Review - World War Z

This one is a little bit of a departure from the norm for me. You see, I tend to play offline single player games WAY more than online multiplayer titles. However, this particular game intrigued me, so when the our man Tony asked me to take a look, I was happy to oblige. The reasons for my interest were twofold, 1, I have fond memories of what little of "Left 4 Dead" that I played years ago, and 2, It was a zombie game where the zombies looked interesting again. I'd been a bit burnt out on the Undead but much was made of how the hordes of flesh eaters move in this title, more on that later, and I was interested to see how it all worked.

The game I'm taking a look at this time is World War Z, a third-person, class-based shooter set in the same universe as the book by Max Brooks, and in the movie of the same name starring Brad Pitt. This setting explores what would happen in a world where the Zombie virus has spread worldwide and has wiped out 99.9% of humanity, turning most into ferocious flesh-eating zombies. It focuses on numerous groups of survivors, and their wide range of circumstances, as they struggle to survive in a world that has fundamentally changed. A world where the dead now walk and have one focus only. The consumption of the living.

So, let's see how it measures up, shall we?
I felt the co-op campaign, being the major focus, was the natural place to start and I'd recommend first timers do so too. You're given a choice of chapters to choose from, four in all, and you can play them and their individual episodes in any order you choose. Each of these locations, New York, Jerusalem, Moscow and Tokyo, tells the story of a different group of survivors. You play the role of one of these survivors, while the other three can be filled with friends or randoms (I had no problems finding players) as you advance through each setting, picking up equipment, completing objectives and, of course, constantly fighting off the hordes of undead. You and your team mates can use a simple communication system, assigned to the D-pad, to give simple commands via the minimap and point out dangers, medipacks and powerful weapons, but a full team with headsets is WAY more effective. You can also hurt each other so watching your lines of fire is essential. You might be trying to load supplies on to a train, searching through a frozen art gallery, trying to find food or simply struggling to escape. Whatever objective you happen to be doing, teamwork is the name of the game. 
A team that doesn't work together, will die individually because the undead won't mess around. Though weak but agile individually, in a group they can easily pin a player to the ground. That character is then under constant attack, losing health and unable to move, till saved by a teammate. 
And those aren't the only Zed types out there.
There's the lurker, who'll wait for you around corners and behind obstacles, waiting to leap out and pin the unwary. The Bull, a huge swat team member whose bulk and armour make him a formidable opponent. The gasbag, a zombie in a Hazmat suit and that will explode when it's punctured, spreading its cloud of toxic stench to choke everyone in the area. There are others too but, well, we don't want to spoil all the surprises ;-)

And, if you need a break from the pure co-op, then you can do something a little more competitive because when you first fire up World War Z, you'll be given two main areas to choose from. The first is the co-op campaign, mentioned earlier, and the second is the multiplayer Vs mode. Both have similar gameplay but have a different focus, the co-op campaign being PvE, while the Multiplayer Vs mode is PvPvE. All the usual match types are included, like versions of deathmatch, Last Man Standing and Capture the Flag and can provide a change of style when you want it.
Both the co-op and competitive sections have their own sets of unique classes, that level up separately and having a well-balanced team for each. Classes are levelled up by earning EXP through gameplay, as are your weapons, and the resulting upgrades are then purchased using the in-game currency. However, this currency is earned through playing the modes, no microtransactions or loot boxes here. Each character can hold a primary, secondary, heavy and melee weapon, one of each, as well as a special supply item, unique to their class. This could be a Frag grenade, like in the Gunslingers case, or the stimpack like the Medic has, and are best used in certain tactical situations. The more you play, the more skills you unlock, and the more supplies you earn. This allows you to become more powerful, and play at a higher difficulty, which gives even more rewards, speeding up the process, and makes surviving the horde just a little easier.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the best features of the zombies is how they move. If you've seen the movie, you know what you are in for. These fall into the "fast zombie" category and are also very agile, bouncing sidewards to dodge bullets and leaping over debris to close the gap towards you. One of the most impressive features, however, is the Zombie towers that are created during swarm attacks. These activate in certain missions and involve defending an area while huge amounts of undead spew towards the team. Inevitably, they'll hit a choke point or obstacle, and start scrambling over one another, climbing on the shoulders of those below, until they can make it over whatever blocks their way. The developers showed and talked about this feature in promotional material and, when you see it in action, it's quite impressive. Feeling like it's ripped straight from the movie, some of the most fun and entertaining moments were when my team were trying desperately to stop zombies from climbing our defences. Shooting out the bottom layer, only to watch all the rest come tumbling down both looks good and feels satisfying. I had a few genuine "whoa" moments with the backgrounds and scripted events because they looked extremely atmospheric and had little details immediately reminiscent of scenes that could have been taken straight from the movie.
At range, however, things fall apart a little. While a huge swarm of zombies running towards you from the horizon looks impressive, the bodies disappearing the SECOND they die, quickly breaks the illusion. This isn't as noticeable at medium to close range (which is most of the game actually) where the graphics and animations do a reasonable job, and bodies don't instantly disappear. While a little rough around the edges, the character models look fairly good and have interesting little features that add character, and distinguish them from each other. The zombies are okay too, a little generic looking maybe, and the models repeat a LOT, but they do the job. The settings and world's you fight through are suitably run down and destroyed, trash lies everywhere, along with scrapped cars, dumped luggage and, of course, piles of dead and undead bodies. Whether it's the New York underground or the snow-covered streets of Moscow, the backstreets of Jerusalem or the main streets of Tokyo, all look pretty decent. Maybe not the most polished, but still good enough to be in the AAA category, the graphics are certainly serviceable.
All in all, I had a lot more fun than I thought I would with World War Z. Its 3rd person co-op campaign, while not as deep as "Left 4 Dead",  scratched a similar itch, and the competitive side gives a zombie spin to classic deathmatch and team modes. In co-op, when 4 players sync up and work together, have complementary classes, and are calling out weak spots, it feels great. Playing with friends and working together to take down swarms of zombies, never gets old and can provide plenty of great gameplay moments.

That's not to say it's perfect however, playing with randoms can really test your patience. I've had people run off ahead, get pinned by a lurker, and slaughtered alone. Idiots trying to "save" you from being pinned by throwing a grenade into the group and one guy who let me bleed out because he was too busy trying to shoot a zombie on the other side of the map with a shotgun! These gripes aren't unique to WWZ, so I won't mark it down for that. I would say that graphically the game could do with a little more polish but suspect that the Xbox's power might limit this. The other area that could certainly improve, and needs too, is the mission choice. There are only 4 chapters with 3 episodes each and, when the grind required to unlock everything is factored in, they might get rather boring, rather quickly. Although there's no specific news that I know of, I'd be highly surprised if a content update isn't offered at some point, either free or via stumping up some cash, because the mission choice is the games main weakness. That said, if you're looking for a team based co-op shooter, then you might enjoy this one. With some more content, this could almost be a must play. As it is, it's a fun diversion, especially with 3 good buds to play with. If you're sick of waiting on Valve to finally make a new Left 4 Dead, then it might be worth taking a look at this instead.

Written by jonnydarkfang
Gamertag - jonnydarkfang