Gamers have been wanting a new iteration in the Left 4 Dead series since the last game came out in late 2009. Unfortunately, rather than focusing on the beloved fan-favorite franchises that gamers want, Valve has been focusing on (and failing at) its lackluster digital trading card game, Artifact. However Saber Interactive and Mad Dog Games hoped to scratch that zombie-slaying itch with their latest game, World War Z; a co-op game based on the 2013 movie starring Brad Pitt. The game clearly draws a ton of inspiration from the Left 4 Dead games. Unfortunately, while it’s not without its charms, World War Z just doesn’t pack as much of a punch as its group-based, zombie-slaying predecessors.
If you have ever played a Left 4 Dead game, you’ll feel right at home. The four-player cooperative campaign is nearly identical to the Left 4 Dead series, having four separate episodes that are broken out into 2-3 chapters/levels. There really isn’t a cohesive storyline to follow along with, other than just surviving the trek from point A to point B. The episodes’ settings include locations from the movie, such as New York and Jerusalem, as well as Moscow and Tokyo. Each episode has four specific characters to choose from, with different classes, each with their own special skills, weapons, and perks, such as a demolitions class, a melee class, and a healing class.
Class specializations play a bigger part in the dynamics of the group depending on the difficulty setting. There are five levels of difficulty to choose from, which determine the severity of factors such as health regeneration and friendly fire. The higher the difficulty, the more likely it is that you’ll be dropped by a teammate who accidentally shoots you in the back. Honestly, with the spray-and-pray nature of the aiming system, that’s a situation that will probably rear its ugly head quite often.
Everyone knows that headshots are the most effective and efficient way of taking out zombies. Couple that with the skill that it generally takes to land headshots in video games, and you would think that World War Z would hone in on that dynamic for taking out the hordes of zombies that are encountered. Unfortunately, the game’s aiming system is a bit underwhelming in that regard. Overall, World War Z’s control scheme plays surprisingly similar to that of The Division 2. However, more often than not, I would land multiple headshots while mowing down a group of zombies without even aiming, making it kind of pointless to aim at all. The only time aiming really came in handy was when a teammate got caught by one of the game’s special zombie types.
Players encounter special types of zombies through each level that are a bit more robust than the rest of the swarm. Lurkers pounce on unsuspecting players, hazmat zombies emit toxic fumes that damage players, and brute zombies called “Bulls” rush characters, slamming them into the ground until help can arrive (again, very similar to Left 4 Dead’s zombie types of the Hunter, the Boomer, and a hybrid of the Tank and Charger). The regular, run-of-the-mill zombies aren’t anything special by themselves. It’s when the swarm attacks that these zombies finally set themselves apart from the Left 4 Dead series.
World War Z is at its best when it brings in arguably the best part of the 2013 film: the swarm attacks. Players are given time to prepare for a swarm attack by refilling ammo, picking up heavy weapons (I highly recommend using the crossbow with explosive darts whenever you are able to find one), and setting up defensive weaponry such as electrified fences, barbed wire, and machine gun turrets. When the swarm attacks, it is quite a sight to behold.
A sea of bodies descends upon the group’s position, clawing over each other in an attempt to get over the perimeter to the players. The zombies pile up on top of each other like ants, creating hills for other zombies to easily run up before dropping into the area where the players are waiting to unleash their firepower. It is during these moments that World War Z’s intensity level is at an all-time high. For those looking for a genuinely intense battle, playing at a higher difficulty level will be far more satisfying than the easier difficulties, which are more like shooting fish in a barrel.
Beyond the standard campaign, World War Z offers up additional multiplayer modes, such as team deathmatch, king of the hill, and domination. Of course, zombie swarm attacks are thrown into the mix to add to the chaos. Technical issues aside (of which there are plenty), overall, the multiplayer modes aren’t all that impressive and cause more frustration than it’s worth. You’re probably better off just spending time in the campaign with a team that you can rely on.
To be fair, Saber Interactive and Mad Dog Games’ last endeavor within the gaming industry was Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn. Not exactly game-changing stuff, but the game was good for what it was, giving the world a better Shaquille O’Neal game than we got in 1994.
A price point of $40 seems a little steep considering that Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 are available on Steam as a bundle for only $15 (at the time of this writing), and basically provides the same experience (if not better) as World War Z.
Does World War Z scratch that zombie-slaying itch? Sure, if you’re desperate. But the game, which originally showed a ton of potential, falls a bit too flat to take that four-person shooter genre to the next level. To put it simply: if I were presented with the option to play either the original Left 4 Dead or World War Z, I would choose Left 4 Dead without hesitation.
2 out of 5 stars
A copy of World War Z was purchased by TheGamer for this review. The game is available now for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.