rapidly moving undead threats at a time. While World War Z’s four campaign missions (each with three to four chapters) are linear experiences that take you through major cities that have fallen to the masses, there are moments where the game ramps up the imminent danger. While standing on a catwalk you can look out into the streets and watch as a massive swarm of zombies rush the glass doors below you, slowly but surely busting their way into the atrium where you and your teammates are making a stand.
It would be neglectful to not mention how these moments of high action gameplay after moving slowly through smaller hordes is reminiscent of Left 4 Dead. In fact, a lot of World War Z feels Left 4 Dead-ish. And that’s not a negative in any way what so ever. World War Z is a suitable stand in for the next gen Left 4 Dead that we will never lay our grubby little hands on for the most part. While World War Z boasts an impressive roster of original characters (in contrast to the four available in each of the Left 4 Dead games) with unique backstories and situations that lead to them being where they are during the apocalypse, there is a noticeable lack of camaraderie between the characters. Fans of Left 4 Dead happily repeat some of the game’s most quotable lines even today, but there’s nothing like “Pills here!” for World War Z. At best, most dialogue between the characters are limited to asking for healing or pointing out one of the few special zeds that pose a risk. Those special zombies, by the way, are almost an exact replica of those we saw in Left 4 Dead. The bull is so similar to the charger, for example, that even the pin animation is identical.
With so many similarities to Left 4 Dead, one would think that World War Z’s multiplayer would be able to stand up on its own two feet. That is, unfortunately, where players would be horribly disappointed. There’s a healthy mix of game play modes available for multiplayer, and those modes can easily be thrown into a beautiful splash of disarray when the player versus player versus swarm element takes over. Still, the addition of an extra set of hazards in the swarms isn’t enough to keep multiplayer afloat. The servers are incredibly laggy, making it difficult to catch other players off guard. Even the best laid plans go awry when another player rubber bands behind you while you’re taking over a control point. That said, there is something satisfying about creating enough ruckus to trigger a swarm right on the control point where the enemy team is spawning and setting them up for failure.
If you can forgive the mess that is multiplayer and look exclusively at World War Z’s campaign, then you’re going to find its a perfectly suitable third person, cooperative zombie shooter. The bland dialogue and minor lulls in activity when following along the designated paths to get to the next big action moment are both minor grievances when you’re playing along with friends and planning out your defenses for the next big swarm. Don’t get too comfortable with your plan of attack for each mission, however, as there is an AI director that can – and will – mess with zombie spawns, difficulty, item scarcity, and resupply points just to keep you on your toes. Playing and replaying the four different campaigns can have just enough shift in important aspects that, just like in a real apocalyptic scenario, you can never really perfectly plan things out.
World War Z treads a fine line. On one hand it needs to tie in to an existing franchise with its story, which poses interesting limitations on what kind of undead nightmares players can come face to face with. On the other hand, it really wants to be Left 4 Dead 3. The effort to cross these two franchises is admirable, and for all intents and purposes World War Z does manage to scratch that nostalgic itch for Left 4 Dead fans, even with the branding limitations.
A copy of the game was provided for this review by the developer/publisher