There is something primal about killing zombies. The violence without consequence, the guttural moaning, and the regressive state of civilization all contribute to the tone and overall lack of accountability characters face in any zombie movie or game. While zombies have fallen off in popularity since the 2010s, when they basically infected all media, modern titles like Dying Light and The Last of Us prove that players haven’t, and will likely never, get over their desire to blast through hordes of zeds with nothing but a sawed off shotgun and a will to live.
In World War Z, you’ll play through four unrelated narrative campaigns, with a fifth location having been added in the Game of the Year Edition. Structurally, this makes the game a bit more reminiscent of the book than the film. Throughout each mission, you’ll be asked to complete various tasks while fighting off giant hordes of undead. The story is light and mostly serves to offer context for these goals. You and your three teammates escort a bus of survivors, plant explosives, locate medicine and more all while defending against the unrelenting waves of zombies pouring over buildings and through the streets.
The third-person shooting feels good and I experienced only infrequent framerate drops, which is an impressive feat considering the sheer number of enemies that can be on the screen at once. The game contains a large variety of weapons, but they usually don’t feel particularly distinct. Aside from the rare explosive crossbow, none of my teammates were ever fighting for anything specific.
If you’ve seen the film, you should have some idea of how the undead behave in this universe. They are of the infamous “fast zombie” variety and, like a terrifying but spirited group of cheerleaders, they’re able to climb on top of each other to reach higher levels. Individual enemies are dispatched easily, but it is still extremely satisfying to watch bodies fly in every direction after throwing a well timed grenade into a growing pile of undead.
Mechanically, World War Z is similar to Left 4 Dead and, like L4D, it is best experienced with friends. Up to four players can join a single round and, on higher difficulties, this becomes necessary as the game’s AI just won’t cut it anymore. Players need to communicate in order to set up effective defenses and position themselves strategically. Aside from the main campaign, there’s a competitive mode in which teams of 8 fight against each other. While this can sometimes feel no different from any of the dozens of third-person shooters saturating the market today, the addition of frequent zombie hordes that both teams must fight together generates some interesting situations.
The game also includes a detailed and in-depth class and skill system. Players can choose from 8 different classes each with a different focus, from melee to explosives to support. The differences between classes are few, however, I never felt like the massive amount of customization ever added much to my gameplay experience. Overall, the game still encourages you to play a certain way. No matter how much you level your Slasher, the game’s melee class, you will never be able to simply machete your way through a horde. Instead, the game encourages you in keeping your distance and moving constantly no matter what class you picked and this made my character customization choices feel hollow and unimportant.
Visually, World War Z is at its most impressive when hundreds of zombies are descending on you and your team, but the locations and level design cannot be ignored. World War Z takes place over five beautiful locations: New York, Jerusalem, Tokyo, Moscow, and Marseille has been added in the Game of the Year Edition. From dark subway tunnels to cherry blossom filled streets, each map is unique and fun to explore, even if they are almost completely linear. Hidden gear encourages players to check every nook and cranny of the level, revealing that they can be quite a bit bigger than you might initially think.
Games licensed by movie studios are often hit-or-miss, but I was pleasantly surprised by World War Z. It is technically proficient and, while it doesn’t really do anything different from other zombie shooters, it is nevertheless a fun experience, especially when played with friends. The horde mechanics, swarm physics, and cooperative play makes World War Z one of the most enjoyable zombie slaying games I’ve played in a while.