Risen From The Gr4ve
HIGH High-octane team-based thrills.
LOW Not enough character customization.
WTF Does every major city have a secret doomsday device?
Valve’s Left 4 Dead debuted in 2008. That storied first-person shooter pitted teams of four against hordes of undead and garnered acclaim for its high-intensity action before spawning an equally-successful sequel in 2009. It’s been a long time since then and it’s not mentioned much anymore, but many remember it fondly – and clearly Saber Interactive does, too, as World War Z is channeling much of Left 4 Dead‘s energy and spirit.
As of this writing, there are four cities to choose from (one was added post-launch) and each offers different survivors and goals — the New Yorkers are trying to escape, the people in Jerusalem must trigger an orbital strike, the Russians need to release chemicals into their city, and the Japanese are securing safe evacuation for a cruise ship filled with survivors.
The action is third-person run-and-gun. The player can hold a main weapon, a sub weapon (and if they find one in the environment) a heavy weapon with extremely limited ammo.
There are six classes to choose from, each with a series of perks unlocked by leveling up and earning currency during play. Choices have to be made along the way, though — groups of perks can only have one active at a time, so there’s no way to become an ubersoldier with every ability. As such, the player must decide whether it’s better to automatically get up when pinned by zombies, or to do extra melee damage when ammo runs dry, for example.
Up to four can play together, whether they be friends or randoms, and if someone wants to go it alone, the AI will fill in for the other three. I found the AI stand-ins to be fairly effective in combat, but they’ll leave objectives up to the player. That’s not a complaint, though — while the experience is obviously intended to be had in a group, I appreciate that lone wolves are accommodated at all. Also, the fact that there’s no real way to troll is smart. A teammate might get to a desired gun or health pack first, but it’s all about teamwork. No one benefits from actively dragging someone else down.
In addition to a metric ton of gunplay, every level offers a variety of small, simple objectives like go find X items or protect this thing. These goals are never too complicated, so their simplicity keeps the action rolling and they’re good enough to keep each section feeling fresh. Players who detest downtime will be happy with World War Z‘s pace.
Also pleasant was the level design. Each city has its own personality, like clever train-themed pieces in New York, a truly staggering number of undead cresting the distant hills in Jerusalem, and narrow suburban roadways in Japan. Each map offers a good mix of openness and focused areas, and none of the regions looks or feels like another.
While the formula I’ve described may not seem immediately notable, it’s great in practice — there’s rarely a quiet moment, everything feels cranked up to 11 all the time, and the constant threat is wonderfully sticky glue that holds a team together. Something’s always going down, and it feels amazing to hold off a huge swarm of the dead, down the last one just as the ammo’s running out, and then running like hell for an escape route before more come.
While the action is intense and World War Z successfully delivers the kind of experience it wants to, it can sometimes be tough to tell what to focus on until it’s too late. If all live players go down, there are no checkpoints — overlook one crucial swarm just out of sight and it’s back to the start of the level for everyone.
Otherwise, I’d like more reasons to keep coming back after finishing the campaign stories in each city. Bumping the difficulty higher and higher isn’t much of a draw — unlockable cosmetics, bonus levels, or something other than simply unlocking skills for each class would be welcome. With that said, the developers have recently announced a “road map” for future content, so hopefully some of these concerns will be addressed.
I didn’t expect much out of World War Z as a licensed title, but Saber Interactive has done a great job adapting the IP’s globe-spanning scope and massive hordes of zombies while bolstering it with inspiration from a past classic. I’m not sure that I’d recommend it for players who insist on playing alone, but for those who have at least one friend or those who don’t mind recruiting some randos, it’s a great way to kill a million zombies over a weekend.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Saber Interactive and published by Mad Dog Games. It is currently available on PS4, XBO and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 12 hours of play were devoted to the game, and the game was completed. 11 of those hours were spent in multiplayer.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood and Gore, Intense Violence and Strong Language. The official ESRB description is as follows: This is a third-person shooter in which players assume the role of military squad members fighting a zombie outbreak. Exploring several international locations (e.g., Moscow, New York, Jerusalem), players survive waves of swarming zombie hordes while completing mission objectives. Players use machine guns, rifles, grenade launchers, and explosives to kill zombies in frenetic combat. Combat is highlighted by realistic gunfire, explosions, decapitations and/or dismemberment, and large blood-splatter effects. A handful of sequences depict mutilated corpses with exposed bones/organs in elevators. The words “f**k” and “sh*t” are heard in the dialogue.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue in the game is accompanied by text, but the text is not resizable and there are no names to specify who is speaking. Much dialogue happens during firefights, so players will likely miss out on most of the story unless they’re between battles. There are some audio cues that signal attacks from ‘super’ zombies but the game is so fast-paced and chaotic that I didn’t find them useful. WWZ does provide visual cues for the bulk of gameplay information like upcoming targets, places to rendezvous, teammate in distress and so on, but they’re small and can be hard to notice in a fight. In terms of communicating with teammates, there are basic emotes to get instructions across — follow me/agree/refuse/help.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. The L1/R1 and L2/R2 buttons can be flipped and the ‘run’ can be toggled but there are no other options. Move is left stick, look is the right stick. Melee is R1, L1 is ‘special action’ such as tossing a grenade or using a stim pack. L2 is aim, R2 is shoot. Circle is duck, R3 is to switch the camera’s position over the L/R shoulder, L3 is run, Square is interact with objects. Triangle cycles weapons. X is to climb/vault.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody's looking, and his favorite game of all time is a toss-up between the first Mass Effect and The Witcher 3. You can catch his written work here at GameCritics and you can hear him weekly on the @SoVideogames Podcast. Follow Brad on Twitter and Instagram at @BradGallaway, or contact him via email:
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