After what feels like weeks of delays, Saber Interactive finally launched ‘World War Z’ this week for PlayStation, Xbox, and PC. Loosely tied into both the novel and the movie of the same name, the game has a film-property license and some stunning visuals, as well as offering all the third-person co-op and PvP shooting action we’ve come to expect from such a game. There’s one key question though – is it any good?
With so many zombie-based shooters out there (many of which pale in comparison with the task of shooting Nazi zombies in any good installment of the ‘Call of Duty’ series), it’s understandable that Saber would want to take advantage of a movie license to make their offering stand out from the crowd. Using such a license only makes sense if it’s going to add material value to the game, though. The sad truth about ‘World War Z’ is that Brad Pitt or no Brad Pitt, it just wasn’t a very good film. It cost a fortune to make, didn’t perform as well as expected at the box office, and suffered the indignity of its sequel being canceled. There’s a suspicion that when a game takes a license from a film years after it’s made – and regardless of the quality of the film – they’re looking to apply a sticking plaster to quality issues within the game. Let’s find out if that’s the case here.
Setting The Scene
The setting of ‘World War Z’ will be familiar to anyone who’s seen the film – or seen any post-apocalyptic zombie movie. A global outbreak of zombies has occurred due to bad science, every country is overrun, and survivors battle against the hordes. The worst zombie films stick tightly to this formula with little hint of imagination, and unfortunately, so do the worst zombie games. The co-op mode in ‘World War Z’ is as familiar as it is short.
There are only eleven missions to undertake which you can share with three other players aside from yourself. The mission will see you establish a base point for defense, wait for the zombies to come, shoot them all in spectacularly gory and visceral detail, rinse and repeat. The scenery will occasionally change, as will the appearance and resilience of the zombies, but the formula won’t. This is the same ‘difficulty curve’ formula that was invented by Space Invaders in the late 1970s, and it’s a little depressing to see it still being used more than forty years later, even if it is dressed in new clothes. If it takes you more than twelve hours of game time to complete the co-op missions, you’re doing something wrong.
It would be wrong of us to say that there’s no charm here at all. If you’re a fan of the movie (there must be some of you out there somewhere), you’ll get a kick out of seeing some of the most famous locations represented on screen in all their digital glory. You can even re-create a couple of the most notable action sequences, but it all amounts to the same process you’ve already been through multiple times by the point it occurs.
We’re aware that many readers don’t look for hugely complicated gameplay when it comes to entertainment. If you’re the sort who turns to gaming to switch off from the world and just point and shoot, you’ll probably enjoy the game for the short time it lasts. The zombies do look incredible, and the sheer volume of them is enough to make you feel overwhelmed occasionally. They come from all directions – including crawling up from the floor – and we can imagine that if you played with the lights off it might even be good for the odd fright. Just as it seems to be building to a crescendo, though, it’s all over.
We can also point to the ‘zombie towers’ which were one of the few highlights of the film as a positive feature in the game visually, but a letdown in practice. A massive pile of zombies on top of each other would be incredible and terrifying if, when you approached, you found every individual zombie in that tower was equally as determined to tear your flesh and get at your brain. That isn’t the case though. The towers have been programmed as singular block objects, with one point of direction and one motive. They’re more decoration than a threat, and so serve as little more than a reminder of how good the game might have been if a little more thought had been applied to it.
The Unfinished Dead
When a game gets delayed and then suddenly appears on the market, we fear from experience that it may have been rushed to market. There are a couple of signs that ‘World War Z’ may be a case in point. There’s a section marked ‘Weapon Customization,’ for example, but no way we could find to customize weapons. We can unlock different types of weapon, and we can add silencers to them, but that’s linear progression as opposed to customization. Either the developers need to look at a dictionary, or there’s a whole feature missing.
It also feels like someone forgot to tweak a difficulty setting somewhere. There’s no actual need to add to your weapon at all; you can complete the game quite easily using the same weapon you start with, leaving you no reason to push for upgrades or learn any of the game’s ‘skills,’ which is another progression ladder. There might be something there for completists to chase after, but if you can get by without the distraction then why should you bother?
Many games like ‘World War Z’ aren’t about the story mode anyway – they’re sold for their PvP features, which are intended to give the game a lifespan far beyond the short story. ‘Call of Duty’ and ‘Grand Theft Auto’ are a testament to that. The issue with PvP mode in ‘World War Z’ is that it forgets everything you’ve already achieved in the campaign mode. Nothing you’ve unlocked gets carried over in terms of skill or weaponry, and so you have to start all over again. That’s off-putting before you even start.
The gameplay is little different to what you’ve seen in the campaign mode either. It’s just you and a larger team of people, establishing bases and waiting for the zombies to come pouring out at you. There’s admittedly a little more variation in the type and quality of zombie you’ll see in PvP, but to be frank, if we wanted a gaming experience where zombies appear randomly again and again, we’d go to Late Casino and play ‘Zombie Hoard.’ It might not be as well animated, but we’d still get to kill the occasional zombie. We’d at least get a tangible reward for our achievements there too, rather than just a set of skills or weapon modifications we don’t need and have no value. We’d also have a chance of winning our money back, which is a desire you’re likely to experience shortly after paying for ‘World War Z.’
We don’t like to be this negative about a game, but this is so unimaginative and hollow that we can’t help it. Sorry, ‘World War Z.’ We wish we could be kinder. This is one to avoid.