Developer Saber Interactive and publishers Mad Dog Games and Focus Home Interactive's World War Z is definitely not the timeliest product of its day. The game is based off of a movie from roughly six years ago that was inspired by a book from 2006. What's more is that World War Z contains gameplay similar to Valve's Left 4 Dead series, which had its last entry come out about 10 years back. With this being the case, there's a good chance that many may view World War Z's launch in 2019 as being completely out of left field. However, despite its unceremonious release, its dated source material and inspirations, as well as its glaring technical flaws, the third-person shooter still manages to provide a decent experience overall for any contemporary gamer looking to squad up with others and slay some zombies.
World War Z takes place after a massive viral outbreak that causes cataclysms the world over, leading to the complete collapse of some of the planet's major cities. The 4-person co-op campaign is rather short and quite light on story, but it takes players through some of these ruined municipalities, including New York, Jerusalem, Moscow, and Tokyo, and it ultimately offers up 11 different missions in total. While the layout and design of every stage is generally well done insofar as uncluttered navigation and distinctive visuals are concerned, it's unfortunate to say that none of the missions really stand out in terms of innovation or are particularly unique when it comes to the pacing of the action.
As such, all of the missions in World War Z tend to feel very similar to one another, leading to lots of repetition and very little in the way of surprises. The thrust of each mission is to essentially take out different waves of zombies at various points while intermittently doing things like protecting caravans of survivors or escorting VIPs. These objectives serve the purpose of breaking up the occasional monotony of mindlessly slashing through, blowing up, and unloading ammo into droves of undead zeds, but for the most part, they feel inconsequential. Eventually, players will reach a “last stand” moment toward the end of a mission where they have to defend a given spot against one final gigantic, swarming horde of the infected before being able to escape with their lives intact. It must be noted that the sheer scale of these mobs of monsters is impressive, as they usually come in formidable surges. However, when the screen's flooded with enemies, stuttering and slowdown often occur.
Although each mission can become a bit humdrum over time, World War Z's levels are populated with a bunch of different firearms and weapons to scavenge to keep the action fresh, including various assault rifles, scout rifles, shotguns, pistols, as well as heavier artillery such as light machine guns, sniper rifles, and rocket launchers. There's even a giant chainsaw to rip through nearby enemies. Of course, some weapons are better than others, but generally speaking, the gunplay and combat is satisfying, particularly when it comes to mowing down the teeming piles of zombies climbing atop one another in an attempt to scale a wall and tear players to pieces. Another neat little feature can be found at certain points in stages where a squad is given extra time to set up security for some action in the vein of tower defense games, with levels providing items like barbed wire, electric floor panels, or turrets to help hold off huge waves of enemies. Plus, the horror game's controls are simple to grasp and utilize from the outset, which makes maneuvering during combat and the fighting itself that much more enjoyable.
On top of the standard zombies in World War Z's enemy waves, many of the unique zombie types found in the game are rehashed versions of Left 4 Dead's specialized enemies. For instance, World War Z has a nimble “Lurker” in place of L4D's “Hunters” to pin players down and incessantly gouge at them, and a large, riot-gear wearing “Bull” in place of “Chargers”. Then there's the “Gasbag”, which can be easily seen by its yellow hazmat suit, and it explodes upon death to cover players and squad members in a green, harmful blight. Additionally, there are the troublesome “Screamers”, which draw more zombies to one's location.
With World War Z being designed as a cooperative experience, the safest bet for the maximum amount of fun will be for one to play with as many pals as possible and converse via team chat. The game allows for joining a squad in a party of up to four players, but should one not be able to wrangle their friends into playing a few missions, World War Z compensates by filling in the group of survivors with other online players. What's more is that there's even an offline mode where players can take on co-op missions with teammates controlled by artificial intelligence (AI).
Regrettably, those who play offline will have to endure a litany of poor choices made on behalf of their AI squad members, which could lead to frustration and a mission taking longer than necessary to reach completion. Nevertheless, it's good to see Saber Interactive providing offline players with a playable option for World War Z's co-op campaign. That said, online players are given even more choices in the way of multiplayer modes, as there are Domination, King of the Hill, Deathmatch, Scavenge Raid, and Vaccine Hunt matches. These are alright for those who may have tired of the co-op PvE levels, but the real meat of the game is ultimately the campaign.
World War Z also boasts a class system in order to add a little bit of depth to progression, with players being able to level up as a Gunslinger, Hellraiser, Medic, Fixer, Slasher, and Exterminator by using in-game currency earned while playing. Each one caters to a given play style, with Gunslingers focusing primarily on abilities with firearms, Hellraisers becoming more proficient with explosives, Medics turning into better healers with special equipment like World War Z's Stim Pistol, and so forth. This system provides more incentives to keep playing and unlocking different perks and abilities for all the classes, but it's worth noting that the most useful class for those just starting out is the Gunslinger. This is due to the fact that not only is the artillery provided in each level plentiful and the best way of keeping enemy hordes at bay, but also the guns themselves can be upgraded through progression, too. Over the course of the game, players can unlock better weapon modifications using the aforementioned in-game points. Also, as one levels up, it's recommended to increase the difficulty so as to continue being challenged.
While not to connected to the progression of the class system, World War Z also lets players choose from 16 different playable survivors. No matter who a player picks, the gameplay doesn't really change, as they're each there to provide some more aesthetic variety, with a set of four representing the total squad of characters for a given city's missions. That said, though, playing as each of the survivors does provide some extra backstory when a level is completed as them. Doing so unlocks a brief, but high quality animated cinematic centered around their past leading up to and during the outbreak.
When it comes to World War Z's presentation, the graphics are by and large admirably done due to there being a close attention to detail. However, the semi-realistic art style itself doesn't have enough distinguishing features to make it truly remarkable. By the same token, the sound design is solid on the whole, especially when it comes to the sound effects, but the music – while competently scored and polished – is rote and uninspired. The worst offenders from a technical standpoint, though, are the frequent connectivity issues in World War Z that include, but are not limited to, being disconnected during or after completing a mission, having the game shut down completely and flash an error code, as well as the occasional server offline messages.
All things considered, aside from the glaring technical issues and the almost blatant copy-paste job of the formula from the Left 4 Dead series, World War Z should offer a satisfactory experience for anyone wanting to kill some time and some zombies in the process. Of course, there are a wealth of far better games out there which one could spend their hard-earned money on, but $40 isn't too steep of an asking price for what WWZ's third-person shooter action has to offer. So, until Valve decides to bring the highly anticipated Left 4 Dead 3 to the masses, World War Z will have to suffice as an adequate stopgap for now.
World War Z is available for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided with a PS4 code for this review.