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December 2023

World War Z: Aftermath

Platform(s): Movie, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action
Developer: Saber Interactive
Release Date: April 16, 2019


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PC Review - 'World War Z'

by Cody Medellin on May 8, 2019 @ 2:30 a.m. PDT

Inspired by Paramount Pictures' blockbuster film, World War Z is a four-player cooperative featuring massive swarms of zombies who rush their living prey.

One of the many memes attributed to Valve is that it can't count to the number three. Like all memes, this is silly but has a hint of truth to it, as none of its franchises have ever seen a proper third entry. Portal stopped at 2, as did Team Fortress, and the constant joke of an eventual Half-Life 3 is more sad than funny nowadays. Left 4 Dead also happens to fall in this camp, and that has given a few developers the opportunity to craft their own four-player co-op shooter experiences. World War Z from Saber Interactive and Mad Dog Games is the latest contender to the throne, but it'll leave fans of co-op experiences both happy and frustrated.

The story is a loose mix of the movie and the books. Instead of having a cast of four protagonists, you have four different teams of four people that you'll control. Each group is situated in a different part of the world, and each has to complete entirely different primary objectives. For example, your team in Jerusalem needs to rescue a scientist and bring him to a remote base so he can detonate a satellite-based weapon to curb the undead population. The team in New York is trying to reach a ferry to get away from the overrun city. In Tokyo, the team is trying to ensure that the remaining survivors are on boats so they can relocate to China to regroup. Finally, Moscow's band of survivors is investigating rumors of a possible cure to the zombie outbreak.

The idea of having completely different hero sets in different locations shows the global reaction to the epidemic. With that said, one of the laments people may have is that there's no chance to learn about the characters you control. Playing each of them once provides some backstory about who they were before this all happened, but there are barely any references to that during the gameplay. Even when you hear about how one character worked on that particular subway tunnel or reminisces about how Los Angeles and Tokyo were so different, it just isn't enough to make you care. This is especially true due to the lack of character interactions between one another, so ultimately, everyone may as well be blank avatars.

The most succinct way to describe the game would be that it's Left 4 Dead with a recognizable movie license name and done from a third-person viewpoint rather than first-person. The basic task of each level is to go from point A to point B while eliminating all of the zombies that cross the path of your four-person team. You'll eliminate them with a standard assortment of weapons, from silenced pistols to submachine guns and even chainsaws. Everything is limited in ammo, and you can only carry three weapons at a time — if you don't count the machete you can never lose. Survival is the main focus, but you'll engage in some tasks, such as activating switches to open a gas dispenser, getting parts to fix a van, or finding supplies for a train operator.

While World War Z would've been fine adopting the familiar Left 4 Dead gameplay and nothing more, it's commendable to see that the developers put some effort into making the title different from other zombie shooters. Having to take a stand is nothing new in zombie games, but things feel different here, as you often have the high ground or zombies are only funneled through a few points to make things manageable. You can also lay down turrets, mortar cannons, and electrical traps, so you have some variety beyond standing around and dumping ammo into the incoming foes.

The two most exciting parts of the game are the zombies themselves. The first is the presence of the zombie hordes, where you'll see zombies suddenly pour forth from practically every angle. The normal zombie running speed makes the whole thing terrifying because the mad rush makes you have to act fast. What's worse — or better, depending on your viewpoint — is how massive that rush is. The numbers game on display is overwhelming, and even though the game makes corpses disappear after a while to help with memory management, it's impressive to see how many of the undead get dispatched once that rush is over.

The other impressive part comes from the makeshift zombie ladders. Each level features a few sections where you'll see zombies bunch up against a wall or gate, and instead of simply getting stuck there, the undead learn to pile up to create a makeshift ladder for others to climb. Despite being repeated often, the visual is still stunning, and it's equally as stunning to see grenades get thrown into the base, causing tons of corpses to fly away to reduce the ladder pile for a little while.

World War Z also has a class and leveling system that sounds good. While the characters you select are purely aesthetic, you can choose whether they'll be more proficient with things, like using med kits more effectively or dealing more damage with explosives. The classes can be leveled up as you use them more, and the same goes for the weapons, which can receive attachments or attributes, such as more stopping power. You'll need to achieve the level for the given perk and then purchase it with the in-game currency, a method that feels too grindy and arbitrary, despite not having any microtransactions to speed up the process. The other issue is that none of the upgrades and perks feel substantial. There doesn't seem to be much of a difference between using a base shotgun and a fully powered-up one, and unless you get lucky, you generally won't see any of the class perks come into play. The result is that the feeling of progression is more psychological than tangible.

There are a few other significant things it also gets wrong. Playing offline or playing without a full party means you'll have AI bots on your team, and their performance is spotty at best. They're actually pretty good at shooting zombies and calling out when special zombies are nearby. They're also decent at rescuing you in case you're trapped in a zombie's grasp or get knocked down. However, they only seem to pay attention to one human player at a time, so if you have a two-human and two-CPU team and one person gets knocked down, both CPU players will go to the fallen human and leave the other to fend for themselves. The AI is also terrible at trying to get objectives done, so expect to do all that work yourself.

Speaking of online play, the various patches have done a good job of keeping the performance high, as no connection issues were seen during our time with World War Z. However, the inability to create private lobbies still means that unless you get a full party before you start a match, you'll be matched up with random players (unless no one shows up in time). There's also the issue of the game never putting you in the beginning of a stage, so you can easily jump into the middle of a firefight or jump in at the stage's last section. The load times aren't too bad, but the seemingly random nature of when you enter matches can be frustrating.

Although the initial 11 stages is a good amount to have at launch, you'll quickly grow tired of them due to their similar flow. Every level features at least one spot where you need to set up defenses and survive an incoming horde for a set amount of time. Every weapon is available in every stage, so you can't change your strategies since you know your favorite zombie-killing tool will always be available. More importantly, the game has no randomization. Even if the tasks remain the same in Left 4 Dead and its ilk, the types of bouts and the zombie frequency would differ enough that you wouldn't have the exact same experience in multiple playthroughs. In World War Z, you'll run into the same triggers immediately, so unless you make up some challenges on your own, the predictability of each stage gets tiresome. It also doesn't help that the level flow is wonky. Finish a level, and unless you manually choose to play the next stage, you'll replay the same stage.

One more issue that crops up is the lack of anything new as far as enemies and weapons go. For the former, you'll hear each special zombie referenced by a different name, but their behavior matches that of just about every special zombie in Left 4 Dead. One zombie requires a lot of bullets to put down and rushes anyone at full speed. You have another one that's fond of pouncing on people and yet another that calls in more zombies until it's taken down. There's even a zombie that explodes into noxious gas when shot. To be fair, there's nothing wrong with having these zombie types, especially when they're done in what could be a more realistic manner than what other games depict, but it is disappointing to see that the game adds no new contributions to the special zombie category.

For the latter, you won't see any weapons that haven't been seen in other zombie games. Automatic rifles, pistols and shotguns are expected, but even with the various attachments in the late game, nothing makes one weapon feel better to use than another. The crossbow is an exception, but its ammo is so limited that the feeling of freshness is fleeting. The machete is another highlight because of the imbalance it provides in the player's favor. Players may not be able to level it up, but the weapon is powerful enough to slice apart even the most powerful undead foes with only a few strokes. If it weren't for the fact that some zombie hordes and makeshift zombie ladders are never in melee range, there's little reason to use guns, since even the most powerful ones pale in comparison to the machete.

Should you tire of co-op play, World War Z also offers up some competitive game modes. Everything is pretty standard, from Team Deathmatch to King of the Hill and a domination-style mode called Vaccine Hunt, where you need to hold on to the vaccine for as long as possible. These modes and more have one main differentiator in the form of zombie hordes, which come in periodically to spice things up. They provide something for players to shoot at and gain meaningful XP from (in case they're having a difficult time shooting other players). At the moment, the online population is pretty decent, so it should be easy to find a match in any of the modes.

Graphically, most of the game is nice. The environments have some very nice details without a bad texture in sight. The particle effects aren't abundant, but muzzle flash and explosions don't look too bad. The character models also look good, but the most impressive part remains the number of zombies that can appear on-screen at one time without the frame rate taking a nosedive. That's even more impressive when you realize how many different models are in the crowd, beating the impressive feats shown by games like the Dynasty Warriors series, where the crowds are pretty large but essentially made up of copies of one model type. One issue that creeps up constantly is that the game occasionally pauses when entering a new area or turning a corner. That might seem like something you'd experience in an online game, but it happened more often in offline games when the title was running on a SSD, suggesting that the game still needs some optimization work.

The audio, however, is in a much less favorable place. The soundtrack is fine, as you get the expected action horror vibe that works well enough, and the sound effects are also good, if nothing special. The voices are where things falter. The vocal performances range from average to unintentionally laughable, and that's amplified due to a script that sometimes sounds too corny in any medium. It also doesn't help that certain lines are repeated quite often, so hearing about how your training has paid off or how no one should mess with Mr. Wolf gets very tiresome very quickly.

Overall, World War Z provides a decent co-op zombie experience, despite some drawbacks. The weapons lack oomph, even when powered up, but they are still decent. The class system doesn't make anyone feel too different, but much like the weapons, there aren't any terrible classes. The locale changes are nice (even if the level beats remain similar), and the inclusion of standard adversarial multiplayer modes is also welcome. It's in real need of polish as far as matchmaking basics go, but it will satisfy those who have been waiting a long time for another co-op, zombie-killing experience. Until Turtle Rock shows off what it's been working on, think of World War Z as a familiar experience with a movie license attached.

Score: 7.0/10

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