World War Z sends you globetrotting in an intense and utterly compelling four-player cooperative title based on both the highly-recommended novel and less-recommended movie of the same name. Pumping endless rounds into an unrelenting zombie horde makes for the mindless third-person zombie shooter fun that many have sought after for, oh, about 10 years.
World War Z takes you to five distinct corners of the world in an episodic campaign that’s easy to jump in and out of. As you battle against the forebodingly large waves of the undead, the contrast in locations between Russia and Japan, for example, ensure there’s refreshing layouts and aesthetics as you flick through the missions. Each episode features its own cast of playable characters and centres on a different mini-story taking place across the downtrodden, post-apocalyptic remains of Earth.
Sadly, the catalogue of survivors you play as are devoid of any personality, making conjuring any attachment to them impossible. Unlockable backstories and quirky animations for each may encourage some preference in who you play as, but do little to augment an already bland and practically non-existent narrative. A disjointed series of lacklustre tales and box-standard voice acting makes for unengaging storytelling, to the point that you’ll be very tempted to skip cutscenes before the first episode reaches its climactic moments. The real focus lies on the gruesome gameplay that plays rather well.
The co-op campaign, which can be played both solo and some AI comrades, sees players carry out a series of objectives across its five episodes whilst battling off inexplicably huge swarms of brain-eaters. Yes, some moments in gaming exist only to terrify you to your very core. The bitter shiver that runs up your spine as the footsteps of a hulking Big Daddy draw near, the terror as you descend into a dark room teeming with Clickers, they’re moments that can inspire raw panic and World War Z does well to invoke the same kind of writhing fear. No words can accurately capture how mortifying it is to watch hundreds of zombies pouring onto your screen like rushing water from a broken dam.
The Swarm Engine used to render such huge undead hordes (easily on par with the number of Freakers that can appear in Days Gone) definitely showcases its capabilities, as zombies frantically clamber down narrow walkways or form a huge zombie dog piles, clambering over each other in order to mantle a rickety mesh fence, eyes firmly fixated on you. Partnered with an AI ‘intensity director’ that allows the number, frequency and type of zombies appearing to adapt to the players performance, the enemy AI overall feels remarkably intelligent and unpredictable, putting a dazzling spotlight on the replayability side of things.
Standard zombies are relatively fragile and you’ll find it oddly therapeutic levelling waves of flailing zombo arms with one of the many weapons made available to you, but “special” zombies even the odds with the likes of Lurkers launching from the shadows to pin you or Gasbags emitting a foul stench that chips away at your health.
World War Z’s enemies go hand in hand with some smart level design that makes for some nail-bitingly intense gameplay moments. A recurring objective sees you holding down a designated area as hordes of zombies funnel in towards you for several directions. What at first may seem slightly overwhelming is actually somewhat thought-provoking and if you can bypass the initial panic as their demonic cries fill the air, you’ll easily establish effective ways to beat down waves of zombies without breaking too much of a sweat. You’re given a little time to prepare yourselves, making use of defences such as turrets and barbed wire that can be salvaged from loot containers to help fortify the war zone.
At other points, some loosely integrated stealth mechanics can aid in conserving ammo for a time of greater need. Silencers can pop enemy heads without alerting the horde and using your trusty machete will allow you to launch from enemy to enemy dismembering limbs in a devastating melee attack that’ll have you feeling like a samurai from 47 Ronin.
Regurgitated objectives are no stranger in World War Z and carrying out the same tasks only causes a staggering sense of déjà vu that makes gameplay feel tedious after just a few episodes. Fortunately, the brisk pace of gameplay makes certain that missions do not outstay their welcome. The campaign difficulty can be tampered with to up the ante, but the real challenge is found in a solo playthrough, just for all the wrong reasons.
Friendly AI are painfully incompetent and their refusal to interact with objectives or heal themselves, you or anyone else is nothing short of infuriating. Their only real use is slaughtering special zombies that pin and render you useless, which is reassuring should you find yourself in the clutches of a Bull that’s repeatedly pummelling you into the ground. It’s abundantly clear that the game has been built for co-op and taking recent zombie titles like Dying Light into account, which thrived as a co-op title, that’s not a bad thing.
There’s a strong emphasis on replayability throughout, predominantly for getting the most out of the game’s progression system. There’s six different classes with unique perks that can be levelled up alongside the range of weaponry that’s randomly doled out within the episodes. This urges you to return and replay missions to earn currency, level and beef up your arsenal as you explore the subtly different flavours of World War Z’s combat. The recycled objectives can cause the campaign to feel stale after a while, and this might tempt you to try out the game’s PvPvZ multiplayer. Several different modes will see you go toe to toe with both hungry zombies and another team of players. It’s a neat twist and a relatively simple continuation of the same high-octane shooter fun found in all other aspects of the game.