Left 4 Dead has always been, to me, one of the golden standards for co-op shooters. It has a great formula, which has been copied successfully over the years with games like Vermintide 2 and Zombie Army Trilogy. Games like Blackout Club try to change the formula in significant ways to make new, compelling experiences. World War Z doesn’t really do this. Instead it takes the “let’s improve upon an established formula” method, and the results are mixed. Probably the best way to describe World War Z is Left 4 Dead meets The Division.
If you’re familiar with the World War Z film you already know the setup: globetrotting mass zombie killing. And these are the types of zombies depicted in the World War Z film: fast, fearless, jumping, and climbing. They even make zombie-pyramids with their overwhelming numbers, climbing over each other to make piles that can spill over, flooding an area with the dead. I’ve never seen as many zombies on the screen at once—and if I have, World War Z does a great job of making it look like there is an overwhelming swarm. Zombie Army Trilogy was great for its slow wave of overwhelming undeath, and World War Z is great for its fast waves of overwhelming zombies… but most everything else is a bit of a letdown once you get into it.
The recent trend in co-op shooters seems to be classes, and World War Z does a pretty good job with this. There is the ranged class, the melee class, demolitions, etc. Everything you would expect. Interestingly, there is a medic class, which is something I don’t think I’ve run into in a co-op shooter before, though the actual implementation isn’t the most novel. Still, the co-op classes and the progression that goes along with it is a pretty engaging part of World War Z. Classes aren’t stuck to certain characters, either. This is great because if you get stuck playing as someone you don’t want to, at least your preferred class will follow with you. This also makes each of the characters purely cosmetic.
The co-op campaign is a multi-country, globetrotting affair. You play one of four different characters that make up whatever team is operating in that part of the world. I actually enjoyed the fact that there were multiple different characters to choose from, and that the story was sprawling. The character interactions are actually somewhat decent, and while they’re not the most memorable characters, they do a good job of immersing you in their plight.
The levels are okay, and while they span the globe, they’re very same-y and not very exciting. Most of the encounters involve grabbing things, or activating things before a big “battle” that involves setting up defenses to fight a huge wave of zombies. These defenses are scattered in boxes around the area, and if you don’t set them up before the wave comes, you could have some problems. Normal guns just aren’t enough to stop the insanely large groups of zombies, so if you don’t have turrets, automated turrets, voltage gates or any other defensive position set up, you can easily become overrun. Heavy weapons help with this immensely, and if you find yourself without defense or heavy weapons, it’s almost a certain fail.
The weapons you can find throughout the levels are pretty common fare—rifles, shotguns, auto rifles make up most of the weaponry. The experience you earn for completing (or failing) levels can be spent to upgrade these weapon pickups. If you like to use the carbine, for instance, upgrading that weapon outside of the mission means you’ll be picking up the upgraded version if you can find a carbine during the course of a level. Not finding it means you can’t use your upgraded weapon, which is a bummer, but you can spread experience to multiple different weapons to make sure you get the one you want. You can also, in some cases, start with specific weapons, and you can spend your precious experience upgrading those—making sure you always have an upgraded weapon in hand.
Weapons have different tiers; much like Left 4 Dead, but instead of “good” and “better” there seems to be three levels, of default, better, best. The tier three, or “best” weapons, are usually found near the end of a level. Heavy weapons are the hardest hitting, but also have their own ammo that can’t be replenished, making them, essentially, single-use weapons. They are also the most damaging weapons, and can clear out entire waves of zombies with clever use.
Just like you would expect in a zombie survival game, there are the “normal” zombies, and the “special” zombies. Normally, games like these borrow liberally from the Left 4 Dead formula, but they add some clever masking to make their “special” zombies not be a complete and blatant rip-off of Left 4 Dead—not so here: World War Z has no qualms about blatant rip-off. Normally that wouldn’t be an automatic bad thing, but in this case, it’s so uninspired I really couldn’t believe it. The horribly named “Bull” special is essentially the Charger from Left 4 Dead 2—running, grabbing, and slamming you to the ground. There is the “Hunter” type that jumps and pins you, but in this case, he camps around blind corners and is mostly a nuisance. Then there’s the hazmat one that puts a green filter on your screen, and then there’s the one that screams and…well: yawn. Player versus player would have been great to get rid of some of the tedium, but unfortunately, all PvP is relegated to separate game modes.
My biggest complaint, and the most damning for me, is the fact that World War Z has no private lobbies. If you create a party to play with friends, you will ALWAYS have a slot actively open and attempting to find someone to fill it. This probably doesn’t bother most people, but for those who want to play only with friends, it’s a total deal breaker.
If you want to play World War Z solo, it’s totally possible—but it’s horrible. The bots are mostly useless. They don’t heal, use grenades, turrets, heavy weapons, etc. Thankfully they will kill a special that is pinning you or otherwise get you up if you’re incapacitated. But playing on any difficulty beyond “normal” is extremely challenging due to the bots’ complete inability to not be useless. I’m not kidding about how utterly useless they are. They are stuck in a single class, so you can’t even change your bots’ class.
If you were hoping for epic player versus player, zombie versus survivor action you’ll have to look elsewhere. World War Z relegates its PvP to separate human vs human game modes. These modes aren’t horrible, they’re just horribly uninspired, and certainly not the marquee attraction for a game that promises co-op zombie killing gameplay. Also, these modes seem mostly empty as of this writing. I was trying to get into some quick matches to grab some screenshots, and matchmaking was taking an uncomfortably long time: something that is surprising for a game that is a little over a week old.
World War Z seems to be dead on arrival. It’s a shameless clone of Left 4 Dead that doesn’t execute the format as well as the many clones that have come before it. If you absolutely have to have a Left 4 Dead meets The Division type game, this fits the bill. But uninteresting levels, lack of private games, and absolutely worthless bots have destined World War Z to mediocrity.