World War Z Hands-On Preview: Left 4 Dead With a Plot
The zombie genre dominated gaming a couple of years ago, and even today zombie games are still a lasting presence in the modern gamescape. Saber Interactive is looking to get into the genre with a video game adapted version of World War Z, which I got to play at E3 2018. World War Z the video game is a co-op third person survival shooter that puts a heavy focus on teamwork thanks to the hordes of fast moving zombies that you and up to three other players must take on as you struggle to survive in a city overrun with the undead. The teamwork aspect is somewhat reminiscent of Left 4 Dead, but unlike that survival shooter, World War Z also aims to tell an overarching story over three main episodes that will each feature three main narratives.
The demo took place within a skyscraper in a city that has been overrun with the undead, and our task was to get out of the building alive and make it down to the subway system. Like any zombie film or game, silence is golden, so at the onset of our demo myself and the three other players, one of which was our own Nat Smyth, set out like a band of ninjas, tiptoeing through the building with extreme caution. Our stealth movements could only get us so far, because within a few moments one of our teammates broke some glass, which brought the horde to our location, so we got mixed up in one of our first of many frantic firefights. I should also note that friendly fire was turned on to add to the realism the developers are going for, so imagine being in a small office space with four other survivors armed with guns and machetes and more zombies than you can count. Yeah, shit gets pretty real in World War Z when you cause the horde to be alerted to your presence, so our initial calm journey turned into a zombie nightmare quick, and as the player you can feel the tension thanks to the frenetic pace of the zombie’s attacks and the sheer chaos of four players trying to wipe them out without killing each other in the process.
This first skirmish instantly clued us all in on how important teamwork is in this game. This isn’t a title for lone wolves, rather this is a game that thrives on teamwork and open communication. At all times your party of four has to be focused on the task at hand, and each player should have some sort of defined role. Flanks need to be covered while others focus on the main attack or objective, if either is ignored you will fail. In our demo a few players learned the hard way that going off on your own, even if just a few yards from the group, will lead to incapacitation, which in turn will require your squad to come save you, which ultimately could screw everyone from completing the main objective.
Once we got the hang of the controls, which are very similar to most third person shooters, as well as the whole working together aspect of World War Z, we started to mow through the undead with precision. Our group ultimately made it to the skyscrapers lobby, which is where we got to see the game’s Swarm engine in action. A massive group of zombies caught wind of our location, so just like in the movie they started to build a zombie mountain using each other’s bodies as stair steps so they could scale a wall to reach our location. It was an impressive thing to see, and the engine handled all of their animations quite well without a single frame rate studded or slow down. Once we started blasting at the base of this zombie mountain we slowed their advance, but at all times we all had to keep our heads on a swivel, because the zombies in this game are more 28 Days Later than The Walking Dead. These zeds move with a purpose, so you must be quick on the trigger or you and your team will be inundated with undead looking to lunch on your brains.
Luckily you can carry three weapons, a grenade, and a machete to help deal with the undead horde, and one of the three weapons is a one-time use heavy weapon such as a rocket launcher or heavy machine gun. These are great for dealing with zombie mountains, or large groups of them, but they’re also noisy, so if you’re trying to be stealthy, these toys of death will quickly give your group’s position away.
We eventually got out of the building and headed into the subway system where we met some NPCs who had a task for us. Again, unlike L4D, World War Z does have a story to it, so you will come across NPCs that give you quests and tasks to progress the main storyline. We completed the task, which required us to find five crates to bring back to a subway train fortress, and it definitely required us to work as a team. Two of us would head out to look for the crates, while the other two watched our backs, which we needed, because as soon as we grabbed the goods, we were ganged up on immediately.
Luckily our team was able to get the job done, which in turn ended the demo. I have to say that I had a good time even though the whole zombie video game genre is a bit played out in my mind. What I appreciated the most was the focus on teamwork, because working as a unit made the experience really enjoyable. The Swarm engine is also impressive, even in this early build of the game. It did a great job at rendering the world, but more importantly it was able to churn out unbelievable amounts of zombies on screen to contend with, which just added to the tension that this game offers up. It’s due out in 2019, so I’ll definitely keep an eye on its progress, because even though it’s another zombie title, it’s focus on teamwork and story should help to set it apart from the likes of L4D.
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