If entire reviews were summarised into a single, Tweet length paragraph, then my review for World War Z would simply state that Focus Home Interactive’s online zombie shooter aimed to replicate the classic gameplay of Left4Dead almost pixel by pixel.
World War Z replicates Left4Dead so closely, that it’s almost a struggle not to refer to the older title in every single paragraph, but there is clearly a need to explain what the series was like for anyone who didn’t play the original or its 2009 sequel. Just like World War Z, both Left4Dead games are online shooters with a heavy focus on cooperative play.
The players shoot and chop their way through four campaigns, each split into two or three episodes that last about fifteen to thirty minutes each. The key selling point of both Left4Dead games was the fact that even though the levels were fixed — an “AI Director” would introduce swarms of enemies, especially nasty bad guys and other features, at unexpected times. This, in conjunction with random weapon, health spawns and several difficulty levels resulted in a highly replayable experience.
Now, ten years later, World War Z offers a very similar experience and even though it shares the license for Brad Pitt’s 2013 movie, it has almost nothing to do with the content in the film. World War Z’s locations are far more diverse than Left4Dead’s; with the US, Israel, Moscow and Tokyo all featuring, but players shouldn’t expect much by way of story, character development and so on. World War Z is all about the experience you have whilst playing with friends, acquaintances or completely random people online.
In addition to eleven stages of cooperative play, World War Z also features a multiplayer mode that feels more than just a bolted on afterthought, but which will nonetheless play second fiddle to the campaign. I should also note that World War Z can be played offline in a solo mode, where AI companions fill in for the three roles that a human would normally occupy. I wouldn’t recommend this mode, since the quality of the AI companions is questionable at best.
Played as it is intended, World War Z takes the Left4Dead model and replicates it exactly. The settings are different and the view is third person rather than first person, but other than these differences and the lick of paint that ten years of hardware development brings, everything else is unchanged. Now, you might be thinking that these constant references to Left4Dead are a bad or derogatory thing, but that’s not the case at all; let me explain.
Many other games have attempted to take the Left4Dead model and make it their own. This very specific brand of cooperative shooter has been reskinned in Warhammer (Vermintide) and Warhammer 40k (Deathwing) and it’s even been replicated in the form of a rip-roaring 1920’s fantasy adventure (The Brigade.) Never before World War Z had another game quite captured the spirit of what made Left4Dead such an enjoyable and enduring game — hell, I was still playing it a few months ago, ten years after its release.
World War Z does capture the spirit of Left4Dead, and it does so in a way that is hard to describe, since all Left4Dead ever did was achieve something that was more than the sum of its parts. The shooting in World War Z is better, with weapons tiered from one to four, each of which has its own characteristics and — importantly — feeling of impact.
Blasting zombies looks and feels rewarding. Each shot tears limbs and heads from already mangled bodies and despite the density of zombies (which is as well done here as it is in any game I’ve ever played) there seems to be little repetition among the models. Cutting through zombie hordes is especially satisfying when using one of the heavy weapons, which spawn fairly frequently throughout each level and offer an unusually powerful way to dispatch large numbers of enemies.
Occasional special enemies occur and, whilst they have different names, they do similar things to those in Left4Dead. There are lurkers who can jump on and incapacitate players, as well as bulls who can charge players and pin them for heavy damage. In either case, such a player may only be rescued by their teammates, making wandering off alone a bad idea. Gasbag zombies release a cloud of toxic fumes when shot, whilst screamers alert other enemies. Sadly, there are no boss enemies at any point in the game.
World War Z even uses a few of Left4Dead’s set piece mission endings to inspire it. A boat hooked to a constantly failing winch must be reeled in during one mission, whilst zombies attack in waves from three directions. Another mission has the players boarding up a mansion in Jerusalem whilst a VIP shouts instructions from a panic room. Whilst most of these missions boil down to fetch and carry or escort missions, there is just enough story wrap around them to keep things engaging.
The competitive multiplayer actually packs a fair few modes, but these all focus on the human survivors and never allow the player to “be the monster.” There are deathmatch, king of the hill, objective and bag carrying modes — almost all of which can be played in either team or free for all variants. As I said earlier, this is a bit of a sideshow, but it’s competent and fun and the addition of zombie NPC’s adds spice that might otherwise have left these modes lacking.
When all is said and done, World War Z only replicates what we all loved about Left4Dead and it brings literally nothing new to the table except a graphical overhaul. With that said, it is still nothing less than Left4Dead, which puts it at least a nose breadth ahead of the competition that has attempted to achieve the same thing and fallen way short. With five difficulty levels and a fun multiplayer diversion, there’s also plenty to chew through here. Overall, World War Z is a worthy successor to Left4Dead and a game that cooperative online players should certainly check out.