We've killed thousands of zombies in Saber Interactive's game adaptation of the Max Brooks novel and we got a thirst for blood.
The last game in the Left 4 Dead franchise, Left 4 Dead 2, released way back in 2009, even if it doesn't feel like that long ago. With fans waiting close to a decade for the third installment, developer Saber Interactive has taken the idea of what made Valve's zombie-slashing classic great and brought it, along with its own take on various aspects, to 2019 and our current-day formats.
With the already released World War Z, based on the Max Brooks novel of the same name, or maybe, technically more based on the movie adaptation starring Brad Pitt, players get to experience some crazy companion banter, brutal zombie annihilation, fun but stressful objectives and co-operative play, all of which were building blocks of the Left 4 Dead experience but there's some innovation in this gem of a game as well. The main focus of the game is, of course, the co-op story mode and the impressively massive zombie horde that's roaming around.
The co-operative mode is divided into four different story episodes with all but one having three scenarios or "chapters" if you will (the last episode, Tokyo, has two). These episodes differ greatly from one another, both in setting, character choices and objectives, making for plenty of variation. Before every mission, you get to choose a chapter, one of five difficulty levels, a class, and one of four episode-specific characters. Picking a character, mind you, isn't final in multiplayer but instead has you opt for your preferred character. These don't differ though, so if you don't get to play as your favourite there's not much more to lose other than the visual and audio aspects. The classes for the story mode are Gunslinger (firearms-focused), Hellraiser (explosive-focused), Medic (healing-focused), Fixer (all-rounder with special pickups and passives), Slasher (melee-focused) and Exterminator (crowd control-focused), all of which have different skill trees that you can choose to upgrade. Levelling up your skill trees is, however, tactical in the sense that you can only upgrade the classes you level up in, so it's best to look through the different ones and look for the skills you think would suit your playstyle the best early on. Each class caps at level 30 so it can take a while to go through the entirety of it, and noticing that you've picked the wrong class can happen too late if you don't scan the skill tree ahead of time. The skills one can unlock cover everything from extra health from health kits, new and fancy starting weapons and gear, and increased ammunition capacity to general buffs, stamina boosts and damage increases.
The last thing to check out before heading into battle is your weapon customisation tab. Here you'll be able to customise your arsenal with cosmetic items (if you have them, we were granted with some skins with the specific version of the game we tested) and all-around combat stat boosters like adding a scope, a larger mag or a silencer, for example. The different unlockables will be triggered once you've used that specific weapon enough. The changes you make here will be added to your starter weapons, all of which depend on your class and unlocked skills and its starter arsenal, as well as the weapons you pick up along the way.
Moving on to the different chapters and their objectives, the premise is simple. Work together (or alone with AI) to deal with the zombie horde, special undead, military traps, and chapter objectives to get out of the danger zone (which is basically the entire world at this point). To use an early level as a reference as to what they hold - the first, in fact - Descent tasks the player with a tough task: getting out of New York City. The sole objective is to persuade a shady character in charge of a subway train to let him on the train and drive the team out of town by collecting five supply crates for his people, as the horde swarms your location as well as the train. That's not the only objective that the map offers, however, in fact, there are plenty. You'll be faced with an objective early on in the chapter where you need to fight off the horde as you wait for an elevator. Before every encounter, all of which are timed in some way, you'll get to stock up with new weapons, health packs, grenades and ammunition from some conveniently placed supply crates and then, when prompted, the horde you'll have to fend off comes at you in full force.
If you ever feel the need to deal some massive damage, try looking for a breaching charge on the map. These will let you open up otherwise locked doors that usually hold some special loot like heavy weapons (which fit in your third slot, after your primary and secondary weapons, and have a set ammunition count). Heavy weapons include rocket launchers, MGLs, chainsaws, and heavy machine guns, just to name a few heavies.
Later on, but still before even reaching the train you and your team need to board, you'll find yourself inside a huge shopping mall. This will be your first encounter with a zombie wall or "pyramid". After setting up your defences, which, before some encounters will be ripe for the taking from yellow boxes spread out across the area (these will be auto- and manual turrets, mortars, barbed wire, etc.) you will be faced with a massive horde coming over the entrance fence. The way they get over it mimics the tactical, yet mindless climb seen in the movie adaptation. Essentially, the zombies will be forming pyramids to get to higher ground like a group of professional cheerleaders out for blood. Using explosives here will be your best bet as it not only eliminates a lot of the climbing bastards at once but also halts the climb. The horde is, without a doubt, impressive, with the hundreds of zombies swarming the player at once. There's plenty of visual zombie variation as well.
From time to time, you'll encounter special zombies, who will make your life hell. There are four different ones, those being Bulls (resembling Left 4 Dead's chargers, charging through your team and slamming one of you into the ground over and over until your team comes to help or you're dead), Lurkers (who will jump onto a player, pinning them down), Screamers (who will let out a loud screech, attracting more zombies) and Hazmats (who, if not shot in the head, will release a toxic gas when killed). All of these can be killed relatively quickly but will deal some serious damage to a lonesome, isolated survivor.
Speaking of lonely survivors, there's a specific aspect that should be mentioned - co-op. While World War Z technically can be played solo with three AI companions, some chapters can be incredibly tough even on the easier difficulties. This is because some of them have overlapping objectives. Taking the Dead Sea Stroll chapter on the Jerusalem episode list as an example, you'll be tasked with protecting an NPC as well as gather parts around the map as zombies swarm you from all directions. When playing with AI characters only, you'll have to keep a close eye on all of them, including the NPC, since they will prioritise getting injured characters up over sticking together. Now, that would be a good thing, if there wasn't a need to split up. World War Z is clearly made with co-op in mind and even though it is a blast to play alone, it's a lot more fun playing with friends. Talking to your teammates, exchanging strategies and working together is when this action game shines.
We've talked about the story mode but there's a mode we haven't touched on yet - multiplayer. World War Z offers a multiplayer experience with five different variations, Swarm Domination (our personal favourite, where you have to capture zones and kill zombies as well as the opposing team's players), King of the Hill (where you capture a specific point to earn victory points), Swarm Deathmatch (where you and your team will fight another to the death), Scavenge Raid (where you'll collect resources from spawn points or fallen enemies, earning victory points for your team) and Vaccine Hunt (where you and your team are tasked with picking up and holding onto a vaccine). Some may think that the horde aspect of the PvP mode will be an added source of meaningless frustration, however, we found that the multiplayer, thanks to the horde, becomes more accessible. Even players who are more PvE oriented can climb the leaderboard as everyone has to look out for environmental factors as well.
The multiplayer has a separate class system as well, with Survivor, Trapper, Specialist, Warfighter, Phantom, Demolisher, Striker, Support, Assassin and Shadow being pickable ahead of a match. They all spawn with different weapon-loadouts, can be applied to any character and have their own unlockable skill tree. The skill tree works the same in PvP as in the story mode, with the loadout you use levelling up as you use it, eventually unlocking more skills that you'll buy with in-game cash that you earn as you play.
With all that covered, let's talk bugs. We didn't really encounter a lot of major issues when playing, however, we found plenty of smaller ones. The main bug that seems to still be present is an audio bug that switches the characters' voices around and one that accidentally tip you over ledges, making it impossible for you to proceed and therefore forcing you to start over. These are, however, the only real issues, apart from the early launch server issues that have since been fixed, and considering how ambitious the game is we were mighty impressed. World War Z is really fun to play, brings co-op zombie annihilation back to where the fans want it to be, and an interesting PvP mode and we're excited to get back to playing the game.
8 / 10
Plenty of enemy variations, great combat mechanics, fun in co-op, accessible multiplayer, many modes to choose from, deep character development system, quick matchmaking.
A lot of audio and physics bugs, some server issues.