World War Z probably wasn’t the most obvious license to pick up and turn into a zombie shooter, with the brilliance of the book muted and simplified through its Brad Pitt train of a movie, its initial announcement coming four years after that film’s release and the game set to arrive six years on… It’s unusual to say the least, and yet the film’s setting is one that Saber Interactive saw an awful lot of potential in. Thankfully, it feels as though that decision, while still odd, is being vindicated.
It’s actually a combination that makes quite a bit of sense, with the slow pace of the book (and the slow pace of the zombies) replaced by a much more action oriented style by the film and its showstopping zombie pyramid moments able to provide a key hook for Saber to work from. Those zombie pyramids are here in full force, racing straight toward to you and with the Zeds then just clambering all over each other until they spill over walls, onto balconies, and try to get at you. It leads to some truly impressive hordes washing through a level or area, forcing you to churn through whatever ammunition and resources you have.
This is a co-op shooter very much in the vein of Left 4 Dead – something which Saber aren’t too fussed about noting as an inspiration – with four players toting a variety of different weapons and equipment, battling through levels full of zombies. An AI overlooks the action, dynamically adjusting the difficulty within a set range, tweaking the weight of number of zombies and the weapon and ammo drops you’ll find to constantly try and keep you on your toes, never letting you get too comfortable in a given situation.
Playing one of the chapters from the Russian leg of the game, it doesn’t skimp on giving you the good stuff. There’s some of the classic problems that the group of four survivors come across, as a crashing helicopter riles up all the local zombies and force them to divert into a museum. Naturally there’s some locked doors, passcodes that set off alarms, and a rush of zombies coming in after you. It’s here that we got to see the zombie pyramids growing and also how to cut them down. With some handy machine guns and explosive-laden crossbows nearby we could easily just blast away into the base of the pyramid and cause it to topple as the foundations disappeared. It’s really effective and looks great as all of the physics and dynamic animation come together.
That’s not the only trick that the game leans on, and a hint of the Left 4 Dead inspirations came through with the special zombies that appeared, something that was in neither book nor film. It’s somewhat more in the realms of reality – or as real as zombie fiction can get – with zeds that leave behind clouds of gas or move quickly to leap onto one of you, but without the Jockey or Smoker style of zombie in L4D. In truth, it’s a good way of adding a touch of variety, but Saber could look to be a little more inventive with them as they currently just feels a bit indifferent.
The hordes were used in a slightly different way later on, when we got to the downed chopper and had to hold the position. Thankfully there were a few fences around and we had the opportunity to put down some traps to help defend the location. Hooking up batteries to create electrifying grids and placing barbed wire, we were restricted to set locations, but it effectively created some chokepoints for us to defend as the waves of zombies came from different directions. Having conveniently placed machine guns and mortars also helped when it looked like a particularly big batch of zombies were rushing through.
There’s still a good way for this game to go, but it’s good to see that Saber are trying to seed a few of their inspirations from the books into the game as well as the film. The three locations are set in New York, Moscow and Jerusalem, but you’re not having the same characters jet setting across the globe. Instead it’s a different set of four characters each time and we get a look into how the survivors around the world are handling the outbreak differently. Sadly there won’t be a “Lobo” – a combination spade, axe, hammer, claw, crowbar that was part of the American recovery in the book – but it might make it.
Given the source material and excellence of its gaming inspirations, World War Z could find it difficult to stand out from the crowd. Yet, despite the middling reception the film received, it’s led to some really nice ideas in the game that deserve some praise and attention in their own right.