The War Z: What I Think Thus Far

Now that I’ve had a few days to get some time in The War Z, I wanted to take a moment to  try and express my opinions of this online, zombie-apocalypse, survival multiplayer experience (we really need name for this genre).

I feel the best way to really show how this game takes you on a roller-coaster of “holy crap!” moments is to play the game and then write about your last gameplay session. Luckily, I did such a thing in my first two days of playing The War Z. Here is my quickly jotted down experiences from last Friday and Saturday respectively (pulled from my Facebook page, but edited for mistakes):

Just played my first ~20 minutes of WarZ:

It spawns me in the middle of the woods. I check out my map and head towards the closest town to try and find some supplies (maybe a melee weapon or a gun if I’m lucky). I stumble upon my first zombie aggro as soon as I get into town — I club him down with my flashlight after a dozen or so swings. That wasn’t so bad. I sneak along the side of the first building, what appears to be an abandoned grocery, and I peek around the corner and see a shiny new M16 just lying on the ground, taunting me to loot it. As I inch my way toward it, it disappears. I start to back-peddle like a mad man, and duck back around the corner. I hear footsteps and see another survivor poke his head out the grocery store door and then go back inside. A few seconds later gunshots are fired. Did the survivor meet his death? If so, was it a zombie attack or another survivor who got the best of him? I start to panic and sneak around the other side of the building, checking out the abandoned store next to the grocery; nothing of interest in there. I head back to the grocery, thinking that maybe the survivor just got bested by the local zombies inside, and hope that maybe I can snag that M16 that I had intended to loot earlier (everything in this game is full-loot…you die, you drop all your gear). I peek inside and it looks clear, minus a lone zombie just shambling in a small circle. I hug the inside wall and make my way to the back of the store. I find binoculars, rifle ammo, and a flare. My first real loot! Woot! I take a second to sort my inventory and have bite of a granola bar — *bang* *bang* — I’m dead. Just like that. No idea if it was the original survivor or a new one, but I can’t help but feel like I was bait and switched. I’m dead and have to start all over. Damn it that was awesome. I haven’t felt that kind of suspense and pressure in a game since I first discovered the alpha of Minecraft survival-mode years ago.

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Just had a crazy chain of events in The War Z, have to share this via wall of text. Enjoy?

I started a new game and a new character. Made my way to the closest town and made my rounds from building to building slowly. Weave around the back fence of a house and find a shotgun on a table with a zombie guarding it, so I club the zombie to death with my flashlight (paranoid of attracting other survivors with my swinging light) and quickly loot the shotgun and equip it. I had previously found some binoculars as well, so this is the most well equipped I’ve ever been in War Z; I’m pumped, but even more cautious now that I have more to lose.

I see an (obviously) new survivor sprinting across the street with a tail of zombies on him and slowly make my way to him. I see that he has died, and the cluster of zombies that were chasing him are now on me. I make a break for it up a hill and see another survivor. He’s jumping around like a goof, maybe as a way of showing he means no harm. He looks unarmed so I keep my distance but don’t show aggression. Once I lose the zombies I ask, “friendly?” They reply, “yes.”

He’s now following me as I make my way to the next settlement. We hear gunshots and I instantly drop to the ground. Crouching, we both make our way to what looks like a make-shift fortified military base (I was too in-the-moment to bring up my map and check the name) and as I’m prone behind a tree I see a mask-wearing, pistol wielding bandit fumbling around in the base. This bandit is making his way towards us and seems aggressive. I switch to my shotgun, still in prone, pop up to crouch position and aim down the iron-sights. As soon as they pop around the corner of our tree we are behind I fire off a round from my shotgun. Head-shot. Dead. The first thing that really struck me is how much “bang” the gun had to it. The sound design, the visuals, and the recoil, all put together was jaw-dropping.

Back to the mission at hand. The dude following me instantly goes and jacks all the loot from the bandit I just dispatched of (Ignoring the fact that I just saved his life too?). After a second I start thinking “OK, they are armed now. They know I’m armed. They know I have rounds in my shotgun still (they had asked how much ammo I had earlier). How safe am I really?” I say in proximity chat, “Don’t shoot me in the back o.0” as the player insists on following me, rather than leading the way. I start to get suspicious and super paranoid. I keep my shotgun out, as they have their new pistol out as well, and I make my way around the corner of a large shipping bin. A rush of adrenaline and paranoia comes over me as I turn around and wait for them to round the bend. I pop a shot off in their face before they can even see me. They’re dead. I take the pistol and all that I can until my bags are full. I start the 10-second log out timer. What have I just done? What have I become? I’m one of them. I’m a bandit.

This game is the perfect game to recollect stories of your in-game adventures with the game’s community or your friends. Stuff like these two stories can happen at any moment in The War Z and I think that’s part of what makes me really enjoy the game. I love open-ended, divergent gameplay experiences. Sandbox games, if you will. The War Z doesn’t tell you where to go, what to do, or how to do it. It throws you into the wild-west world of the zombie apocalypse, where it is kill-or-be-killed and keeping a low-profile when you’re not doing said killing (or being killed).

At the same time, the “make your own fun” aspect of The War Z is a double-edged blade. There are times when I log into The War Z and wander around for 30 minutes to no real success, only to embarrassingly die to zombies because a bug (hopefully a bug!) gives them a wall-hack.

When it comes to the technical stuff, The War Z really surprised me. I went into The War Z having never played Hammerpoint’s previous game, War Inc, so I had no idea what level of jank or amateurism to expect. Have a gaming rig with a CPU-bottleneck like I do, I was worried about this effecting my framerate to the point that it wasn’t enjoyable. Thankfully, the game performs well for the most part, with some random fits of sub-20 frames per second. Hammerpoint also gives the player a decent amount of options and sliders to adjust  the visuals to try and tweak your performance to your liking.

All that said, I’ve barely scratched the surface of what The War Z has to offer. The game is still in late Alpha (rumored to be hitting beta at the end of this month), has only one map (that isn’t even completely unlocked), is in the process of learning how to combat hackers  and we still haven’t seen the experience/skill-tree system implemented.

Should you drop 25 bones at this point? It really depends on what you’re expecting out of the gate. The War Z is definitely not a complete product at this point, but it’s oozing with potential and even in this early stage alpha/beta there are gigantic chunks of amazing emergent gampelay experiences. I’m going to keep this one on my radar and check in on it with every patch leading up to launch.

 

 

 

 

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