The more games that release in an attempt to emulate it, the more we start to believe that Left 4 Dead was simply a product of its time. While the series never put in an appearance on a PlayStation console, its success was felt far and wide as multiple co-operative knock-offs tried and almost always failed to replicate the unique 2008 zombie shooter. 11 years later, and World War Z wants to take a bash at realising the genre’s continued potential. With a somewhat popular movie license to boast of, can it buck the trend and deliver a worthy experience in 2019?
Anyone familiar with Valve’s revolutionary last-gen shooter will feel right at home despite the switch to a third-person perspective. Split up into four episodes which consist of two to three chapters each, you’ll fight your way through hordes of zombies in an effort to escape your current predicament. Moscow, New York, Jerusalem, and Tokyo play host to the globe-trotting campaign, but that’s about as much variety as you’re going to get. Objectives within those locations are incredibly predictable: defend this point for a specific amount of time, escort a bus to safety, gather materials in order to craft something, or flip switches in a certain sequence to trigger the next set-piece. While a couple of playthroughs with a group of friends is sure to be a decent source of fun, there’s absolutely nothing here you haven’t seen before. That is, except for the swarm sequences.
On a couple of occasions per chapter, you’ll be tasked with defending a point from an incoming mob of the undead. With a time limit at hand, searching nearby crates is an essential loop in preparation as they can contain defensive aids such as turrets, barbed wire, and electrified mats. Once the timer hits zero, though, you better hope you’ve got enough ammunition and barriers in order to survive because the swarm that greets you is both impressive and intimidating.
Hundreds of zombies infest the screen as they convene on your position, and it’s quite a dramatic sight to behold. The trademark tactic from the film, where a gigantic horde of zombies will climb on top of each other in order to create a kind of undead pyramid to reach your position, can be witnessed in full force multiple times throughout each and every episode. It’s not too difficult to stop them in their tracks, but sometimes you almost don’t want to so that you can check out the spectacle for yourself. It’s far and away the most exciting mechanic in the game.
Sadly, nothing else the title attempts quite reaches that level of elation. You’ll work your way through generic, uninspired environments slaughtering any zombie that gets in your way while completing menial tasks that don’t move the needle in the slightest. Seriously, there isn’t a single memorable moment across the title’s entire five hour campaign that you’ll look forward to revisiting outside of the aforementioned swarm holdouts.
Injecting some much needed variety are the special type of infected you’ll encounter throughout your travels. The Reaper takes to the shadows and leaps at you in an effort to tear your face off, while the Bull comes equipped with a suit of armour and charges at anyone still breathing. The Hazmat releases toxic gas into the vicinity upon death, and the Screamer makes local hordes aware of your position – causing a constant stream of zombies to attack you until you take the leader down. They’re all fairly easy to eliminate except for the Bull, but they give you something else to think about during combat. Different types of special infected will pop up in different playthroughs too, especially so during a swarm sequence – keeping you on your toes at all times.
While the structure of each mission never changes, some depth can be found in the game’s class system and weapon upgrades. Six different classes allow teams to assign roles to each player, whether it be a Gunslinger packing a lead-filled punch, a Hellraiser who eliminates enemies with explosives, or a Medic who of course focuses on keeping their team’s HP in a fit state. Three more classes focus on repairs, melee strikes, and fire-based attacks that make for a selection at the beginning of each level with a genuine effect on the experience. Each class can be upgraded to level 30 with further perk unlocks as you go, earned via currency handed out upon the completion of missions. Don’t worry, though, there are no microtransactions to be taken advantage of.
The same can be said of every weapon in the game, each bragging of an upgrade tree that’ll increase their effectiveness in up to five tiers. As well as changing the look and feel of the gun, each enhancement adds further attachments and stat increases as you work your way through the tiers. It’s this aspect combined with class upgrades that gives the game an ounce of replayability.
Interestingly, it’s most likely the multiplayer component that is under the spotlight more than anything else. Originally pitched to Sony Bend as an add-on for the upcoming Days Gone, it’s going to receive a lot of scrutiny after the approach was denied. However, after a couple of matches, it might actually be the most impressive part of the experience. Five modes cover your typical team deathmatch, domination, and king of the hill-esque wars of attrition, but it's the presence of the undead that really changes the game. At select points, they’ll infest the map and take over any occupied zones, changing the flow of the match on its head. It could be used as a trigger for a losing side to take the initiative, or the leading team could farm those zombies for more points. It’s not something you’ll be playing for months after the fact, but with its own class system and perks to unlock, there’s a good amount of depth here to keep you occupied.
World War Z has all the makings of a good co-operative experience thanks to its comprehensive class and weapon variety, but its objective-based gameplay can’t quite live up to the same standard. You’re sure to find enjoyment in fending off swarms of the undead and the multiplayer is a real highlight, but it's unlikely to pull you away from better multiplayer titles for long.