- Release Date (NA): September 21, 2021
- Publisher: Saber Interactive Inc.
- Developer: Saber Interactive Inc.
- Genres: Co-op shooter
- Also For: Computer, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Zombies, but a few years back the toast of the undead town, seem to have fallen out of fashion in games in a pretty big way. World War Z, from the same brains mind that brought you Zombie Survival guide which was instrumental in bringing zombies back in 2003, is probably most known for a less than stellar film a while back where this is presumably closer to the main source.
Technically this would also be a gold edition as well, though called aftermath here, for the game originally appeared in 2019 (and was reviewed by GBAtemp here). Aftermath edition then featuring some new levels (Rome and Kamchatka, the latter being a new cold level that has some interesting twists), new player classes, tweaked mechanics and a first person mode. This review however was going in completely cold to the game.
Story and character development are a distant background item in this so might as well go for mechanics first.
4 player co-op (sadly online only), third person, class based, shooting game with RPG elements then becomes the list of terms most would probably use to define the game. Classes, especially at higher levels, make a notable difference but maybe not quite as stark as some games, and can have their own sub builds and strategies as well as you have a limited number of perks to pick from which close off other avenues of attack.
If you are more familiar with zombie games then this is more in the Left4Dead side of things than Resident Evil, Killing Floor (though there are elements here), Sniper Elite Zombies addons, the last time I was asked to walk like a zombie and such.
That over with you are given 7 episodes with between 3 and 4 not insubstantial levels a piece, a horde mode, challenge mode, more conventional multiplayer which mixes things up considerably, each have difficulties that also serve to change things and you get modifiers (called mutators) as well.
Most levels follow a similar general pattern (stealth option, first action set piece, action/stealth, major set piece to finish the level with possibly a fetch quest/puzzle aspect as you are hammered by zombies) but have some nice twists to mix it up a bit, even more so at higher difficulty levels. If you absolutely gun it, which many online seem to be up for, then some levels might be done in about 20 minutes (speedruns likely less still) but at a more conservative pace you might end up in the 30 to 40 minutes range.
Here going by the name “Zeke” and are of the fast moving “individually weak but strong in numbers” approach to the world, and numbers wise it took a look at Dead Rising before saying “hold my beer”. Difficulty, and mutators, can vary these quite a bit, and you also have special zombies/enemies.
Creeper. Hide around corners and, barring certain skills, leap and pin you down until you are rescued. Does a very good job of stopping you running off from your team, and charging around headlong through blind corners.
Bull. Armoured brute, will charge and pin you down leaving you to need to be rescued, taking considerable damage in the meantime. Weak in the back though.
Gasbag. Appears in a yellow hazmat suit. Headshots take them down cleaner but body shots will unleash some rapidly damaging poison gas, usually appear just when you get into a nice defensive position with all avenues covered or a decent overwatch.
Rats. Technically not a zombie but will swarm you and being lots of rats then one bullet usually means one rat. Fire and explosions, which will draw the attention of zombies around if previously you were stealthy, being the main way to sort these.
Screamer. Usually appears as a construction worker with a megaphone that calls in waves of other zombies. Slightly harder than the average zombie and usually appears far away meaning you have to move to shoot them.
Infecter. One of the ways you become infected is having these spit at you, meaning you have a limited time to sort it (probably despite being surrounded at the time) else it is life over (not even able to be rescued). Very hard to kill as well, especially on higher difficulties.
Bomber. Runs in and blows up, taking a good chunk of your health bar in the process, blows up if you shoot anywhere but legs, though if you do get the legs and then finish with melee attack you get an often very needed special pickup.
Released right at the end of the time in which this review was conducted was a “Booster” update that added a new special by the same name. It makes individual zombies that bit more powerful and able to pin you down where normally they struggle to do that (outside of certain mutators).
Any of the specials if not dealt with can easily ruin a run or turn a bad situation worse, and with them all taking somewhat unique methods to deal with them it is not the usual “aim for the head and hope for the best” thing that might lull you into a false sense of complacency.
Pretty much all “names slightly changed because lawyers” versions of iconic real world weapons, and cover all the major types from revolver through shotgun, though sub machine guns, through many types of rifle and a few zombie staples thrown in for good mix. Two main weapon slots you start with (main weapon and sidearm) and then pickups of a heavy weapon you can’t replenish/reload in the level.
Stats associated with them might be a bit dubious at times if you are familiar with the real world weapons (your full power cartridges from an older rifle should not be doing less damage than an intermediate modern one) but can be written off as because it is a game. Each class starts with a given low tier weapon type and sidearm, later you might be able to start with a given heavy weapon if you choose that as a class perk or have the higher tier version of the weapon (scout rifle being replaced by a “sporting carbine” sort of thing) at the start rather than hoping it is a pickup. At the highest levels you tend to also get silencers which might change how you approach stealth sections (barring DLC and unlocked special weapons it is only certain pistols that have the option here from early parts) and pickups, even more so if the replacement on offer you have not upgraded.
After gaining so much experience with a given weapon (not heavy weapons) you unlock next level of upgrade (usually with two choices representing diverging schools of thought) to buy, this is accomplished with a not inconsiderable amount of the the main currency (at medium-high levels this might represent several good runs per class and there are many weapons in the game, said currency also being used to upgrade your class) and a few with the “challenge coins” you get for completing levels on higher difficulties or the weekly challenge maps.
DLC weapons exist, and some were available from the start of the game in the aftermath version, with usually top level stats and extra perks. There are however apparently still additional DLC weapons even in the aftermath edition which could be seen as a bit dubious.
Said upgrades do also provide a notable difference in handling, gain you things like lasers, increase damage, increase magazine size and more besides, along with sometimes considerable visual differences.
In third person mode you are given the choice between side you shoot from which can make all the difference in certain scenes. Handling itself is not bad either, though it has the questionable choice to make handling better with upgrades so you may play at lower level and have a very different experience to higher level upgrades; if you are familiar with the Fallout laser weapons problem (the first you encounter being so low condition that the damage is nothing and it can’t hit the broad side of a barn) then basically that.
There is, however, an occasional problem of crosshairs and apparent visuals saying yes but game saying no if you are close to a wall and looking to shoot through a window, or between sections of a level you can’t traverse. As slow and methodical/use of cover and rapid turns to help a teammate are intended aspects of the game this can mean such things happen more than might be ideal but are not common enough to be truly game breaking with the overwhelming majority of the game happening if not in front of you (you will constantly be getting ambushed or having to cover vastly different directions) then in somewhat open sections.
First person mode was a new addition for the aftermath update apparently. There are a few options, and it notably impacts gameplay/movement styles available to you. It will probably not be the first choice of many but it was still very playable and the more claustrophobic view changed things up quite a bit compared to the wider field of view.
Some (not those for the new levels) are given little backstory animated cutscenes you can when you finish a level as them. Quite nicely animated but that is about as much as you get about them during the game other than the occasional bit of flavour conversation when you reach parts of levels. At the same time that means characters don’t necessarily come to grate on you either, especially if you are mixing it up and going between episodes. It should also be noted they are just level dependent skins; any of them can happily use any character class.
Classes were mentioned briefly but are mostly variations on the theme of medic, support, gunman, explosives, melee and tank, with the more interesting being a relatively new edition of something called “dronemaster” that has a drone able to either stun enemies or with various upgrades shoot them (silenced and non silenced versions available), with various perks for handling special zombies or following teammates. You unlock new ones with each level (up to 30) but have to buy them, and can only have one from each vertical slice.
There are differences in play style that arise from these as well; the fixer class for instance having either smoke grenades that hide you (potentially also healing you or damaging zombies if the right upgrade is active) or putting down bags of explosive ammo (helpful when your mode means you don’t have much). However all classes can still shoot well and hold their own in the shooting aspects, and provide much needed support for the group with their skills.
After level 30 you are given the quite expensive option to unlock a “prestige class” that resets your stats but gives you another extra perk that is always active, quite minor but at higher difficulties everything counts. There are 4 prestige classes in total.
There are some questionable textures and models at times, usually when climbing over corpse piles, however for the most part things end up nice and distinct, levels have their own character that separates them/matches the purported location (give or take the hidden base Russian level which is still awesome in its own right), worlds feel lived in (or destroyed as the case may be) and your eye is usually drawn to where you want to go next, or will have to defend against next. At lower difficulties the zombie climbing fest can see zombies effectively pop out of existence as well but that might speak more to the difficulty balancing with spectacle.
Attention to detail can also be a bit lacking – one of the hordes in the opening cutscenes of the first level sees it run through a street with some “sleeping” zombies in. Said sleepers don’t get bowled over, merge or anything and instead stay there just fine giving it all a cheap anime type feel.
Wheelchair/buggy friendly flat ground levels are seemingly so ubiquitous in games that when you encounter something with a bit of verticality at times you remember what you are missing. This was that and you do not realise what you are missing until you meet something like this. Up, down, round, through, close quarters and wide open with no cover at all… wonderful. Aided by the big set pieces staying in the same places but in between might be smaller invasions, and you never know where pickups will be or whether there will be a zombie group come in from the same place as before.
There have been some potentially tricky aspects of level design where you can’t go back despite climbing higher things to get where you are now. Spawns for joining players and returning from death players can also be quite far from the main team, and in a game that repeatedly beats you with the idea that you are not a one man army this can be tricky.
Before some patches there was some repeatable slowdown in various areas on the base PS4 this was reviewed on. Patches fixed those but there were other spots where it happened and marred the gameplay. Surprisingly though it was not during the zombie horde sections, wherein you face thousands of zombies flying at you, but in more sedate areas of certain levels.
Clearly an online game from the start but made it work. For a console game you have a considerable selection of options to alter gameplay as well. Online levels will autostart after a reasonable time period to prevent away from keyboard type trolling, and catchup is on for similar things within levels. Other than questionable tactics and accuracy then most people seem to actually play the game though, and the difficulty of the game kind of demands it. The online system itself would occasionally lose connection to the server (on an otherwise rock solid connection for other games/streaming) but very rarely in game, and lag was generally pretty well handled/generally minimal.
There is also the bizarre choice to not allow you to play with mutators in offline mode. You will first likely meet mutators in the daily and weekly challenge modes that see you able to replay levels on quite high difficulty with various tweaks to change how things are normally played (higher friendly fire damage damage, no ammo pickups, tweaked zombie types, sometimes easier options) or maybe force you to go with a different character class to your usual. The main draw of these being the challenge coins you unlock which do a few weapons but are mostly used to unlock new skins for your characters. Said challenge coins are quite hard to get with them otherwise only being available in comparatively small numbers for completing harder modes.
Additionally it is also a location for documents in the level that after collecting a set amount in said challenges you get more minor bonuses to the levels when playing normally (percentage chance to spawn something that makes it easier). Another thing that balances exploration with having to move on before the next horde comes.
PS4 was allowed to join PC and xbox players, and you do also have “cross platform invite codes” if you so desire too. This worked surprisingly well in conventional co-op but multiplayer might be questionable here as keyboard and mouse would be a distinct advantage. You can also disable crossplay if so desired.
You are given some at the start and have to unlock higher difficulties, though private server mode allows a range of things. Despite the limited number of means available to the devs then it is actually really quite well implemented, and a considerable step above the usual “more health for enemies, less damage for you” method many other games employ. Extra steps needed, puzzle clues minimal, less forgiving traps, searches get harder, hordes harder to manage, possibly hordes from more directions, additional spawns to split focus, additional special zombies (which also are more aggressive) to make life harder, no starter health kits, pickups (which are already lessened) gated behind things that take rare and noisy consumables to get at, zombies with more health and aggression, friendly fire damage higher, no direction of threat/pickup indicator… it all adds up to organically make for some rather different experiences. Similarly despite rocking up with max level weapons and classes then you can still fail on lower difficulties if you act too casual, usually by failing to properly escort or defend.
Pro tip. If you can manage to keep a defence kit you can carry it to the next set piece battle and that can make all the difference, do also make sure to check for any such things already established as they can also make the difference.
Most times I died I did not feel it was cheap either. Did not act as a team, did not take the right position, was not aggressive enough, allowed myself to get caught... all good stuff.
As your AI companions are also… passable at best (they won’t do objectives, they won’t pick up heavy weapons, they won’t heal you/themselves/each other, they are however infinite ammo aimbots that will pick you up if you run out of health) then players joining or there when starting a match does make aspects harder within the same difficulty. Occasionally you are joined by an NPC for a mission, or encounter some when defending a point. They usually do OK as well.
If you set up a private server, which is where the user selectable mutators are found, you can also disable the bots and go solo. This is not an intended mode of play but made for a very different experience, especially if you did not have perks to sort things out when jumped. Solo on the very hardest mode was tried… don’t do it, even on the otherwise pretty easy first level.
AI in games like this is everything and most things like this will be compared to the Left 4 Dead franchise’s “director”, with this employing a similar system. Depending upon the setup and difficulty I occasionally saw zombies spawn in, when I had my back to a wall then sometimes saw special zombies spawn in beside me. Neither were often but enough to note. For the most part though it is nicely geared to provide a challenge, or if you are getting too big for your boots, managed to get separated from your team or get too focused on one direction then you can expect trouble. Exploration can be rewarding but also needs to be balanced against hordes, specials and traps. With human players, higher difficulties and such then the increasingly limited resources it provides also make for some hard decisions; one medkit to heal two people that are painfully low on health (one of which may be you), pickups being useful for all but what do you go for.
Mostly a mix of the usual team deathmatch, king of the hill, capture the flag and whatever else modes but with a zombie twist, usually a horde of zombies rampaging through that makes holding areas, camping and more a difficult feat for all concerned. Swarm Domination, King Of The Hill, Swarm Deathmatch, Scavenge Raid, and Vaccine Hunt being the official names.
For my money it was probably the most undercooked aspect and aspect I had the least fun with. Going by the PS4 achievements that tell you how many other players got them then the comparatively easy to get ones for online are quite rare indeed so it would seem to carry for others as well.
As mentioned it changes the class system the main bulk of the game uses for, admittedly well thought out, classes that mostly reflect in what weapon you have. Playing against PC players is difficult but a lot of it comes down to teamwork, ambushing and who shot first (time to kill is longer than some but also feels odd) provided you are in range. Mixing and matching things to this degree is quite a difference from many games of today but it would be very surprising if this is the mode people spend the bulk of their time in even after completing the “main campaign” as it were.
Replay is pretty much everything in a game like this and it works well. In the seriously long term I can see it getting stale, and I doubt there will be a competitive mainstay or capture a moment in gaming like the original Call of Duty Zombies did, but that could easily be in the years before this loses its charm. Didn’t mind losing, didn’t mind replaying on lower difficulties, didn’t mind so much when human teammates ran headlong into things where stealth might have done better and usually had a good time regardless.
Even without the prestige classes (which do unlock additional weapon versions) and skins then unlocking weapons, finishing all the levels even on the lower difficulties, the various classes and learning to play them all will take you many many hours, the higher difficulties then providing something you might want to grind against (and hope you have a good team) to eventually complete rather than simply ticking a box. This is to say there is scope for mastery, and scope to have things be mixed up by a surprise from the enemies, or a mistake on your part, that sees you have a real struggle to finish a level; everybody saved the day in shining armour riding atop magnificent horses is boring, failure and just squeaking over the line is interesting. The mid game when you are still upgrading classes, weapons and learning the maps is also enjoyable in its own right, something nice to see in today’s world of “good tutorial, good end game, nothing in between”, even more so with a few mutators.
All in all a good idea that possibly took some time to come into its own; we were still seeing updates quite late into the review period (25 gigs a pop as well) that were fixing bugs and making tweaks too. Looking at the changelogs there were also a lot of things made available, though how much more will come is unknown. By the time you are reading this the Switch version will also be available and if well done that could make for a very nice game to play on that platform.
- Well executed co-op
- Very replayable
- Some slowdowns
- Occasional connection issues
- Odd choice to gate off mutators to online mode only