It's been six years since Paramount adapted Max Brooks' horror novel World War Z into movie form. The action film opted to focus on Brad Pitt's character, instead of the episodic nature of the source material. It is here that Saber Interactive steps in, hoping to fill in some of the gaps left by the movie. With four different chapters taking place in New York, Moscow, Jerusalem, and Tokyo, World War Z follows different groups of survivors as they attempt to cull or escape the hordes of undead. With no previous knowledge of the series required, does World War Z invigorate a long-dead genre, or does it succumb to infection?
The Origins of World War Z
Thankfully, World War Z succeeds where many cooperative shooters fail. Saber Interactive may not have the highest pedigree in their release catalog, but WWZ is surprising in ways unexpected. By offering satisfying gunplay, surprising depth, and relentless action, it more than makes up for its technical flaws and lack of polish. It might not have the content of Left 4 Dead, but as far as AA shooters go, few come close to World War Z.
At its core, World War Z is a four-player cooperative third-person shooter. You control one of four survivors as they fight and slice their way across four different episodes. The zombies (or "zeds," in-universe) are numerous, and thus you have a whole arsenal of weapons and items to take them down with. Zombies are fast but extremely weak, with a headshot taking them down on almost all difficulties. Much like in the movie, the zeds build undead pyramids to scale high walls. Zombies easily number in the hundreds on-screen at any one time, making for a dizzying blend of flesh and blood as you mow down the undead.
It's hard to talk about World War Z without bringing up its inspirations: the aforementioned Left 4 Dead. Aside from your bog-standard zombies, you'll encounter a handful of special zombies. The special zombies clearly take after the Charger/Tank and the Hunter, while offering new variants. While the survivors aren't as well-characterized as in Left 4 Dead, the cast does comment on the world at times. There's certainly nothing wrong with aping the classics, and in many ways, World War Z feels old-fashioned, but it's better for it. If anything, World War Z could use a Tank equivalent, just to provide some tension.
Building Progression in World War Z[gallery columns="2" ids="290194,290195"]
Where World War Z diverges from its predecessors is in its progression system. Before every round, you select a character and one of seven distinct classes. Characters are not tied to classes, but classes do bestow you with different guns and starting equipment. These classes range from explosives experts to ammo-toting supporters, as well as melee specialists, medics, and more. Every class comes with thirty levels and associated perks, constantly boosting your power as you play more and more. Classes and perks also award different items, ranging from claymores and C4 to a "masking grenade" that can hide your presence from the zeds, as well as dealing damage to them. The options are diverse and the combinations nearly endless, making for never-ending choices and replayability.
If the thought of upgrading seven different classes wasn't enough, the numerous guns also offer different upgrade paths as well. Do you want to turn your battle rifle into a highly accurate, low-damage zed killing machine with a larger magazine? Or perhaps opt for better damage and hipfire, but lower accuracy overall? The choice is yours, and on higher difficulties, you're going to need those weapon upgrades. The zeds are primarily attracted by sound, and the last upgrade for almost every gun is a silencer. Naturally, you'll want to take zombies out quickly and quietly, to avoid getting swarmed. It's an affirming progression system, both as you boost your power and skills.
World War Z's Non-Stop Action
All of these skills and weapons are unlocked via currency earned for every mission played, scaling with levels of difficulty. Higher level weapon variants and skills require more currency, constantly rewarding consistent players. If you're worried about Saber monetizing World War Z, fear not, as you have to first level up the guns and classes in order to unlock the weapon variants and skills. There are no cosmetics to spend currency on currently, but plenty of guns or skills exist already.
World War Z also throws massive hordes at you at a few predefined points. Here, you can set up traps like electrified fences and auto-turrets in order to stem the tides against a coming sea of undead. Can't find enough defenses? If you find a breaching charge, you can blow open specially marked doors to get powerful weapons and extra items. Thus there's another hidden skill to have in knowing the locations of the charges if only to make surviving the monstrous hordes easier.
If all this sounds like non-stop action, you'd be right. World War Z isn't concerned with pacing or punctuating moments of silence between high-intensity battles; you're constantly on the move, attempting to survive. While Left 4 Dead may be the primary inspiration, the sheer ludicrous number of zombies and all-out war going on around you is refreshing. Weapon pickups are numerous and essential, as you'll easily run out of ammo multiple times in a single level. It's frantic, fast-paced, and downright fun.
Even Zombies Need Polishing in World War Z
Still, for all of its depth and action, World War Z is not without faults. Perhaps one of the biggest failings is the lack of content. Although it's a budget title, the four episodes combine for just 11 levels. Levels are short, ranging anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes and are largely contained. If you want to maximize your experience and currency gains you'll be running the same handful of levels over and over. Saber may introduce more episodes or levels down the line, but the offering as of launch is a little threadbare.
Beyond that, World War Z's extensive popularity seems to have taken Saber by surprise. Notably, lingering server issues have been reported on Saber's Twitter, as well as experienced during play. Saber has reportedly put out a patch that solved many of the connectivity issues, but reports are still cropping up. Additionally, when playing a co-op match with our friendly neighborhood Reviews Editor, his game world was replaced with an unplayable array of blocky colors midway through a level. Add in a handful of crashes, and World War Z makes for an occasionally frustrating technical experience.
Fighting World War Z Online and Offline
If you're running short of currency, there's also a strange "PvPvZ" mode, where two teams fight it out in a variety of deathmatch modes while hordes of zombies occasionally spawn in. The lobby system is archaic and doesn't allow you to rotate between game modes easily, and there's no quitting out of a lobby unless you're in a game already. Maybe with some more polish or better testing, the PvP mode could have been more than just a neat experiment, but it's not the focus, and it shows.
Still, when it runs, World War Z is gorgeous to watch. FPS counts regularly soared into the 100s using the Vulkan settings, even pushing 200 and beyond. Despite the constant stream of gunfire, flesh, and blood, it looks great in motion. The well-balanced sound packs appropriate music cues, and voice lines easily rise over the cacophony of gunfire. The only complaint is that the Lurker/Hunter special zombie can be hard to find, as the scream it makes is too quiet.
World War Z Review | Final Thoughts
As far as pure zombie-killing action is concerned, it doesn't get much better than this. Lobbies fill quickly on PC, showing there's still an appetite for co-op zombie shooters. Though the third-person perspective may seem like an odd choice, it was a welcome one. You've got a better view of the endless stream of zombies all headed towards you. As the bodies pile up, the campy voice acting and dorky survivors you encounter only add to the blissful joy you feel as you truck through another crowd of zeds.
World War Z might not win any awards for originality, but as far as fun in its purest form is concerned, it's hard to beat. Saber Interactive crafted a AA shooter based off a largely forgettable movie and turned it into something special. There's rewarding and satisfying gunplay, plenty of reasons to come back and level classes, and a whole lot of zombies to shoot. It may suffer from some technical issues and a lack of content at launch, but these issues can easily be remedied. If you're craving good old-fashioned zombie-killing fun, look no further than World War Z.
TechRaptor reviewed World War Z on PC via the Epic Games Store with a code provided by the publisher. It is also available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
A surprisingly deep and fun co-op shooter, World War Z proves that killing hordes of zombies is still fun, years after the genre hit its peak.
- Excellent Nonstop Action
- Deep Progression Systems
- Purely Fun Gameplay
- Lack of Content on Launch
- Tacked on PvP Mode
- Instability and Server Issues