I’ve come to peace with the fact that Left 4 Dead 3 will never happen. So without Valve creating a new entry in the franchise, it is up to other studios to fill that zombie-co-op-action hole that L4D3 will never fill. World War Z feels like it might just do that, but it is a bit too rough around the edges currently.
World War Z is, I guess, based on the Brad Pitt film of the same name, which was based very loosely on the book of the same name. I loved the book though I skipped the film. As far as I can tell the game is barely connected to the film, so don’t feel obligated to watch it before jumping in.
Developed by Saber Interactive, World War Z is essentially Left 4 Dead and not just because it is a 4 player co-op shooter with zombies. Many different elements and ideas found in Left 4 Dead are also found in World War Z.
There are special zombies who have different abilities, including one that creeps around and leaps on players and holds them down while slashing them. Yes, they literally have a hunter special infected from L4D in this game. Players carry medkits which can heal other players or themselves. When players are attacked by special infected they are highlighted by the game, making it easier for teammates to help them. Friendly players are shown as white outlines through walls, making it easier to find them and work together. Levels often end with standoffs and small objectives are added into some areas, like grab five crates, to make levels more hectic and tricky. You get the idea.
However, World War Z isn’t just a carbon copy of L4D. Instead, it feels like the developers used those games as their foundation and built on top of them, adding new features and mechanics.
The biggest difference between World War Z and Left 4 Dead is the focus on classes and upgrades. In Left 4 Dead all the characters were the same and players all had the same abilities and limitations. World War Z goes a different direction, giving players multiple classes to choose from and each of these classes has different abilities and starting equipment. For example, the medic class starts with a health-boosting stim gun and an SMG, while a different class might start with a rifle and explosive ammo bags.
Another major difference is that every weapon in the game can be upgraded. As players use weapons, they level them up. Then between missions, players can upgrade these weapons. So you might love using the sporting rifle and after using it a bunch you upgrade it with a scope, making it more accurate. So the next time you play a mission and find a sporting rifle in the world, you will have that scope on it. The abilities and passive buffs each class has can also be upgraded as you play more.
For some, this added depth will make World War Z a more interesting game than Left 4 Dead. Yet for others, it might make the game feel unnecessarily complicated and hard to jump into. If you are a medic, should you heal other players because you do it faster? In my time with the game, I’ve found the different class abilities and weapon upgrades don’t matter all that much. But I’m still early on. Harder missions might need players to focus more on synergies and abilities more.
The star of World War Z is the zombie hordes. They are seen in all the marketing and trailers. These hordes are incredible to see in action in the game. Watching thousands of zombies run around a level, creating an ocean of dead bodies, is wild and feels quite different from other zombie games. More impressively, on PS4 at least, these hordes don’t cause huge performance issues.
Hordes in World War Z, like in the movie, will climb up walls by creating pyramids of zombies. It’s a bit silly looking, though it also creates moments where players need to not just manage zombies running at them, but the giant wave of zeds growing up the wall behind them. Shooting these hordes and pyramids with a rocket or grenade is immensely satisfying.
The hordes are also used in some haunting moments in the game. One in particular that stands out is a moment where players are working their way up through a large vertical tunnel and suddenly zombies start throwing themselves off the top of the tunnel and down below. It was an eerie experience to run through falling bodies like that.
World War Z has a lot that works. Sadly, it has some issues that hold it back, currently, from being a true successor to Left 4 Dead.
The biggest issue is the feeling that this game isn’t quite finished. Audio quality is variable, with some characters sounding fine and other characters sounding like they recorded all their lines over a Skype call from 2009. Frequent crashes have been reported on various platforms and on PS4 some players have encountered a bug that erases their saves and progress.
Another annoyance is that for a game focused on co-op and multiplayer, World War Z is missing some important features. Players can’t create private lobbies to play with friends. So if you and a friend want to play together with some bots, you are out of luck. Instead, players are forced to play online with random players. You can play missions solo offline, which is nice but not how I want to play this game.
Weirdly, you also can’t start a mission online with other players. Instead, you search for a mission lobby and are added to a match randomly. This means that you might jump into a game midway through the mission. Playing with my brother, we kept joining missions as they were nearly finished. Because you can’t start a lobby and matchmake with people and then load into a new mission from the start, I’ve yet to see the start of some maps. Luckily it sounds like private lobbies might be added in the future.
Servers have also been spotty, with players across platforms reporting issues with joining other players. I had two missions lag out and got kicked back to the lobby.
Crappy servers, no private lobbies, and some quality issues hold World War Z back currently and make it hard for me to truly enjoy it. However, these are all issues that a few updates and patches could potentially solve. I hope these issues are fixed because when the game is working and everyone is fighting together I feel World War Z is a great co-op game and a worthy successor to Left 4 Dead 2.