World War Z is an odd release, for reasons of its title and the overall framework of its mechanics and setup. What we have is a game based on a movie (that was based on a book) that came out years ago - in 2013. It starred Brad Pitt, there were hordes of zombies running real fast, they created undead pyramids to scale large walls, and stuff happened. Perhaps a cure was found, maybe one of the characters found some sort of redemptive arc in the midst of a world turned upside down. It was a long time ago, and we can’t remember if there was an actual ‘War’ depicted.
Secondly, and this is perhaps the reason World War Z exists in 2019 videogame form - it’s a Left 4 Dead clone. A photocopy. A facsimile. From the missions and set-pieces broken up into mini-campaigns, to the mysterious AI director calling in hordes and special zombies, which are in-fact the same ones from Valve’s 2008 original. The big tanky one, the fast pouncey one, the gassy gaseous one, and the screaming one that calls in reinforcements. A co-op third-person shooter where a cast of four-characters banter and bicker as they try and get from Point A’s chaotic zombie orgy to Point B’s safe no-biting zone.
But, since it has been a minute since Left 4 Dead 2, the case for playing World War Z is essentially ‘here’s a new Left 4 Dead’. Which truth be told, is a sentiment that is fairly easy to get behind. It worked wonders for the Vermintide series, and a straight-up zombie Left 4 Dead sounds like the return of an old friend. But, what’s lacking here is notable. The heady horror movie atmosphere of Left 4 Dead is gone, replaced by a series of brightly lit campaigns set across various real-world cities each involving a new story and set of characters no more interesting than “let’s get out of here, and away these zombies”.
Where the fantasy-themed multipathed huge levels of Warhammer Vermintide impressed, the short corridor spaces and confined outdoor environments of World War Z feel a tad outdated. Especially in terms of interactivity. Although we can barely remember the film on which this is based, odds are one of the reasons it’s so forgettable comes down to it probably being, well, similarly bland. What World War Z offers is a fairly solid, albeit short co-op gameplay experience with a decent character class and weapon levelling system.
Which is where the 2019 part of the equation makes itself known, and in execution being able to level-up various weapons and skill trees for bonuses that will then in turn make playing through harder difficulties more feasible - is well thought out. The different classes, ranging from medic to demolitions expert can dictate the style of play and even squad dynamics in meaningful ways. Graphically the game looks great and modern too - with excellent textures, environment detail, weapons, and character models. Although the levels and missions are for the most part small and un-ambitiously designed - case in point, one of the Moscow maps consists entirely of an underground carpark and a two storey mall.
The mission design is generally always the same too, involving moving to one point to defend for a few minutes before moving onto the next. And repeat. The Moscow map mentioned above, simply involves fending off hordes as you wait for a thing to arrive or open. Being able to set up defences adds some variety but you’re limited in what you can do creatively as you can only, say, put this turret in one of three spots.
But, is it fun to shoot zombies as a group in World War Z? Does it play enough like Left 4 Dead to scratch (and not bite) that itch. The answer is yes, but nowhere near as satisfying as it could have been. Thanks to network lag and no local servers getting to see the odd gratuitous gout of zombie gore from an exploded head, or watching as ragdolling torsos collapse under a soft red mist, feels off timing-wise. There are other issues here too, perhaps a limitation of the game engine and the push towards rendering massive hordes of the undead as pure spectacle. They mostly move and animate jankilly, weirdly. Often times gliding across the ground.
Contributing significantly to the disappointment are the sound effects - with the guns and explosives sounding particularly underwhelming. Shotguns sound like small calibre rifles, grenades and C4 detonate with the force of a small firecracker, and the heavy machine gun sounds like someone spilled a box of tic-tacs on a wooden floor. They get the job done; multitudes are massacred, the world is a safer place, etc etc, but without decent sound effects to back up the zombie slaying it's about as satisfying as watching a Michael Bay movie on an iPhone.