E3 2018: World War Z Preview

A few years ago, when Valve was still actively making video games, I spent hours playing through Left 4 Dead and its sequel with my friends, going as far as hosting Xbox 360 LAN parties. Even though we had practically memorized every map, the randomness of The Director kept every scenario feeling fresh and interesting. Time has since passed and my friends and I went our separate gaming ways (one of them still plays Left 4 Dead, though only the Rooftop map which he has a strong affinity for). I’ve developed an itch for game like Left 4 Dead that Valve doesn’t seem interested in scratching, leaving Saber Interactive to attempt to fill the void. And after what I saw at E3, they’ve done a valiant effort.

World War Z, the video game, has connections to World War Z, the movie and the book. While it retains much of the visceral identity of the film, the game framed the narrative around a collection of disappeared survivors all around the world. The biggest connection to the film is the ability for the zombies to swarm and build up a mountain of undead corpses so that they may reach higher ground. This was the centerpiece of the demo I played, set in a mall-like property where my fellow survivors and I blasted our way through hallways and down escalators to reach a subway where we would meet a black market dealer who would take us to safety.

The comparisons to Left 4 Dead are readily apparent: as a team of four survivors, you’ll fight against shambling corpses and the occasional “special” zombie, like one that sores toxic gas and a larger, more heavily-armored zombie that requires everyone to unload their weapons into it. Each character begins the game with a standard loadout but can procure new and better weapons in the field. Some areas, like the aforementioned atrium, feature small swarms that come pouring out of hallways and rooms to mix things up and mess with the players. In the atrium, the game engine is robust enough to render thousands of zombies in a swarm, whose form moves and crashes along the side of city streets and cars strewn about the street like flowing water. It’s a really cool effect that’s pretty unnerving to witness.

As the swarm advanced on our position, we had just enough time to set up various traps to help stem the influx of the undead, such as barb wire fencing and high voltage foot traps. Once we got past the horde in the atrium, our group moved to the subway where the black market dealer resided. Unfortunately, the price of passage was five storage crates that we had to find by exploring different rooms of the subway station that were, you guessed it, heavy with zombies.

As derivative as it feels, I had lots of fun playing World War Z because it scratches a pretty important itch. The shooting feels great, the weapons are fun (there’s nothing better than firing an RPG rocket into the middle of a swarm), and the party is encouraged to work together without fear of major penalties or imposs bow odds should they run off on their own. Splitting up is not advised but the game won’t punish you for it, outside of getting into a situation you can’t handle on your own. It seems very much the opposite of Overkill’s The Walking Dead, except it eschews the difficult and deliberate pacing for a more entertaining run and gun experience.

I liked what I saw with Saber Interactive’s zombie game. It’s action-oriented, the movement is breezy, gunplay is satisfying, and the zombies make for a trying and terrifying force to deal with. It’s a much more serious game than Valve’s zombie co-op shooter, so don’t go looking for Chicago Ted. The in-game dialog among the characters paints a bleak picture of a world gone wrong. And you’ll see just that as the game lets you play in spaces like New York City and Jerusalem. On release, players can expect to play through three different episodes, each focusing on different survivors of the zombie outbreak, with the possibility of DLC coming down the line. I look forward to playing more when the game gets released and getting my old Left 4 Dead crew on board.

Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.