You guys remember World War Z, right? A book that was critically acclaimed and well written that became a so-so movie that, years later, is now a game. Personally, I side-eyed it at first but now that I’ve played it – I’m so on board.
I was a huge fan of Left 4 Dead and its sequel and, heck, I still install those from time to time and give them a bit of attention. Thing of it is, once you’ve mainlined a couple of games and take it hard to the paint, you tend to grow weary. You memorize maps and you know every detail and sometimes there’s fun in that but other times, not so much. What I’m saying is: I needed another Left 4 Dead game and Valve wasn’t giving it up.
In the past few years, we’ve seen a massive influx of survival co-op games that give the illusion of that feeling but Left 4 Dead was its very own thing. It was the short maps, the massive waves of undead and special infected and the umbrella over it was the fact you could get into it with your pals. To say that I had been waiting a long time to feel that again, well, it’s an understatement.
Having played so many games that people swore to me were akin to that same Left 4 Dead feel and then feeling they come up short, I started to become jaded. When, despite the movie and book being years in the past, Sabre Interactive’s World War Z released and those rumblings were becoming shouts. It was all I heard about for a solid week and when my buddy Robert Workman slid me a code to give it a try – I knew this was probably the best time for me to dive in and check it out.
The first thing to take note of is that, while the gameplay mechanics are very reminiscent of Left 4 Dead, it isn’t a copycat but almost a spiritual successor with a movie franchise attached. I say this because Left 4 Dead’s campy little niche style of playing these levels in pretend horror movie fashion was clever and quirky but World War Z is already a movie itself, it doesn’t need to pretend. There isn’t campy chit-chat or goofy characters and instead these are more human folks you’re dragging through these cities.
The visuals are rather impressive from a game nobody had really been hearing too much about, as I noticed studios and publishers love to show off at game conventions (And not just The Game Awards) when they know they’ve got things locked down tight. The fact that this one came up out of nowhere seriously perplexes me. Perhaps it was the Paramount Pictures logo attached that made them all the more careful? Who knows.
Instead of just dragging cookie cutter types of characters in, all who have the same abilities like in Left 4 Dead, World War Z tries to set itself apart with giving you classes that you can level up and work on. Think of it like how Killing Floor 2 encourages you to play classes and not focus so much on the aesthetic character design. Giving us pre-built character models and then letting us dress up our play style with classes means less work they had to do on another gameplay aspect and more they could put into the balance. Where in Left 4 Dead we had some pretty basic weapons and such, World War Z shows how far we’ve come since those days and a plethora of weapons are at your disposal.
Each piece feels balanced and definitely not the overpowered super-weapons you think you’ll be hoisting up. When you get into the difficulty of a fight and you’re packing some heat, you’re still going to need to keep your head on a swivel. Those explosive rounds in your crossbow and your machine guns aren’t going to save you for very long. Those special infected types that you were quite used to in Left 4 Dead are mirrored here and I found myself just automatically calling them by what I called them in L4D because, well, there’s only so many special infected names you can come up with. I wasn’t sad about it.
Now, this isn’t to say I didn’t encounter some issues. Sabre Interactive’s past catalog is a lot of sports titles and collections based on already existing works, including Halo Online which saw a legal knuckle-smack from Microsoft for its mere existence. When most of your games are either Halo re-releases or basketball and driving titles, going into this direction should seem daunting. It made sense to me that there would be some complexities with things that even most Triple A studios have problems with like built-in voice chat and some game breaking bugs here and there. I’ve encountered a few crashes and a couple of bugs that stopped progression in a level, making the random players that assembled my team just get frustrated with and bail out altogether.
With that said, these are things that can be fixed and, as far as I’ve seen, PC players don’t have these same complications. With how difficult it can be to get patches and updates through on console, I’m not shocked that it’s taking a bit longer to sort us out and I’m sure it will get tweaked and perfected before we know it.
With that said, World War Z is just aggressively frantic, wildly intense and jaw-droppingly fun to play. The visual style is impressive as all hell and reminds me of how Division 2 startled me with its graphics and attention to detail. This is a game that, if you’re a fan of the genre, you will definitely want to play.