World War Z’s first few hours paint a picture of an unambitious zombie shooter

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World War Z fails to capitalize on its sole contribution to the zombie shooter genre.

World War Z is Saber Interactive’s newest game, taking inspiration from the zombie movie rather than the book.

The setup is pretty straightforward: four episodes set in four cities around the world (New York, Jerusalem, Moscow, and Tokyo), each with a unique cast of characters. There is no direct link between them; they’re simply all stories of local survivors trying to outrun the zombies. All chapters are unlocked from the start, and so are their various characters. The narrative is light enough that it doesn’t matter which episode or chapter you start with, as they are all self-contained.

The story is clearly not a focus, and apparently neither are the characters’ personalities. Whether it’s the cheesy, repetitive dialogue or the slurred delivery of the actors, you never quite get to make a connection with anyone. The focus, of course, is on massive hordes of zombies that you’ll have plenty of chances to chew through using an arsenal of guns and explosives. The game’s so-called swarm technology is impressive because of its scale, but not so much gameplay potential.

Each horde attack is led by thousands of zombies, split into different waves depending on the objective. In defense missions, the preparation phase positions you in one or two directions. It’s a very effective way to get players to appreciate the magnitude – and perhaps a bit of the terror – of seeing thousands of fast, angry zombies rushing towards you.

The technology is certainly capable, and it allows the game to funnel them through any hole big enough for it. It looks like a stream of bodies pushing from all sides.

Although their number may be impressive, this feeling quickly dissipates upon closer inspection. Some concessions probably had to be made to maintain a decent level of performance, but what ended up in the game were fast body bags with jittery animations and unpredictable behavior. I can’t tell if it’s a technical limitation or if the game’s AI is firing shots to try to keep things balanced, but the size of the horde has never been overwhelming. The numbers alone should be overwhelming – even if only for a brief moment.

It would have been great to see a few hundred zombies physically blocking you from advancing through an area or blocking a crucial escape route. You’re never really forced to ride through the waves or make any decisions other than finding the most efficient way to handle them.

Explosives and electric weapons cause a lot of damage, but again it feels like the game is more focused on performance optimization than physics simulation. Firing a rocket into a wave of zombies should fill the room with giblets, squirting blood everywhere, not create a subdued boom that obliterates a few bodies. I say erase because that’s really what happens: the bodies disappear as soon as they are dead.

The disappointing visuals of the explosions and their shocking sound effects are unfortunately a symptom of a larger problem: World War Z just isn’t satisfying.

The game is played from a third-person perspective, so a lot of work has gone into creating amazingly detailed character and weapon models. I wish Saber had tried to make the few weapons on offer feel distinct and powerful, rather than just looking good, though. Regardless of the weapon, there is a distinct lack of trigger weight.

Weapon sounds are consistently echoing and hollow, and the handling doesn’t compensate with demanding recoil – or really anything that demands more from players than just holding the button and spraying into meat sacks. I realize no one comes to World War Z for the Insurgency shooter, but the one thing you spend the majority of your time doing in the game deserved more attention.

World War Z offers six classes, which may be slightly more than necessary. While some bring useful tools like the Fixer’s ammo boxes and the Medic’s ability to boost team HP, the Hellraiser and Exterminator could use a fusion, and the same goes for the Slasher and the Gunslinger.

In the early hours of the morning, before you have a chance to reveal their lengthy skill trees, the decision to choose a class is largely decided by their starting weapon. Your starting weapon will always be tied to the class of your choice. During missions, you will come across weapon pickups, which offer guns in three rarities. To get rid of what you have, you’ll need to replace it with a pickup. These pickups are the entire arsenal of the game, and the only way to improve them is to use them more.

You don’t know what weapons you’re going to find, of course, which makes the leveling process a nightmare. Why spend precious points on – say, a Tier 3 SMG when you can spend it on your starter weapon instead? And, since you’re looking to upgrade to a better option ASAP, starter weapons don’t make much headway. Weapon pickups are fairly common if you’re willing to explore, but you still rely on RNG to decide your primary weapon.

I’m all for weapon progression, but if you want to tie weapon power to its level, at least let me pick one to upgrade consistently. I found it hard to really focus on one weapon because I constantly switch it for others along the way. You can certainly stick to one option for the whole round, or just never move from your low-level starting choice to maximize upgrade potential, but that’s annoying. Even so, the starting weapons are all low level, so you’re only making things harder.

It forces a style of play antithetical to what World War Z is. It’s not exciting having to limit your options initially just so you can improve things later, and it’s also not rewarding to earn XP for five different weapons, but never enough to rank up any of them. This scattered approach to progression is further exacerbated by the fact that class and weapon upgrades use the same currency – which the game doesn’t hand out generously, especially early on.

Budgeting for upgrade points shouldn’t be an issue in the early game. This is not an argument against the concept of grind – most games with a deep enough progression system will inevitably ask players to make choices. Rather, how the system is implemented in World War Z.

World War Z made me wonder if all my hopes for a modern Left 4 Dead are misplaced. I’d love to play a sequel to Valve’s classic made by today’s standards, with all that that entails, but I don’t think even that would be enough. World War Z is essentially that game. If you put horde size aside for a moment, the game’s objectives are straight out of L4D. You start off stealthily and can keep it up until you reach the first large location.

When this happens you will either be defending something/someone or delivering items from A to B while under attack. Even the zombies themselves are mostly modeled after L4D classes. You’ve got the area-of-effect damage dealer you want to keep at bay, the sneaky bouncing zombie lurking around the corners, the meaty, armored zombie, and the one you need to take down quickly before they call another. vague.

It’s all there and it all works as you’d expect, but never enough to excite on its own terms. The game tries to add an element of tactics with the class system, but even that is underutilized thanks to the aforementioned currency issue.

Even at $35-40, it’s hard to recommend World War Z when a game like Killing Floor 2 exists. Unless you prefer third person to first person, look elsewhere for your zombie fix. Maybe the one with pensive bikers will.

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