STAFF REVIEW of World War Z (Xbox One)

Thursday, May 16, 2019.
by Adam Dileva

World War Z Box art There are very few things that are certain in life. One of these things though, with about 99.9% certainty, is that movie videogames are going to be terrible. There is that 0.1% chance though that just because it has a movie license tied to its name, that maybe it’ll actually be a decent game as well, and not just a quick money grab. Sure, the odds aren’t great, but there is the odd exception to the rule, and I’m excited to report that World War Z belongs to that 0.1% category.

Based on the 2013 movie with the same name, World War Z is a four player cooperative adventure that will have you fighting for your lives against hundreds of zombies. And I know what you’re thinking: Yet another zombie game? I know, I thought that fad died out too (see what I did there?) but fans have been begging Valve for a new Left 4 Dead, and since they’re unable to produce it, developers Saber Interactive have taken their own spin on the gameplay formula. Sure, it’s got a movie license tied to it, and it’s changed from first person to third, yet somehow, it works great.

Based on the movie universe, you don’t recreate the movie, nor get to see or play as Brad Pitt, but instead, play through four separate mini campaigns. Just like in the film, humanity is on the verge of being wiped out from the undead, so you need to do whatever required to survive. While I enjoyed the smaller bite sized campaigns compared to one lengthy one, there was no overarching storyline to piece it all together, though if there was, I somehow completely missed it.

While I would normally hold this against a game, it simply works here because you’re coming to kill swarms of zombies; nothing more, nothing less. Each of the four campaigns have their own secluded stories, broken into 3 smaller chapters (though Episode 4 only had 2 chapters). You’ll venture across different areas of the world, from Moscow to New York, Jerusalem and Tokyo. Each campaign has its own unique characters to choose from, though they make no difference gameplay wise. Complete the campaign with a character and you’ll unlock a small clip of their backstory.

Each episode has its own special moments and challenges, though generally the gameplay won’t change from beginning to end. Get to a waypoint, fight some zombies, get to next checkpoint, hunker down as a swarm attacks you, get to next checkpoint and survive the final swarm of hundreds of zombies that rush you. Even though that’s the majority of the game design, the swarm sections never got tiresome as it was always a challenge, especially on the harder difficulties.

Most impressive hands down is the technology used to render hundreds of zombies all rushing at once. If you’re familiar with the movie, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Zombies in World War Z are unlike others, as they can run and rush at very fast speeds. They gather so quickly that they actually pile on top of one another, able to create an undead ladder of sorts to scale buildings, walls and defenses, and it’s no different here.

I don’t know what programming sorcery was used to create these swarms, but even after surviving dozens of them, I’m still impressed every time I witness that horde rushing towards us. Sure, the dead ones eventually fade away, but it’s done subtly and you don’t really notice it, or have time to when being rushed. Even more impressive is that I never once had any technical issues or slowdown when hundreds of them were on the screen at once.

Not all zombies are your standard braindead lurkers though. Just like Left 4 Dead, there are the odd few ‘special’ zombies that are much more menacing and dangerous. There are Brutes that wear armor and take a lot more firepower to take down, ones that are wearing hazmat suits that emit poison clouds when killed, Screamers that attract even more zombies and others. While these aren’t as challenging as a standard “boss” in other games, they force you to stick together as a team and take them out, because if you’re singled out and pounced on by these, there’s nothing you can do to escape on your own.

The main highlight of the gameplay though is the defense sections, where you’re given a minute or two to find supplies and setup a defense perimeter. You can find barbed wire, machine gun turrets, auto turrets and more heavy weaponry that will help turn the tides. On the Easy difficulties these aren’t much of a problem, but once you start choosing the harder ones, and realize friendly fire is a real thing, it becomes much more problematic to survive in. The harder the difficulty, the more currency you’ll earn once completed which can be used to purchase new weaponry and skills.

There are six classes to choose from, each with their own roles, abilities and starter weapons. These range from Medic, Hellraiser, Slasher, Exterminator, Fixer and Gunslinger. Each have their own unique abilities and specialties, though I tended to stick with Medic and heal my teammates when needed. Each class begins with a specific starter weapon, though you’re able to swap it out for any other you see during a match should you prefer.

Weapons level up the more you use them, and as a Medic, I start out with a SMG, so I decided to stick with them and level up that line of weaponry. As you max out a weapon’s XP, you’ll have to purchase the next tier of that gun, for a total of five tiers. The higher the tier, the more powerful it obviously becomes with attachments and stat increases.

One thing that frustrated me though was how you stop earning XP in a weapon once it’s maxed. Even though I maxed my tier 3 SMG out, I didn’t have enough currency to purchase my tier 4 yet, as I spent it on skill upgrades instead. Essentially you always want to be working on progressing different weapons, as you choose what version of a SMG, Rifle, etc are in your matches with your loadouts, based on what you’ve leveled up and purchased.

Skills unlock at each level as well, allowing you to purchase any you see fit. Some are minor increases and bonuses, whereas others are class defining, so it’s up to you, but spend wisely, as coins don’t come easily or quickly early on. One thing I wish was taught to me though was that you’re only able to equip one skill per vertical row of the skill tree, something I didn’t know, so I was purchasing every skill as they unlocked but was unaware about this restriction. Also, I found out very quickly that having to repeat missions and grinding was a real thing if you want to purchase weapons AND skills.

If cooperative survival isn’t really your thing, there is a competitive section as well with a handful of modes to partake in. In these Player vs Player vs Zombie modes (PvPvZ), you’re given different predefined classes to choose from, but like the campaign, will level them up the more you play. While the modes are unique takes on your standard King of the Hill, Deathmatch, Domination and more, the PvPvZ angle add some flair for those wanting to play competitively.

While the core experience is the cooperative campaigns, you do hit a wall of grinding that must be completed, as to play on the harder difficulties and survive, you’re going to need quite a bit of upgraded firepower and skills to do so. Even more importantly, you need a team that works together. Luckily I had a friend to play with, and when coordinating attacks and defenses it made a world of difference, as going in with a group of randoms on the harder difficulties is a death sentence, from my experience anyway.

While it’s unfortunate you don’t get to play as Brad Pitt, or have much of an overarching narrative tying all the mini campaigns together, World War Z scratches that Left 4 Dead itch that I’ve been craving for a few years now. While it does eventually turn into a grind, facing off against swarms of hundreds of rushing zombies, it never ceases to impress with its technical prowess and core fun of shooting a mass of zombies.

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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