Roughly a year ago developer Holospark released Earthfall, an extra-terrestrial take on Valve’s seminal Left 4 Dead. Despite a decent amount of post-launch content, the co-op shooter never managed to find its niche. If only Holospark had taken Saber’s approach and associated a well-known, if outdated, movie license with their shooter it may have avoided obscurity. Never underestimate the importance of brand recognition.
World War Z also takes inspiration from Valve’s sadly dormant zombie series, with missions involving groups of ragtag survivors co-operatively completing objectives while occasionally stopping to hold their ground by erecting temporary defences. All the while they face sudden waves of undead, and a trickle of ‘special infected’ including the usual assortment of screamers, lurchers, tanks, and more.
So far, so predictable. It stumps up surprises in other areas, thankfully. Borrowing a trick from its silver screen counterpart, the festering undead attack in great numbers – a spectacle in itself – forming human pyramids at key locations. Throwing a grenade at the ‘base’ and watching these human towers crumble is oddly satisfying. In fact, the zombies are satisfying to slaughter in general, whether you’re mowing them down with a sentry gun or sneaking around with a machete and a silenced pistol.
Visually, it’s a cut above what we were expecting, with character design showcasing creative flair and the rubbish-strewn environments packing a lot of detail. All four missions are based in vastly different locations too, each with a central theme.
The survivors in New York attempt to flee the city – a journey that takes them through a swanky shopping mall, cluttered city streets and a subway system. The trek through snow-covered Moscow includes a stop at a partly ruined museum and a quaint shopping district, including a climactic battle on a frozen river before heading into a government lab. Jerusalem provides a stark contrast: the sun beats down on the dusty terrain below, and there’s a huge-scale battle at a disused dam – one of many rousing set-pieces.
Finally, there’s a shorter two-stage mission set in Tokyo, which starts out in a quiet village with blossoming cherry trees and ends with a full-on zombie assault at a built-up industrial complex with a harbour.
Each mission has its own quartet of battle-hardened survivors – which provides the PvP MP mode with a sizeable roster of playable heroes – and rather than having their own roles, each can be designated a class of your choosing. Again, Saber has put their own twist on the assortment of classes (assault, medic, engineer, scout, etc) by introducing the trap-carrying Exterminator, the explosion-loving Hellraiser, and the melee-focused Slasher. Credits doled out at the end of each mission can be spent on new skills and improved stats.
Now would be a good time to note that there are no IAPs, loot boxes or other nonsense. Instead, there’s an XP system which slowly unlocks new weapon mods – upgrades that are vital for making progress on the harder difficulties.
Saber has also clearly put effort into making sure mission objectives are varied. While a few co-op shooter tropes are present, you won’t be ferrying around oil cans here. Hurrah for that. The Jerusalem stage adds an NPC to your team, essentially turning the whole mission into an on-going escort quest. Worry not, as they’re able to hold their own. Speaking of escort missions, a quest to protect an armoured bus provides an eventful ride. The numerous instances which involve searching dead bodies for keys/passes are both overused and tedious, however.
Every so often you’re tasked with setting up defences to fend off an incoming swarm. Available arsenal varies from one run to the next, which helps mix things up a bit. Adding to this, heavy weapons – which include chainsaws, crossbows, and grenade launchers – are also placed at random and if you’re lucky enough to find a breaching charge, a bonus stash of goodies can be yours. The AI won’t intervene or interfere with your plans, but thankfully, they’re quick to come to your aid when you’re down and will watch your back as you go about completing objectives.
Teammate chatter is about what you’d expect – a bit of banter, lots of shouting, and almost continuous narration of every single action performed, no matter how minor.
As well as the co-op campaign there’s a full suite of MP modes. By which, we mean there a decent selection of mode types, including Swarm Deathmatch, King of the Hill, Vaccine Hunt (capture and hold onto a vaccine for as long as possible), and Scavenge Raid (collect as many resources as possible, including those dropped by defeating the enemy).
We found ourselves getting into matches relatively quickly, finding plenty of players in all five modes.
The zombie swarms have been incorporated into MP, and while they still attack with ferocity, here they’re alerted to sound. Or to be more exact, too much noise will summon a swarm. This is supposed to encourage players to pay more stealthily by using melee weapons and silenced pistols. In practice, many players still rely on rifles and SMGs. More fool them – the pistols pack quite a punch.
In respect of weapon balancing, heavy weapons can only be used for a few precious seconds in MP, while ordinance such as grenades and mines are dished out sparingly.
Ultimately, World War Z is an entertaining shooter that not only gets a lot right, but it’s also surprisingly slick. Some of its mechanics are a little hackneyed, this much is true, but it’s hard to argue that they aren’t refined – it offers a smooth ride that’s hard to criticise unless you were expecting something slightly more cerebral. And even then, you would be pushed hard to defy its winning combination of colossal zombie hordes and multiple ways to effectively maim.