If there’s one thing the world probably didn’t urgently need at this point, it’s yet another video game about zombies. So, is World War Z worth the effort?
The nameless nemesis may be a long-time staple of horror film and fiction, but it’s become a genre unto itself over the past decade or so thanks to some high-profile hits. Whether it’s the bleak biological movie terror of 28 Days Later, the prime-time urban decay of The Walking Dead or the weird undead additions to Red Dead Redemption and the Call of Duty series, zombies have become a reliable source of tension and terror that show no signs of fading in popularity.
The simple concept of a shambling, unstoppable seething mass of zombies is, of course, perfect for video games. They’re human-like, but they’re not human anymore – so you can happily shoot them, chainsaw them, explode them, set them on fire or squish them without having to worry about inconvenient stuff like feelings. They provide a way of pitting players against a massive, heaving unstoppable force, while still giving them something to actually shoot at. You never know the names or faces of the zombies that attack you – but you know what they want. Your brains, served fresh.
While some excellent zombie games have focused tightly on telling personal survival stories, others have just been content to place you and a bunch of weapons in front of a horde of the undead and let you have at it. World War Z, bearing the officially licensed name and logo of a six-year-old Brad Pitt zombie movie that most people never saw and based on the 2006 book, tries to do both – but don’t worry, there’s precious little story here to get in the way of the main attraction.
A decade ago, Valve’s Left 4 Dead games hit on a winning formula and helped kick off the modern zombie genre. Four characters that you barely knew anything about, fighting their way through zombie-infested locations, done as four-player online co-op. It worked brilliantly, with the need to support and protect your fellow players as zombies singled them out and attempted to pick them off. There hasn’t been a zombie game quite like Left 4 Dead since, but that’s just been rectified (giving Playstation players their first taste of the formula as well!)
World War Z doesn’t even make a vague attempt to hide its debt to Left 4 Dead – you’ve got a series of scenarios based around various cities around the world that have fallen under zombie attack. Each scenario is divided into chapters, which you tackle with a group of four characters (different for each city). What minimal story that’s provided is just flavour, as each chapter sees you making your way through various maps dealing with zombies individually, in large groups (climbing on top of each other to reach you) and ultimately in a massive swarm.
World War Z doesn’t even make a vague attempt to hide its debt to Left 4 Dead…
There’s a lot of stuff borrowed from Left 4 Dead – the different “special” zombies in particular – though this one’s played from a third-person perspective. But we haven’t had a decent zombie game of this type in a long time, and World War Z feels fresh despite its obvious inspiration. It’s not about to win acclaim for its storytelling, and its graphics are nothing ground-breaking, but the game’s been made with undeniable skill, and its atmospheric art style and better-than-average character models punch above their weight for a budget-priced game.
There’s plenty of replayability here, from weapon upgrades and combat perks to unlockable character backstories. As you level up, you get more capable and can take on tougher zombies, and while the starting difficulty could be described as “cakewalk” you’ll be properly up against it if you jump into harder difficulties before you’re ready. It’s great to see such a generous difficulty curve on offer, with the level and upgrade system offering a form of progression that Left 4 Dead never could.
It may not end up topping many “Game of the Year” lists, but World War Z is a lot more fun than you’d expect, plus it’s extremely well made – and well-priced.
World War Z is available now for PS4 and Xbox One.