You’ve probably heard about it by now, possibly only in angry whispers from fellow gamers who had been scorned by its disastrous release. The War Z may very well have been the most controversial game of 2012, but it’s also a solid contender for worst game of the year, and that’s pretty damn impressive in a year that brought us XBLA flop Amy, 007 Legends, and another Naughty Bear game. For the unfamiliar, The War Z is a game that was heavily inspired by DayZ, the Arma II mod created by Dean Hall that’s getting a standalone release sometime later this year. There’s not much else to it. It’s a DayZ clone, and a rushed one at that.
Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I decided to try The War Z out for myself. I tried to reassure myself before I hit that big yellow purchase button on the game’s official website, “it can’t be that bad…” I said. I like the concept, and I’m a full believer that there can be more than one DayZ style game out there. Competition inspires innovation, and all that jazz. If you’re up for it and you have a strong stomach, why don’t you join me on this little adventure? I promise I don’t bite, though I can’t say the same for the undead hordes.
When I first heard about The War Z, I was excited for it. I hadn’t played DayZ and it was essentially the same thing, only easier to get and with added polish. Hammerpoint marketed it as the “first survival MMO zombie game,” and the first batches of screenshots and gameplay looked universally great. Fast forward several months later to the game’s long awaited release on Steam and the controversy that surrounded it before Valve removed it from their platform and all my excitement had succumb to anger and disappointment.
Let’s put the controversy aside to better focus on what’s most important, the game. I haven’t buried the lead here, as you can read it clearly in the title of this review that this is quite possibly the worst zombie game ever made. At the very least, it’s the worst I’ve ever played.
For starters, it fails on the very basic principle of good game design in that it’s not particularly fun to play. It’s frustrating, the controls and animations are clumsy, there’s very little to do, and perhaps worst of all, Hammerpoint didn’t even bother trying to hide the fact that The War Z is very obviously all about the money. Look, I get it, companies need to make money. The problem I have with this is you’re already paying $15 for the game, and Hammerpoint has the balls to ask its players for more money for in-game purchases? A lot of what you can buy in the store, which by the way, is the only the thing about this game that functions perfectly, isn’t necessary to your survival. However, they also charge for basic things like ammunition, and the right to revive without having to wait a few hours. (Editor’s note: this bit wasn’t clear as originally written: the game no longer charges for character revival.)
I’m not even going to get into the fact that they don’t warn you that everything you buy can, and almost definitely will be lost when your character dies, as nothing you outfit your character with is tied to your account.
Now that we have the most egregious thing about The War Z out of the way, let’s touch on the gameplay. Hammerpoint has made a considerable effort in pointing out that this is a “foundation release.” Essentially what this means is they’re charging you for an unfinished game because, Minecraft did it, so why the fuck not? The problem here is Minecraft functioned well as a game even its basic beta form; it didn’t punish players for not throwing down additional money in-game for basic features.
The character and enemy animations are laughable. They’re unpolished to a degree that they wouldn’t pass as a student project. Zombies shamble toward you robotically, and when they get close enough, you’re free to wail away on them for a minute or two until they go down. I think I saw one attack animation across the several hours I spent with the game, and eventually I had to mute it because every time you hit a zombie they emit the same goddamn howl. Thankfully, Hammerpoint was merciful enough to add four or five different zombie sounds, so you can go a solid three seconds before you hear the same one twice.
So it doesn’t play particularly well… what about the things you can do? Well, I honestly don’t know. Unfortunately, instead of guiding you in any way toward something even remotely resembling a quest, mission, or NPC, the game instead decides to throw you in a forest with a flashlight and the feeling you just wasted $15 that could’ve been better spent on, say, anything.
But DayZ did this too, right? Sure. However, DayZ was a mod for a game developed by a single person and, oh yeah, it was free. DayZ creator Dean Hall could’ve waited for you to get five hours playtime before triggering an unstoppable horde that kills you immediately. He could’ve done this, because his game was an experimental mod. It was a test to see if gamers would be interested before he decided to do what he and his team are currently doing with the upcoming standalone game.
Now, if the standalone DayZ is as bad as The War Z, I will gladly eat my words. I will slather them in butter and eat them up.
Until then, I’m going to stand by my opinion that this game is a disaster.
I get that the goal is to form a band of similarly minded misfits before setting off to camp next to spawning points to pwn those noobz, because let’s face it, people are assholes. I like that. It’s an interesting idea and one that hasn’t been touched on in gaming. You have clans or guilds in fantasy MMOs, but I can’t think of many post-apocalyptic MMOs that let you roleplay The Walking Dead.
The only downside to this is it creates a barrier of entry for new players, because not long after The War Z released did it take for a bandit mindset to infect everyone who had been playing it since the beginning. This means there are more players reenacting The Governor and his gang, as opposed to Rick and his band of merry survivors.
You would think that the one area in which The War Z could best its predecessor would be in the visuals department, and if you thought this, you would be wrong. There are some areas where this game looks better than the mod that inspired it, but as a whole, there really isn’t a significant difference in the graphics. That’s bizarre, it really is, and it leads me to the only reason I could think of that something like this would look like the absolute bare minimal amount of effort was invested into it: it was a rushed product that Hammerpoint wanted to get out as quickly as possible in a desperate attempt to capitalize on DayZ’s success.
Hey, I know you were thinking the exact same thing.
Hopefully, Hammerpoint will improve the character interaction with the support they promised for the game, because right now there’s no voice-chat and no way to tell who a player is when they’re near you. This makes it extraordinarily difficult to find friends in its expansive, barren world unless you’re using a third party program like Skype.
In case you decided to skim the review so you could get to the dessert, I’m going to break it down for you. The War Z is an ugly mess of a game developed by a greedy company that was more focused on getting your money than it was on creating a video game that provided even a modicum of enjoyment. It’s ugly, clunky, and the entire time I was playing it I couldn’t shake the thought that I was playing an endurance test no-so-cleverly designed as a zombie game.
The Final Word: The War Z might not be pay-to-play, but it certainly is pay-to-win. The only thing Hammerpoint did was take everything DayZ did as a free mod, make it significantly less enjoyable to play, then charge $15+ for it. In its current state, this isn’t worth anyone’s time.
This review is based on the PC version of The War Z, which was purchased from the official website.