World War Z Review

By Mark Delaney, 1 month ago
So many games have tried to be the Left 4 Dead 3 Valve never gave us. I've played almost all of them and have never found one that really hits the high marks of that important series. With Saber Interactive's World War Z, it's still right to say it falls short of the Left 4 Dead perch it so blatantly strives for, but it deserves a ton of credit for coming close. World War Z is among the best surprises of 2019.

World War Z

If the name and imagery feel vaguely familiar to you, that's because World War Z the video game is based on the Brad Pitt vehicle from several years ago of the same name, itself based on the Max Brooks book from years before that. It's a weird proposition to base your game on a relatively quiet zombie property famous for its movie sequel's development hell, but the game ends up being the best example of Brooks' zombie universe. The game is unabashedly a near Left 4 Dead clone, taking so much from the seminal series and putting it in third-person. Multiple campaigns play out across chapters while an AI director throws hordes at you, including familiar special zombies, from different angles and with reactive pacing. Along the way, you and up to three others will scavenge for weapons and equipment like molotovs, health packs, and ammo, often stopping to fend off massive swarms of the more modern fast-moving undead. If you've played Left 4 Dead, you'll know none of this is new, and yet World War Z comes in a long line of games quite like it so you can't really fault Saber either.

While it's light on new ideas, World War Z does enough to stand on its own too. Rather than have the same foursome of characters for each campaign, World War Z takes players globe-trotting like the original novel and focuses on a new quartet of survivors in each story. They lack the personalities of Louis, Ellis, Coach, and the rest, but they are visually interesting enough to still merit players picking a favorite. Each comes with their own story trailer that explains who they were before the dead began to walk again.

The four campaigns hit a lot of the same beats with similar objectives carrying across each of them. Periods of running and gunning are often interspersed with moments of hunkering down, setting up defenses, and getting ready to push back against the visually striking and signature zombie hordes from the movie. These moments often bring so many zombies on screen that it's at once intimidating and amazing. The game has a flair for setpieces, and a lot of its best moments come when you're signaling for help, setting off some sort of alarm, and watching as nothing less than an army of sprinting undead head your way carelessly, often spilling over ledges like a water fountain or climbing each other like slithering pyramids of flesh. It's simply stunning to watch even hours into the game.

World War Z screenshot

These zombies operate a lot like many horde-based enemies do. A single "zeke" is a pushover, a few are a minor annoyance, but beyond that they become a grave threat, and depending on your character, fewer than a dozen will trample you and leave you defenseless fast. With all of these zombies running around almost relentlessly, the shooting has to be done right, and in World War Z it is. There are a ton of weapons in the game, broken into tiers and types so even if you've found a favorite class, like an SMG or shotgun, you're wise to swap them out during a campaign for its better alternative. Heavy weapons, like an RPG or an M60 act as one-off superweapons scattered across the 11 linear levels and can give you a crucial advantage right when you need it.

The best way in which World War Z builds on its Left 4 Dead framework is in its extensive skill tree. There are eight classes, each of which can be applied to any character of your choosing, and each of which comes with its own skill tree. Skills unlocked in them come from non-purchaseable in-game currency you get from playing the game, and they help a lot. The boosts seen in these trees are often massive, with even early examples being things like reducing fire damage by 90% or improving your running speed when swarmed by 100%. You'll also have to budget your skill purchases with much better guns. The balancing may sound broken when the game gives you such strong upgrades early and often, but these skills and weapons are actually spot on considering the game's five difficulty levels. Early campaigns are meant to be played on the easiest difficulty, and the game suggests when to up the ante as your character levels up. With eight classes, four campaigns, and plenty of guns and skills to unlock, there are a lot of reasons to return to the game over and over.

If chasing unlocks in repeated campaign missions isn't your thing, there's also a pretty extensive PVP suite. In these once again familiar modes like Team Deathmatch and Domination equivalents, players are set to teams in what would be a standard third-person shooter multiplayer game if it weren't for the zombies roaming the map as well. Massive swarms can flood the area in these modes just as they can in the campaign, and it all worked without issues in my experience, but generally speaking these modes just weren't as compelling as the cooperative campaign and that's where I see the bulk of the time and fun coming from World War Z.

I've heard the game had some launch issues on other platforms but my experience on my Xbox One S hasn't been met with many issues, though it wasn't totally clean either. The game crashed on me twice, forced me to restart due to a bug once, and would often spawn special infected in areas that were unreachable, leaving my team to listen to their signature groans but never able to hunt them down. Like a lot of similar games, the AI partners can be more of a hindrance than help. They hold their own with weapons in their hands, but they can't perform even tasks which those in the now decade-old Left 4 Dead heroes could. You'll never see them set up defenses and they don't carry health kits, meaning they won't heal you or even themselves. You definitely have to babysit them more than you do in other games of this kind, but at least at launch the lobbies would fill up fast and I never had issues finding human teammates. It should be mentioned that while private games are on the way, they aren't available at launch and even kicking bad or unwanted teammates seems to be missing.

World War Z screenshot

The achievements are mostly cumulative, requiring you to stick around for 100 campaign chapters, 25 PVP sessions, and chase several other grinds along the way like unlocking all skills. It's not a quick completion, but if you like the game as I do, you'll find it's not going to be so boring either. Each campaign lasts about one hour on the easiest difficulty, and some are better than others for boosting specific achievements.

Check out our Best Xbox One Third-Person Shooters Available in 2019 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.

Summary

Before launch, World War Z seemed to be spoken of with skepticism, perhaps due to its curious choice of IP. After a dozen hours with the game, I can confidently say much of that public doubt was unwarranted. It's among the best Left 4 Dead torch carriers I've played. If games like Payday, Earthfall, and Overkill's The Walking Dead have left you wanting, World War Z should fill the Left 4 Dead-sized hole in your heart in most ways. It doesn't have the memorable characters and borrows all of its special zombies from other games, but it makes up for those problems with great visuals, stunning setpieces, and an addictive progression loop. It's one of 2019's biggest and best surprises.
4 / 5
World War Z
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent a dozen hours spanning the globe and crippling pyramids of undead all over, beating every campaign and playing PVP. He gathered 10 of 35 achievements for 260 gamerscore. A review copy was provided by the publisher.
Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He's the Editorial Manager on TA, loves most kinds of games, and is the host of the community game club TA Playlist. Outside of gaming, he likes bicycling, binge-watching, and spending time with his family. He almost never writes in the third person.