WORLD WAR Z
Online romp revels in samey, sprinting undead action
No, Brad Pitt isn’t in this decomposing, late-to-the-party spin-off. Deal with it. While it’s a bummer that Hollywood’s most handsome mug doesn’t grace this chaotic, graceless, yet ultimately likeable Left 4 Dead wannabe, at least Saber Interactive used the cash it could have spent on Mr Durden’s impeccable face on almost limitless piles of zombie flesh. Thought Dead Rising had a lot of coffin-dodgers? Think again.
Spend even the briefest of moments in World War Z ’s company and you’ll come away feeling like you’ve been transported back in time. Scrunch your eyes a little, picture Gabe Newell whispering sweet nothings in your soon-to-be-chewed-off ear, and you could well be playing Left 4 Dead 2.5.
A four-player co-op campaign that revolves around slaughtering hundreds of zombie pests? Check. A constant need for tactical gunplay and selfless revives? You bet. Specialist undead classes that include Mr Spitty So-And-So, Charging Bastard, Lurking Creeper With Boundary Issues and Loud Jerk That Alerts All The Other Zombs To Your Presence? Of course.
Undead to rights
Though World War Z is undoubtedly derivative, at least its core mechanics are fairly well executed. Gunplay is reliable, responsive and agreeably meaty, while the globe-hopping fourchapter campaign is pleasingly varied. Whether you’re wasting zombies on the ruined streets of Manhattan, fighting off hypothermia and the undead in the snow-covered squares of Moscow, or trying to catch a ferry in a dystopian, albeit autumnally pretty Tokyo, the end-of-the-world scenery is arguably more engaging than either of Valve’s definitive online efforts.
The underlying tech powering these vast undead hordes is also quite impressive. Is World War Z a technical knockout? Hell no. When it comes to base looks, the scrappy action – full of clipping and unconvincing animations – is about as visually arousing as a plate of steamed asparagus. Still, when the zombie posses amass (and boy, do they ever) the sheer spectacle of seeing hundreds of sprinting cadavers advance upon your squad’s position is both alarming and stirring.
These swelling masses of rotting humanity don’t just provide impressive window dressing: such heaving corpse piles also present tactical challenges. When the undead begin to swarm – most missions have at least one set-piece where you have to stand your ground against hundreds of enemies who all pile on top of one another – you’re forced to take steps to beat back their numbers with as little ammo as possible.
Example? In a cute move that recalls the orc-smashing fun of the Battle Of Helm’s Deep from The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, you can send those zombie crowds toppling like a flesh-eating house of cards. Simply aim for the ghouls propping up the undead
flesh tower and the whole swarm will collapse on itself; a squad-saving move that can often be accomplished with a single frag grenade.
Saber has also done a reasonable job of trying to break up the monotony of all this relentless zombie murder. Yes, 80 per cent of the action revolves around mindlessly mowing down undead cronies, yet in key moments, bespoke objectives give levels some welcome variety. Whether it’s escorting a bus through the ruined tunnels of Tokyo or preventing a nuclear catastrophe in an underground Russian bunker by fiddling with reactors, it’s good to see Saber has the sense to occasionally halt its often overwhelming undead carnage.
As much as it’s best sampled in short online bursts, World War Z also does its best to entice committed survivors with long-term goals. Regularly revisit missions and you can both improve guns through weapon customisation and tweak the game’s multiple classes with perks – say, an unlockable power which highlights special zombie variations around corners, or another bonus that increases the distance of your push attack by 50 per cent.
If you want to damn World War Z with the faintest of praise, it’s at least as good as the underwhelming Pitt flick. It also has something the schlocky film doesn’t: self-awareness. Unlike the somewhat tone-deaf movie, the game knows it’s campy, ultimately good-natured trash. There’s a reason for the lower price point, and a knowing, winking philosophy that sees every element of the game, from cliched character design to painfully generic menus, feel like they were birthed in 2008. Yet when you consider the source material, this wry cheap and cheerful quality ultimately works in the game’s favour.
Despite the largely one-note action, noticeably low budget, as well as the lack of imagination on show, there’s at least a scrappy charm displayed here that makes this zombie romp just about worthwhile. If you have a few Xbox Live chums who have an undead-annihilating itch to scratch, you could do worse than waging this brain-biting battle.
“In key moments, bespoke objectives give levels some welcome variety”
Publisher Focus Home Interactive / Developer Saber Interactive / release date Out now / cost £34.99/$39.99
Left The Tokyo chapter has your survivor seeking refuge on a luxury liner.
right Sadly, the undead don’t get the sniffles – even during freezing blizzards.