Scott Watson reviews World War Z…
I have to admit to being caught completely off guard with Saber Interactive’s World War Z game. It feels like it’s come from out of nowhere like one of its rampant zombie swarms, so low key has the marketing seemed to be. I think however, having spent a good part of the past week up to my eyes in blood, gore, and zombie bits, that word of mouth may well see this picked up very quickly. It’s an enjoyable, albeit perhaps too short lived, experience.
Saber Interactive have pulled together a short, sharp, blast of frenetic four player co-op action that is part horde mode, part survival mode, part weapon sandbox, and for the most part all fun.
Based on the novel and subsequent Brad Pitt fronted film of the same name, World War Z pits you as one of four survivors of the oncoming zombie apocalypse across four separate storylines from around the globe. The manner in which these stories are told reminds me a bit of the way Battlefield 1 handled various stages in World War I. Each of the four characters in each of the four stories have a backstory of their own that helps with the world building and motives of why they are in the situation they find themselves in.
Beyond the characters and locations, World War Z is a third person co-op shooter with nods to the likes of Left 4 Dead and Killing Floor There’s even some nods to the Gears horde modes thrown in too. From the four characters available across each story location; New York, Jerusalem, Moscow and finally Japan, you can specialise across six different classes. The classes are all based on well trodden tropes; the scout, the medic, the all rounder, the heavy, the engineer, all with unique abilities for their specific classes and a simple skill tree setup that provides perks and buffs as you progress.
It’s been interesting over the course of this week to see how the other players have been selecting classes and, as yet, it doesn’t look like folk have really worked out the ideal mix with lots going the gunslinger (good all rounder). My favourite so far has been the Hellraiser (heavy class), with the ability to use C4 for maximum damage supplemented later with claymores. When used and timed correctly the Hellraiser can produce a rain of zombie parts that is a thing of beauty to watch. Couple the specialisms with upgradeable primary, secondary, and heavy weapons and you can start to build a real arsenal to take on the horde of zombies!
You may well have the arsenal, and the specialist skills, and the team to support you, but at the end of the day the stars of this game are really the zombies, or more specifically the zombie swarms. Saber Interactive have to take huge credit for building the technology that allows, they say, up to 500 of them appearing on screen at the one time.
I have to say, the first time you hear one of your team mates scream that a swarm is approaching you can’t help but watch in awe, then in terror, then in panic as they throw themselves over each other to get to you. They form pyramids, they form bridges, they flow like a rampant zombie cascade down walls all to get to you… I’m pretty sure I’ve already learned some new swear words for the onslaught that comes your way when they hit. It happens a few times every level too, there’s some great set pieces spread throughout the game, usually in open spaces that need fortifying or where you need to make a valiant last stand to protect someone, yourself or find a means to escape blocked. It’s in these moments in particular that your weapons become an absolute joy to use, especially the heavy weapons and specialisms such as my handy C4. It’s frantic, frenetic, and mental, but can fill you full of unbridled joy as you fight to take the swarm down.
The game does a great job of keeping you going through peaks and troughs of action. You’re always running into zombies, but they’re usually in small and for the most part manageable numbers, until you hit the swarms. Although the levels too are for the most part linear, there’s much to be gained from taking slight detours off the main path to find some killer weapons or breaching equipment that can help you gain access to specialist weapons like chainsaws, laser turrets, razor wire and more.
There are sadly, a few minor grumbles to the game that to my mind keep it from true co-op greatness. I wish they had included some means of dodging enemies, while you can melee your way out of trouble at times, there are a few enemies in the game that you can’t escape from; prowlers and bulls in particular can be frustratingly troublesome when they catch you as there’s no escape unless a team mate comes to your aid. This can be problematic when playing with randoms and you’re not in constant communication. Some kind of ping system we’ve seen work so well in Apex Legends of late would work a treat, instead of the simple four choice option wheel you have. There have been a good few times when my plight has been completely ignored by my team-mates and I’ve died in frustrating.
Beyond that though, I’ve found World War Z to be a tremendous load of fun, both playing solo with AI team mates, and with randoms (for the most part). OK, this may not have all the bells and whistles of a triple A title, but the technology behind the zombie swarms, the set pieces, the thumping weaponry you get to play with, and the storylines all help carry this along to a thoroughly enjoyable conclusion that will leave you wanting more. Now bring on the horde, cos I’m locked, loaded and ready to C4 their asses back to zombie oblivion!
+ Brilliant level design and set pieces
+ Zombie hordes are a thing of terrifying beauty to see when they swarm
+ Weaponry packs a real punch, with some explosive specialisms
+ Brilliant co-op experience with the right team!
– Inability to escape certain enemies can get infuriating
– Could really do with a dodge ability
Platform reviewed on Xbox One X