World War not so e-Z

Don’t go into this video game named after the Brad Pitt movie expecting some sort of sequel, prequel, or canon side story. Don’t even really expect much of a story. In the style of Dead Rising (or a third person version of Dead Island or Left 4 Dead), World War Z is all about being surrounded by hordes of zombies that you must annihilate before being eaten alive. And like those games, it’s all daylight and not meant to have creepy or scary atmosphere. This is all about the nonstop action.

The game has been hyped for its co-op mode, but since that is online only, as is pretty much every game these days because apparently society no longer wants people to be sitting in the same room together anymore, I played the game in single player offline mode.

Trying to navigate to offline mode through the menu is as challenging as the game play. The first menu only has a co-op mode. Turns out you have to choose co-op, which then causes a screen to pop up telling you a Playstation Plus account is needed to play. WTF? It then pushes you to the Playstation Store when you hit “accept”, the ONLY option. Then you have to back out of that and finally get a message that you can’t play online without an account before being taken to a menu that lets you choose offline mode.

Next you get to make some choices. Number one for me? Easy mode. This game is fucking hard even on easy. I almost gave up after failing the first mission, but then I did some research on the game mechanics and did better the second time.

You get to choose one of four characters, each with unique strengths and different starting equipment. I think. Much of this is very confusing, because there’s a “class” menu that gives you a variety of traits to pick that apply to whichever character you choose (personally, I always picked the most daddy bear type guy).

Each class focuses specifically on a particular specialty (medic, gunslinger, etc.).

Finally, you get to choose your mission. Unlike most games, all missions are available from the start and you can play whichever you want. However, they do increase in difficulty, so until you really get a grasp of the game, you’ll want to take them in order. The breakdown consists of choosing from 4 different countries (the fourth country is add-on DLC included in an update), and each country has 3 levels. There is definitely a chronological “plot” in each country, so it flows naturally if you play the three levels in order. However, each country is like a reset with its own unique plot and four completely different characters.

The game is very repetitive as you move through the different countries. All that changes is the scenery: derelict buildings, a mall, subway tunnels, a snowy city, a ship, etc. Each level simply has you on a mission to get to a destination, with various challenges to tackle along the way. You may have to guard an area for a certain period of time until a gate unlocks. You sometimes need to escort someone or something (like a bus) a certain distance while keeping zombies from getting them. Or you might have to hunt down a series of items—say bombs or fuel—to then deliver to a particular spot so you can move on to the next section. Oddly, an on screen arrow literally directs you to exactly where you need to go to find these things, so the biggest challenge is to do it without dying from a zombie onslaught. The most annoying thing about it? You can only pick up one at a time, so you have to go drop it off, then go back out to get the next one, etc. This means you are repeatedly subjected to an onslaught of zombies with each journey.

When you play the game solo, you are accompanied by three AI characters. The AI is pretty damn efficient in helping you clear out zombies, but not much else. You have to do all the heavy lifting. You have to follow whatever instructions you are given, and you end up feeling like you aren’t a part of the actual action and simply the errand boy at times. I’d be trying to accomplish something, and when I finished I would turn around to discover the AI guys had killed all the zombies. Normally I would be thrilled about that except for the fact that in this game you score points to level up when you actually do the killing.

The other thing is, you are responsible for healing each teammate (their health bars appear on screen at all times). This is frustrating because you can only carry one health at a time. Most often, health and other items (grenades, ammo, weapons, etc.) are all found together in supply hubs you come across in each area. You rarely stumble upon individual items to pick up, which means it’s usually pointless to explore areas that branch off instead of just following the arrow to exactly where you need to go. There are also doors to supply closets that you can only get into with explosives, but the amount of explosives you can find is minimal, so you rarely get to take advantage of a supply closet.

There’s an even worse catch to health…and every other time for that matter. Every action you take, whether picking up supplies, healing, or interacting with a keypad, requires you to hold down a button until a little circle prompt gets fully outlined on screen, and this always happens in real time, so you can get your ass kicked by zombies while you’re trying to pick up a damn health. WTF? In real time, it doesn’t take like five seconds to pick shit up. So annoying, and it only gets worse when the game grows harder and you are swarmed by zombies. You can’t do anything but die!

While you need to refill ammo periodically at supply hubs, luckily you never have to hook up your AI friends, who don’t seem to run out of ammo. They also will lend you a helping hand if you are downed by zombies…provided they can get to you. Seriously, when the various mega zombies attack and knock you down, you have no way to fight them off yourself as in most games. You literally have to just lie there and take it, hoping one of your teammates will come to your rescue before it’s too late. And the same happens to them when they’re knocked down. If you all get downed, it’s game over, so it’s always recommended that you stick close to them so they can come to your rescue quickly. They are pretty smart and usually stick close. Unfortunately, it’s during big battles that they get a mind of their own and totally split from you to go fight somewhere else! WTF?

The major drawback of the otherwise comforting and helpful teamwork is…friendly fire! NOOOOOO! WHY? I can’t believe they didn’t offer an option to turn it off or at least have it disabled on easy mode. In the heat of battle when you can barely tell what is what, you can fricking shoot your teammates and get hit yourself if you pass in front of their gunfire! What the hell? I could cry.

There are a multitude of weapons with which to kill your teammates…I mean…zombies. Sadly, you can only carry a primary weapon, secondary weapon, and heavy weapon (which only gets a few uses before you need to pick up another one). You can also carry two grenades at a time, and you get a melee weapon as well, which is limitless. The melee weapon is to be used with caution, for while it does quick damage, the nearness of the zombies does quick damage to you, too. You come across weapons constantly to switch out, but there’s a catch; the only way to unlock upgrade levels for a weapon is to use it. So if you keep picking up every new weapon you come across, you are barely making a dent in the upgrade opportunities of any one weapon. And the upgrade system sucks, because while you are unlocking upgrade abilities for weapons by using them, you don’t actually acquire the upgrade. You just unlock it so that you can buy it with points you make from playing a level. And on easy, the most you can make by completing a level is 150 points, which is exactly how much a lower level upgrade costs! It will take forever to upgrade to the powerful equipment, which means multiple plays of the game. Not to mention, those points are also what you need to upgrade class attributes. Ugh! Honestly, I totally don’t understand the class levels, because they don’t seem to be selectable once you upgrade to them. I tried to pick particular ones from the hierarchy, but I could never tell in game if they actually applied. And class is independent of character, so you can choose any class to play with any character at whatever level you’ve built that class up to. Same goes for the weapons you’ve upgraded. The upgrade is permanently saved and applies to whatever character you choose for a mission.

My personal favorite primary weapon is the crossbow, because it’s an explosive crossbow! Awesome! It’s a great way to take out multiple zombies at once, especially when they do the wall climb. Cool. The wall climb is the one aspect of the movie that is visible in the game and is definite eye candy. When you are on one level and zombies start climbing up a wall below to reach you, the goal is to take out the lower zombies at the base of the stack, which brings them all tumbling down.

There’s one more type of special weapon used during major battles that have you backed into a corner. You’re warned they are about to take place and get a short period of time to prepare for them. This requires quickly searching the area to find as many of these special weapons as you can and placing them in allocated spots to do their own fighting for you. There are auto machine gun turrets, barbed wire blockades, pipe guns, and electric floors you can place. There just never seem to be enough of them in the area to make a well-armed fortress against the insane amount of zombies that finally come flooding in. And the waves of zombies per battle get impossible in the final levels. And it’s important to note that even though you never have a chance to notice in all the chaos, turret machine guns have limited ammo, and you are expected to find time to run over to them and fricking refill the ammo (with the old circle outline trick).

One last thing to note about weapons. Supposedly there are guns that have silencers, so you can use them without alerting other zombies. Bullshit. Even using silenced weapons, every time I shot a zombie, all the other zombies would turn around and rush me.

So what kind of zombies must you contend with? Aside from typical gut munchers, there’s a hulking military zombie that rushes you, picks you up, and slams you repeatedly into the ground until either a teammate kills him or you die. The only way to kill him is to take him down from behind, and melee weapons are actually most effective. Annoying screamers hide and scream continuously to send tons more zombies at you. Hunt down that bitch and kill him to stop the madness—he’s actually outlined on the screen to help you head toward his hiding spot. There’s a lurking zombie that hides behind shit and lunges at you when you turn a corner. Although he knocks you to the ground, a teammate is usually on hand to kill him instantly. A hazmat guy releases acid gas that fucks up your vision temporarily, and in the final level there’s another zombie that spits a poison that has the same effect, but now you have to hold down and fill the circle in order to disinfect. Ugh.

It’s astounding how hard the fourth and final DLC addition is—Tokyo. I honestly haven’t completed any of the three Tokyo levels yet. There are multiple “defend the area from the incoming swarm” battles in each level, with multiple waves of zombies in each. Plus, there’s less health and ammo to find, as well less heavy weapons available to pick up. Having to replay an entire level multiple times just to get back to the battles only to fail again was tedious and not fun at all. I imagine I’ll only be able to conquer them all if I replay the easier levels like fifty times in order to get enough points to build up my class and weapons. But seriously, it’s neither class nor weapon levels that make it hard, it’s the endless number of unmanageable zombies.

About Daniel

I am the author of the horror anthologies CLOSET MONSTERS: ZOMBIED OUT AND TALES OF GOTHROTICA and HORNY DEVILS, and the horror novels COMBUSTION and NO PLACE FOR LITTLE ONES. I am also the founder of BOYS, BEARS & SCARES, a facebook page for gay male horror fans! Check it out and like it at www.facebook.com/BoysBearsandScares.
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