World War Z (Xbox One Review)
Left 4 Dead, and its sequel, are a pair of games that you keep hearing crop up in conversation every other week. They have weight. Created in 2008 it heralded in a new take on surivial horror, one with a focus on fast action and hordes of zombies coming out of the woodwork at you. Over the years we’ve seen a slew of developers try and imitate that touted formula but to lesser avail. Games like Earthfall to Warhammer: Vermintide range in a spectrum of bad to half decent. After all was said and done, they were just underwhelming. Now, World War Z has entered itself into the arena of zombie shooters but does World War Z stand against the horde or is it just another wannabe?
World War Z’s zombie outbreak takes place across various episodes on the continents of North America and across Asia focusing on a small cast of survivors from each area. I’m not that knowledgeable when it comes to the various works pertaining to World War Z — other than the Brad Pitt variety — and as far as i’m aware each of the episodes within the game are instances all on their own with no malleable connection to its other works. So, you don’t have to be a fan of World War Z’s other media to appreciate what’s on offer, be it each character’s own journey or locations. Players start off in the densely packed New York City before moving onto vastly contradictory scenarios set in the arid plains of Jerusalem, the snowy motherland of Moscow and finally to the more tightnit roads and streets of Japan. Each bonafide locale is represented with such detail and care that strikingly sets them apart from one another. Jerusalem creates expansive areas for players to move more freely in, such as large environmental arena’s like dams and canyons, affording players to put up a more defensive posture. Unlike the streets of Japan that see’s roads and sidewalks bend to fit the unnaturally tight infrastructure of the small country. Fending of hordes of zombies alone can feel underwhelming at times, but pressed against these fantastically realised backdrops makes everything feel more palpable and immersive, even if I can be fleeting.
There’s never a moment to rest, much like it’s source of influence Left 4 Dead, the player and the action taking place around them is non-stop. You’ll have little time to breath when your being hounded by the likes of World War Z’s rabid zombie nation. These “Zekes” as they are referred come in packs, almost two dozen at a time when things are quiet. Once the drama ramps up, scenes become noisy and a tad more hectic, the meek packs evolve and into an unruly swarm. Swarm instances usually happen around big scenic landmarks or staging areas. Players will then be given an allotted time to hole up and set up a solid defence before the swarm comes crashing through, and sometimes, down upon them. Zekes can appear from anywhere almost unannounced, some of the more outlandish set pieces we see Zekes fall from the sky like a disease ridden waterfall.
Outwith these swarms of zombies you have the typical ‘Special’ zombies too that fall into the quintessential categories seen through similar games. You have the Bull that charges and pin’s players, the Lurker that does pretty much the same thing but hides in the shadows, the Screamer that alerts nearby Zekes, and Gasbags will spill poisonous gas when killed. There isn’t really much to be said about them other than World War Z’s lack of innovation on creating diverse enemy types that break the mold. The tried and true archetypes aren’t anything spectacular and fail to really keep World War Z feeling fresh in the long run.
And I think that’s World War Z’s main problem, the distinct lack of any unique ideas. The Swarms players fight are amazingly presented but don’t really hold up overtime. From the get go in the first episode’s very first chapter players will have been greeted with everything World War Z has. Every enemy encounter, possibly every weapon and defensive tool too can be found and messed around with, leaving the next three and a bit episodes wanting in new content other than a few flashy environments here and there. We’ve all seen these quirks done before, and quite frankly, others have done a better job of it too.
The real staying power for most players will be down to how much the love this type of survival, run and gun formula. There are caveats to gameplay to keep things interesting and and players coming back for more. Classes are present and must be chosen and leveled up throughout your playtime. Again, they are all of typical designs ranging from your all rounder to your medic and even a CQC specialist. However, classes can be slightly tweaked through progressive upgrades that alter them from their standard playstyle. The Fixer (the ammo support class) can alternate between serving up ammunition bags or Masking (smoke) grenades that aid in your attempts to revive teammates, effectively making the ammo specialist an impromptu medic. This multi-class specialization does not extend to all classes though as some are just more robust than others. Weapon customisation comes into play to, similarly to your class upgrades, weapons can be adjusted slightly to better suit how you want them to function. All of these upgrades are done though in game experience points and are only earned thought each stages completion. With a total of eighteen weapons and 6 classes — each with 30 levels to them — players will have a long time grinding to unlock everything available.
That particular grind gets a lot easier when you have someone to keep you company, luckily you don’t have to rely on the namby pamby A.I. bots to help you through it all, you can invite a friend or three. Playing through the story with coordinated individuals is a must the further up the difficulties you climb. Going from easy all the way through to insane difficulty with A.i. companions is foolhardy. Not being able to issue orders nor able to change the type of class and gear they have and use is a large detriment to anyone seeking a solo player outing.
You aren’t solely limited to just playing the campaign though, World War Z has a multiplayer suite full of PVP modes and classes exclusive to that mode. Once again you can team up with friends to play in games of straight up Deathmatch or more control oriented games like Swarm Domination. What really drove me to enjoy multiplayer more is the inclusion of Swarms in particular game modes. The interplay between both the enemy players and swarming zombies is pure chaos at times and really distracts you from the fluctuating lag and poor hit detection. Unfortunately the lag and improper hit detection is not isolated to online PVP and extends when playing the campaign online. Often leading to a lot of friendly fire and curse words being thrown about.
World War Z is fun but its staying power is limited to the niche fanbase that can’t wait for another iteration of Left 4 Dead. It’s environment and zombie swarms mesh together nicely to create diverse and heart pounding scenes of panic and terror the first time through, but flicker away on a second run. It’s online multiplayer has its moments too, but the constant state of poor performance across the board make matches a tiring affair. World War Z is worth your time if only for a few fleeting hours of fun with friends, just don’t expect it to hold you over for long.