You don’t know the meaning of the phrase ‘zombie horde’ until you’ve played World War Z. Whether your image of a herd of undead assailants is large or small, developer Saber Interactive has sought to revitalise just what it means to fight against these common video game enemies.
In fact, its use of hordes may be my favourite thing about the game. During regular play, there are moments where overcoming a certain obstacle summons a large group of zombies to come and gnaw at your face. In terms of scale, it’s probably the largest horde I’ve ever seen in a video game with numbers hitting the thousands, resembling a huge tidal wave of bodies that overwhelm you. As your team sneaks through an abandoned dockyard, a sudden the swarm comes from the distance, slowly growing in size before crowding you. It’s chaotic but fits the tone really well.
Set across various continents, World War Z tasks you and three other players with travelling across different cities that have received a post-apocalyptic makeover to fight back against the zombie threat. Because of its international narrative, each scenario is unique in its aesthetic; New York features huge office buildings and miles of abandoned cars whereas Tokyo utilises the narrow alleys and compact structures seen in calm Japanese suburbs.
The level design is decent, with each stage being easy to navigate. It makes use of subtle pointers such as light and sound to show the correct direction, and the visual flair of the setting blends appropriately with the maps’ practical layout. The structure of these missions involves going from A-to-B. There are unique objectives that need tackling. One has you escorting a bus full of refugees to safety on the outskirts of a city, while another changes things up by having you collect supplies for a train in an abandoned New York subway.
World War Z‘s biggest crime is it misunderstands its source material. The Max Brooks novel was popular for its portrayal of the human condition when faced with an undead threat told in small bite-sized stories, also using it as a platform for social commentary on government corruption and armed conflict. The book was a political thriller using zombies as a mere narrative device. The 2013 movie sadly brushed a lot of this aside to turn it into a Brad Pitt action flick. World War Z, the game, has very much tried to replicate the success of zombie shooters like Left 4 Dead and Killing Floor when it should have instead tapped into the narrative-shaped hole Telltale left behind.
But even Left 4 Dead had charming, unforgettable characters. Not a day goes by where I forget Francis’ hatred of all known things, or Zoey’s pop culture references. Those people were well-rounded characters, whereas World War Z lacks all that. There are no memorable lines, no catchphrases, and not a sliver of personality in 90% of this cast. Even now, sitting here writing this review, I’m struggling to remember the names of most of these people. I think one was called Ethan?
A great thing about the shooting in World War Z is how satisfying it feels to unload machine-gun fire into a crowd of zombies. Standard military-issue weapons such as rifles, shotguns and pistols are organised into three tiers depending on how powerful they are, and there is also a slot for heavy weaponry like grenade launchers and chainsaws. These mighty tools are disposed of once they are depleted of ammo, making them complete game-changers when used at the right moment but precious enough to not waste them on the lesser threats.
With it being a co-operative experience, the game relies heavily on the interactivity between other people. Similarly to others of its ilk, communication is the key to success. Coordinate with your teammates to set up the best defensive strategy and – when all hell breaks loose – make sure the team is coping. While the game shines during these moments, there is also the option to play with three computer players. These guys can defend you, but they don’t have the smarts to do anything besides that. It’s possible to solo it, but I wouldn’t recommend playing in this way.
In short, World War Z fits into a neat package with its zombie hordes and solid shooting mechanics, but does little else to break ground in a genre that is always developing new ideas. While there is still a lot of fun to be had, there isn’t much to see here that wasn’t already achieved in older four-player co-op games such as Left 4 Dead or Halo, and it would have been nice to have more personality come through in its design.
Tested on PC
Also available on PS4, Xbox One
Developer Saber Interactive
Publisher Mad Dog Games
Disclosure a copy of World War Z was supplied by Indigo Pearl PR