Despite the book coming out in 2006 and the Brad Pitt movie in 2013, it’s taken until now for World War Z to make it onto our digital apocalypse.
Saber Interactive has taken the source material, stripped almost everything out of it apart from the fact there are zombies and they can pile over one another, and then sought to recreate Valve’s dormant Left 4 Dead franchise about as faithfully as it possibly can.
And do you know what? It’s done a pretty solid job. When you consider World War Z arrives at a budget price and with little fanfare, it’s shocking just how enjoyable it can be.
Exactly like its most obvious inspiration, World War Z pits four players together in a cooperative fight for survival against hundreds of zombies, across four locations.
As with Left 4 Dead, there are various objectives to carry out along the way as you battle from Point A to Point B, and you need to make sure your whole team survives in order to progress.
Combat is simple and relatively punchy - the fairly pedestrian selection of weapons (shotguns, assault rifles) tear through the hordes with a satisfying amount of limb-rending gore, and you can hack chunks out of the undead if they get too close. So far, so Valve. And like Left 4 Dead again, special zombies will appear randomly throughout proceedings, so you may have to deal with a toxic zombie dressed in a hazmat suit who will poison an area, or a giant hulking threat who'll ground-and-pound a team-member until he’s stopped.
These guys lack the truly devastating impact that one of Left 4 Dead’s special infected can create - unlike a Boomer or a Spitter, the special zombies here feel like immediate threats that need to be dealt with, but not potentially game-changing nightmares.
Army Of Darkness
World War Z might not be the most beautiful game ever created - far too much gore, guts and gristle for that - it is a still a bit of a looker, and definitely quite the mover.
The action is frantic and relentless, and the way the zombies can pile over one another is startlingly similar to the key scenes in the movie, and indeed some of the more memorable moments from PlayStation exclusive Days Gone.
The character models in the menu screens are beautifully drawn, too, which may explain why World War Z is played out in third person, unlike Left 4 Dead.
World War Z doubles down on its tale of a global undead infection by setting its four campaign areas across different continents. You’ll battle through New York, Jerusalem, Moscow and Tokyo, and each area is split into smaller missions.
The campaign is fairly short; you can battle through the whole thing in around five hours. Like Left 4 Dead, though, the idea here is to replay each level multiple times. World War Z lacks the true unpredictability that Left 4 Dead’s brilliant AI Director caused, so each playthrough does end up feeling relatively similar to the last. To mitigate this, though, WWZ includes a moder progression system, player classes and unlockable weapons. The draw here, then, is to gain XP through successful completions until your characters are levelled-up enough to tackle a harder difficulty setting.
As you jump up in difficulty, though, the game just gets increasingly frustrating, as your team is denied respawns and med kits, making the challenge feel forced rather than well-measured. While Saber may have built the game with multiple playthroughs in mind, it has also been smart enough to launch at a budget price-point. So if you do get together with a group of friends (and it is almost essential to do so, although matchmaking is perfectly functional), even if you only play through the campaign once or twice, it still feels like a worthwhile investment, especially in a world where coop shooters like Destiny and The Division are demanding hundreds of hours of your time.
One system that helps separate World War Z from Left 4 Dead is the inclusion of Horde-modestyle set pieces, where the team has a short period of time to place defenses like turrets and barricades, before activating an absolutely immense assault from the undead.
The first time you play these encounters is terrific - they’re far more spectacular than anything from a coop zombie game in the past - helped by Saber’s impressive zombie-pack technology.
Once you’ve seen these sections for the fourth or fifth time, they do lose a lot of their impact, but in truth, at a budget price, World War Z is comfortably entertaining even if you only do each mission once or twice through, and it’s a gloriously cathartic game on the easier difficulties, especially if you’ve been sucked into an endless loop of death and frustration that Fortnite and Apex Legends has done to us all.
Strangely, Saber has thrown in a deathmatch mode in World War Z, but don’t expect a Left 4 Dead-style asymmetrical fight.
Instead, you’re placed into a pretty pedestrian team deathmatch, where every now and then the map is overrun by zombies. It’s perfectly functional, the combat mechanics are just about strong enough to sustain a fight, but when compared to even the most basic of Free To Play deathmatch games, let alone the big hitters out there, it just feels underwhelming.
It does help fill out the overall package and softens the blow of finishing the campaign in five hours, but don’t expect to lose hours battling other Z-heads here - it’s a mode that feels like it was from the era where everything had to boast multiplayer on the back of the box or it wouldn’t sell.
World War Z Verdict
World War Z lacks the sheer unpredictable chaos (and the laughter that brings with it) of Left 4 Dead, but it does a pretty serviceable job of replicating that sense of overwhelming odds, skin-of-your-teeth survival, and blood-soaked catharsis. Coming in at a budget price, too, it’s an easy one to recommend if you’ve got a like-minded group of Z-head friends.