World War Z Review: Great Potential Tainted By Mediocre Online Services

Saber Interactive's zombie shooter falls just short of greatness, another victim of poor online component
7
  • Playstation 4
  • Windows
  • Xbox One
  • Action
  • Shooter
  • Survival
2019-04-16
WWZ Splash Art
World War Z offers zombie shooter fans some reprieve from the recent drought in the genre. Saber Interactive

There was a brief period in the mid 2000’s up to the early 2010’s where the gaming landscape was absolutely dominated by zombie games. It grew noticeable as an overall trend with 2008’s release of Left 4 Dead, and only grew more popular with the inclusion of the Zombie mode for every release of Call of Duty, starting with the original Black Ops. Then you have all the zombie games on PC that promised a realistic approach to combat and featured an unparalleled focus on actual survival, like DayZ¸ H1Z1, State of Decay, Project Zomboid, and No More Room In Hell, in addition to hundreds of other clones that plagued the Steam store pages. There were also quite a few Resident Evil games in between, which found themselves more action-oriented than previous counterparts, possibly with the growing trend of the modern zombie shooter.

It was a different time, indeed, where the battle royale genre was just starting out in private Minecraft servers and when the Call of Duty series wasn’t as stale as it is now. It’s not surprising, to say the least, that even though the zombie shooter craze has mostly died down nowadays, there are still some fans waiting for its resurgence, particularly following in the footsteps of those who were deemed to do it in the best way possible: Valve and their Left 4 Dead series.

But Saber Interactive’s newest title, World War Z, is anything but a cheap Left 4 Dead knock-off title. The third-person zombie shooter was made available to players across all platforms last Tuesday, and I got to experience it firsthand on the PC. The game is based on the 2006 book of the same name rather than the 2013 film starring Brad Pitt. Though you can certainly say that it follows the same core gameplay loop and also shares the same thematic elements of Left 4 Dead, it also offers something new to players who find themselves longing for an experience akin to one of Valve’s greatest titles.

WWZ Gunplay
The game's gunplay feels solid and weighty, as well as offering a huge variety of guns available. Photo: Author

Gunplay

A big part of what makes a shooter is how the gunplay works. It is probably the strongest foundation you can build gameplay on, and if the shooting mechanics feel rewarding, there is a greater chance that you will see your shooter being played. World War Z, I’m pleased to tell, feels rewarding enough in terms of gunplay. The shooting is weighty, and aiming is fairly accurate. If I have to compare it with another game, I’d say it comes pretty close to Grand Theft Auto V. Shooting zombies feels good, with the recoil balanced around casual play. The shooting never feels tedious, and there is a distinct difference between each gun; some guns can shoot fine by holding fire, some need to be pressed once before it can shoot again and some even fire in three-round bursts.

There is a huge variety of weapons, and each class starts out with a starting weapon that can be changed by leveling up your class. The weapons can also be upgraded after leveling, which you can do by using them. Once in-game, there are a lot of weapon containers, as well as hidden loot boxes that give additional weapons to use.

WWZ Weapons
World War Z offers a huge variety of weapons in three different tiers. Photo: Author

There are three tiers of weapons, each more powerful than the last, as well as primary and secondary types of weapons. The primary acts as the main weapon and usually includes assault rifles, submachine guns, crossbows, sniper rifles or combat shotguns. The secondary weapon slot acts as your sidearm, and includes silenced pistols, revolvers, machine pistols and shorter shotguns. There are also heavy weapons, though these cannot be leveled and upgraded and act more as a deterrent for a greater number of zombies.

Overall, World War Z carries a large variety of weapons to choose from and explore, and none of them are hidden behind a paywall. Everything in game can be earned by simply playing, even when offline.

WWZ Missions
The core gameplay loop revolves around completing missions in order to proceed further into the story, which is very much like Left 4 Dead. Photo: Author

Gameplay Loop and Difficulty

World War Z’s core gameplay loop revolves around four characters each in their own setting. The game is set in four distinct locations, much like the book: New York, Jerusalem, Moscow and Japan. Each setting, called an episode, has three scenarios, except for Tokyo which has two. In total, the game has 16 playable characters native to their own setting.

WWZ Episodes
World War Z offers four episodes, each set in its own distinct setting. Photo: Author

The co-op game mode features two options, an online and an offline mode. Due to the game’s connectivity issues which were addressed by Saber after launch, I found myself playing the offline component more than the online one. That’s not to say that I didn’t get to experience the online mode, though; when it works, it works, and if you’re online you get to play with up to three other players and choose different classes, each with their own unique set of skills. There are six classes: gunslinger (regular grunt), hellraiser (explosives expert), medic (self-explanatory), fixer (support class), slasher (melee-based) and exterminator (crowd control).

WWZ Classes
A list of the available classes for World War Z. Photo: Author

Each class has its own set of strengths and weaknesses, although I think that the only viable one for offline as of the moment is the gunslinger, since it is relatively well-rounded and most of the time your AI teammates are braindead and a complete non-threat. Playing with other people, however, is an entirely different story. I got the chance to play with two of my friends and we had an absolute blast using different classes for each scenario. Leveling up each class by playing it also unlocks tiers and other skills which can be purchased, so this in turn adds another layer of replayability. The skills and weapons can be purchased with gold, which can be earned by playing either solo or online, and is rewarded at the end of each scenario.

The scenarios usually play out in the same manner each time, though. You need to complete certain missions as a group in order to move on to the next set of missions, which was very similar to episodes in the Left 4 Dead series. World War Z does offer more variety by throwing in some side missions every now and then, usually in the form of needing to protect an NPC or killing special zombies, as well as finding breach charges in order to gain access to more powerful weapons.

World War Z features five levels of difficulty, each with its own class level recommendation. The difficulty model seems to scale both yours and the enemies’ health and damage, as well as the number of zombies that spawn. The game also features friendly fire, and it grows more unforgiving as the difficulty rises. While this may set the stage for eventual griefing, finding good teammates to play with is not really a big problem; I have not encountered a single bad one in my entire playthrough. To add to this, while in lower levels you can survive being downed by having a teammate revive you, the mechanic is slowly phased out, forcing you to play very strategically in order to succeed.

The game gives you an amazing amount of freedom in terms of how you play via class and weapon customization, as well as the built-in difficulty slider. This makes World War Z a highly replayable game, especially if you find friends to play it with.

WWZ Characters
The characters of World War Z. Photo: Author

Story and Narrative

What I find most lacking in this game as opposed to Left 4 Dead is a background story. Although the introduction of more characters was a highly welcome change, I would’ve expected the interactions between them during downtime in the game to be much more memorable. Instead, you get maybe two or three lines acknowledging each other, and the rest goes towards moving forward the missions with expository dialog about what the group needs to accomplish.

I do appreciate the inclusion of a collection page in the main menu, which provides backstories for characters in the form of short cinematics. You can earn these by beating a scenario with every character, which is fairly easy to do. Once you finish the scenario, you can just head over to the collection page and view these videos to learn more.

I would’ve appreciated more if there was some banter between the groups, and not just them reacting with pre-recorded lines for whenever they take friendly fire. I do think, however, that this will be lost to playing with a group of friends, seeing as you would essentially be just listening to each other instead of the voice lines. You will notice the paper-thin dispositions and personalities if you play offline, though, and that is a bit disappointing.

WWZ Horde
Shooting at a converging horde before they manage to climb up to me. Photo: Author

Game, Level, and Enemy Design

If there is something that stood out for me in this game, it would be the level design. Each setting is pretty unique from each other, and they all have their own vistas and secrets to explore. The real winner in the game in my opinion are the Tokyo episodes, which clearly captured the look and feel of the Asian country so well. The Moscow levels were really neat, too, set against a backdrop of ice and ruin.

WWZ Tokyo Setting
The Tokyo levels are some of the best in the game. Photo: Saber Interactive

While the scenario’s map is pretty much linear, there are still branching pathways and some exploring to do, especially if you’re on the hunt for more containers with guns. There are nooks and crannies to explore in every level, as well as valuable loot hidden behind sealed doors which can only be opened with breaching charges, something you can find sparingly throughout the world.

The game has plenty of options to push through to the finale; some levels can be better traversed by staying quiet and relying on silenced pistols, and some can be traversed by vaulting or climbing. The levels are very forgiving in terms of verticality, offering plenty of ways to approach different situations, and further compounded by the inclusion of the classes. In addition, most of the weapon and loot spawns are procedurally generated and are based on player performance, curiously similar to the AI ‘Director’ of Left 4 Dead.

WWZ Bull
The Bull in World War Z. Photo: Saber Interactive

The enemy design is somewhat shallow and fairly disappointing when compared to other zombie games. Granted, the book the game is based upon is well-known for its realistic portrayal of what would actually happen in a zombie apocalypse, so I guess you can forgive the fact that there are almost no variations of zombies, save for the special ones. What’s more disappointing though, is the fact that the special zombies seem to be just clones of the special ones from Left 4 Dead, the only difference being that they’re more boring now because of the same human designs. For reference, gasbags are boomers, creepers are hunters, and bulls are just tanks. I don’t think that screamers have counterparts in Left 4 Dead, but even then, that’s just one special zombie versus the other three.

However, there is a component of the enemy design which blew me away when I first encountered it. If you have seen the World War Z film, you must remember the scenes in Israel where hundreds of zombies form a mass of bodies in order to scale walls. Saber has managed to include that in this game, aptly called zombie hordes. Saber has developed their very own proprietary Swarm Engine, which allows them to render hundreds of zombies on-screen at any given time. Seeing these horrid creatures coming at you every time never got old for me, and the horde part of the mission is always the most satisfying.

The enemy AI is quite good, too, even if the zombies do look a bit generic. Most of the time, they only engage you if they hear sounds, which is in line with how the zombies behave in the book and the film. They also get stuck on the terrain and will sometimes land on their faces if they jump down on you from above. The realistic physics also lend some much-needed weight in the face of combat; shooting can be used to dismember, and explosions throw zombies off their feet into the air.

WWZ Lobby
Prepare for a lot of disconnection and quit-outs while in the lobby. Photo: Author

Online and Replayability

This for me is where it truly comes crumbling down. The online as of now is broken and feels like it needs a lot of work. There are a many connectivity issues, and the game suffers from major stutters and lag. I don’t really know how their server works, or if it’s a PC issue only, but this severely hampered my enjoyment of playing the game, and in my opinion what Saber needs to focus on if they want World War Z to succeed.

As I stated earlier, you can definitely play this game solo in offline mode, although I would also say that this experience can get old pretty fast. World War Z, even with the inclusion of an offline single-player mode, is absolutely made for multiplayer. You will enjoy and appreciate everything it has to offer playing by with random strangers and friends, and in the end get more replayability from it. If Saber does manage to fix its online into something akin to the connectivity of Left 4 Dead, and possibly even add server lists to the game, I am convinced that World War Z can become somewhat of successful niche title, catering to the zombie shooter fans of years past that are still very much interested in playing this kind of game today.

WWZ Overall
Flawed but good nonetheless. Photo: Saber Interactive

Overall

I would say that World War Z, for its current price of $22.99 on the Epic Games Store, is only worth getting if you have someone to play it with reliably who also enjoys zombie shooters, or if you’re a really, really big fan of zombie shooters on your own. It kills me that most online games at launch suffer from terrible connectivity issues, and I do hope that Saber gets around to fixing them. Sweeping aside those though, World War Z feels like an actual genuine attempt to improve upon the Left 4 Dead formula, with amazing settings, legitimate gunplay and solid game and level design to its credit. World War Z is an overall good game, with some really small oversights that made a huge impact on its quality.

(Review copy provided by Saber Interactive; review of the game is based on around 10 hours of gameplay on PC, not including its multiplayer mode, due to connectivity issues)

REVIEW SUMMARY
World War Z
7
World War Z Review: Great Potential Tainted By Mediocre Online Service
Underneath the connectivity issues and game-breaking bugs is a solid third-person zombie shooter in the vein of the classic Left 4 Dead series.
  • -Solid and weighty gunplay with a huge variety of guns
  • -Amazing game and level design
  • -Good replayability
  • -A stand-out co-op game, whenever the online works
  • -Bad connectivity issues in a primarily multiplayer game
  • -Presence of some game-breaking bugs
  • -Relatively small content size (unless updated)
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