I’d been walking for what seemed like hours before I saw another human being. He barely stood out amongst the packs of undead that slowly roamed the parking lot of a long abandoned resort town, his apprehensive search of a dumpster the only thing that differentiated him from the hordes. In the movies this would be a moment of triumph, a sign of humanity’s perseverance. For me at that moment, it was nothing less than absolute terror.
The Most Dangerous Animal
My time with The War Z, the zombie survival game by Hammerpoint Interactive started a few weeks back after an especially juicy episode of The Walking Dead had me craving a different sort of zombie action. I didn’t want to just kill zombies, I wanted to scrounge around in the dirt and decay of a world gone mad, a place where food and water are commodities that are just as important as ammo and guns. I wanted to see people at their worst, their savage primal instincts severing any ties to society they once had. I wanted to then befriend these people, give them a motivational speech and eventually lead them into the fray as one of the pioneering few who’d place the first blocks on the foundation of civilized society’s second chance. This more or less worked out.
Note: I am not going to be speaking too much in reference to what is coming to The War Z down the road as much as analyzing what I currently have access to.
To say The War Z is a place where heart felt speeches ala President Thomas Whitmore are welcome or even helpful would be quite the stretch. As of the writing of this article, The War Z has a brutal environment set upon a beautiful backdrop and it doesn’t look like that will change anytime soon. For every babbling brook and gorgeous vista within the stretch of the fictional Colorado setting, there are at least a dozen zombies that want to eat your face as well a handful of human survivors that want to eat whatever you happen to be carrying around in your backpack. Both parties, prefer your death over any sort of negotiation. This makes every moment of the game a tense, and at times, torturous mind game where progress can be completely halted by lazy decision making or childlike naivety. The latter is what leads to my demise more often than not.
If my Brotabulous videos are any indication, I like having friends and preferably ones that I can call, bros. My first few characters that were sent out into the Colorado wilderness shared this affinity, constantly searching for anyone they could team up with and, if push came to shove, fight off hordes of the undead with while their backs were pressed firmly against the other’s. One of these characters was beaten to death with a hammer while the other was shot in the face. I was crushed to see this, especially given neither had any supplies worth pilfering nor were they armed or presenting any sort of threat. In fact, one of them called out to an individual with a skull mask “Hey, wanna be bros?”(big mistake in hindsight, skulls tend to equal evil). Like I said, The War Z is brutal and you’re always going to have to be cautious.
At this point, The War Z does feel more like a multiplayer deathmatch than a survival game, but we’re still in the beta so corrections for this, if it is in fact seen as needing correcting, will be implemented down the road. Fortunately, there are safe zones dotted around the map (3 as of now) that disable the ability to use weapons and are also the only places that you can access your global inventory (the global inventory is also a great addition as it allows a person to store gear to be shared among all their characters). This is not to say that finding friendlies around the game is impossible, just don’t get your hopes up right now.
While I’d prefer fighting zombies as a big, unified group there is a lot to be said for the constant anxiety one feels as they roam the landscape. In most games, I’d sprint merrily towards a town in hopes of treats for my exhausted character, but in The War Z I lie in a prone position and wait for any signs that something horrible lies in wait for me. While I wouldn’t call it a stealth game, TWZ does require patience and sneakiness so perhaps it sits a lot closer to that genre than expected.
Your HUD has two very prominent bars that indicate how loud you are and whether or not you’re visible, though I assume that these only factor into AI and not human players since the game can’t really gauge that. You can run, walk (more of a hurried jog), crouch walk, and crawl in a prone position – all of which effect the detection bars to a certain degree with running being the loudest and most visible and crawling the least. I can’t stress how important mastering these maneuvers are, as dashing around will get you shanked, shot or eaten alive. At times, this covert approach to exploration can get a little dull, especially if you’re the impatient type. I found that impatience killed me quite a bit.
Currently most of your time in The War Z will be spent in a first or third person perspective, searching for supplies and fending off or escaping attackers, both living and undead. Supplies equate to life as you have to keep two arcs and a bar (indicating hunger, thirst and health respectively) from dropping too low. There is also a circle indicating fatigue that melts away as you run, but this can easily be recovered by no longer running (unless you’re injured severely, than you just limp about with blood pouring from you). The hunger and thirst bars slowly drop over time, while the health bar drops as you take damage (no infection stat yet, but there are items present that point to this mechanic). Different food, beverage and first aid items can be found in different areas across the map but usually tend to appear in areas that make sense such as stores and homes. This makes wandering into the woods a bit risky as getting caught too far from what’s left of civilization will leave you malnourished, dehydrated and eventually dead. This is all part of the balancing act that is The War Z as the wilderness is probably the safest place to be in regards to the opposition.
So what’s the verdict?
As it stands right now, The War Z feels like it has all the potential to turn into a great experience. It controls fine, the map is interesting to explore and the constant juggling act that is the survival mechanic, works to take your mind off the fact that you’re not really accomplishing much outside of item collection and keeping your character upright. I think keeping quest giving NPCs out of the mix is a good choice at this point, but hopefully the user created missions (which is a feature that has been advertised) help to expand upon gameplay that might get old for those looking for something with a bit more depth. If you’re a fan of zombie games and enjoyed DayZ then there is probably something here for you. Though those looking for more than a skeleton may want to give The War Z a few more months to incubate.