By John Walker on December 20th, 2012 at 6:00 pm.
There’s been an awful lot of chatter about The War Z of late. Removed from Steam for not being in a state Valve deem suitable for sale, making false claims on their store page (then blaming the customers for it, somehow), banning people for criticising the game, stealing the League Of Legends Terms Of Service, and most recently adding an amazing line to their TOS that says agreeing to it voids your right to a refund! But what about the game?!
Some have accused the released version of The War Z of not being feature complete. In fact, Valve agree with this to the point where they’ve removed it from sale. But there’s a problem with this argument, and it’s on I think is important to address: being feature complete would imply that The War Z has any features at all. And that’s simply unfair on Hammerpoint.
Pay To Pay
The free-to-play movement has infuriated many gamers over the last couple of years, games pretending to be free, but then incentivising incremental payments at every opportunity. The War Z performs no such bait-and-switch. Instead it charges a minimum of $15 to buy the game, and then gauges you for cash throughout. Want more backpack space? Pay for it! Want new character skins? Pay for them! Want to have anything to do? Pay for it!
One of the key aspects of The War Z is respawn time. As of yesteday, it’s now four hours. Unless you pay of course. So life is precious! (Sure, respawning has no appreciable advantage, since there aren’t any skill points to spend your XP on, and respawning starts you off with an empty backpack, while just creating a new character provides you with some basics. But you know, you grow attached to that identically skinned character and his no discernible individual attributes.) So you’ll want to look after yourself. So don’t, you know, step down off a rock.
It’s an odd system, since jumping from a car roof is fine. But slide those last two inches from a rock and you’ll hit the ground with such impact that you’ll lose a good third of your health.
You know what’s wrong with most games? When you reach a slope you can’t climb. We’ve all been there in Skyrim and Far Cry 3 where we can’t quite scale a mountain because the surface is just too steep. Not here! Here through the magic of jumping any surface can be ascended. In fact, if you’re lucky you might find you just start sliding straight up the cliff! And it can afford you excellent places to hide!
Nailing The Sound
Definitely one of the game’s highlights is that footstep sounds on rocks, floorboards and cars all sound like someone hammering a nail into some wood.
Busy Doing Nothing
Survival games often get too bogged down in demanding you survive. Luckily with The War Z there’s little worry about that. Your food and water meters go down so slowly that you’ll inevitably have far too much liquid and granola bars to carry, and there’s rarely danger of getting killed by bandits. So instead, without anything else to actually do, and no impetus to fight for your life, the best course of action is usually to head into a town and annoy all the zombies. Sure, they can hit you when you’ve run far past them, and certainly three of those magic hits is enough to kill you, but still, it’s an event. Weapons are the game’s scarcest item, incredibly rare to find, which prevents you from getting bogged down in any sense of actually being involved in the game, or being able to legitimately consider surviving entering a town. Of course, if you’re going to be fussy about that, you could always buy weapons from the store!
The Long Dark Nights
Day/night cycles in games often go ludicrously quickly. Not in The War Z. Here it crawls around, ensuring you get to spend literally hours in the pitch black, not being able to see anything without turning on your KILL ME NOW flashlight, stumbling about and not being able to see that there’s absolutely nothing to do.
The Oh God I Can’t Carry On
The thing about The War Z is that it’s not immediately terrible. When it’s not night, it’s quite pretty in places, although trees are a mess, and there are some amazing glitches with the reflections. You have a character, a map to explore, and zombies to avoid. But you have no drive, no purpose, and no sense that putting up with the ludicrous volumes of bugs is worthwhile. My most recent death was achieved when my character failed to jump a small box, his legs freezing folded in half, hovering on the edge of the crate. Zombies wobbled near me and I was instantly dead.
It glitches constantly, almost achieving strobing effects at some points. Clipping is abysmal, then zombies can occupy the same space as each other, and indeed you. Attacking a zombie with a hammer can take upward of 30 blows to kill them, during which they don’t counter-attack at all. However, face two zombies and it’s instant death – unless you run away for a bit. They get bored after about 30 seconds. As do I. That’s the game’s biggest failing – it’s irredeemably dull.
There’s no drive to live, no impetus to survive. There’s no thrill in escaping, or fear in leaving the woods, certainly not helped by its clumsy third-person perspective. It’s so ludicrously unfair with weapons that the act of finding them is the most likely thing to get you immediately killed. Because of course they’re all for sale in the real-money shop. So it is that there’s the incessant sense of being gauged by a game that charged you to play it in the first place, despite its offering no motivation to carry on and pay.
An endless source of amusement while playing, however, is the global chat. It is always one of three subjects: DayZ is better; this game is shit; these people are using hacks. It seems it’s rife with cheaters, giving you further reason to not enjoy yourself. I’ve certainly seen other players with astonishing numbers of bullets in a game that offers almost none.
There’s clearly a lot of dubious stuff going on. Kotaku have spotted just how many pics they nicked for one of their promo screens. PCGN’s Steve Hogarty attempted to measure just how big the single map the game has really is, and found it to be a fraction of the size claimed, even after Hammerpoint scaled down their bullshit on the Steam page. More and more of such details seem likely to emerge. But there is a game here, and you can play it. It’s just… you won’t want to.