World War Z: World War Z has undergone several changes since its 2019 release, and almost all of them are for the better. There’s a lot to enjoy about it these days with more episodes to rampage through, a larger variety of playable classes, and scores of significant quality-of-life enhancements (such zombies no longer being able to yank you off ledges and consume you in the most unjust manner possible, for example).
The sleeper hit’s next significant development, Aftermath, mainly succeeds in steering the zombie-filled shooter in the correct way. Nevertheless, it still has a lot of opportunities to develop due to persistent internet difficulties, forgettable narratives, and some gameplay growing pains.
Two fantastic new adventures that lead you to recover the Vatican City in Rome and to the utterly desolate wastes of Kamchatka, Russia, are among the more notable additions made by Aftermath.
These episodes, like the ones before them, are difficult, heart-pounding nightmare scenarios in which you and up to three co-op friends must battle thousands of zombies while laying traps, managing resources like med kits and grenades, and desperately avoiding blowing yourself up by firing a rocket launcher at point blank range.
Rome is the less creative of the two; it takes a well-known location, gives it the antithesis of a facelift, and then lets you and your buddies have fun sabotaging it. There isn’t much that sets Italy apart from other locations outside the novel views, sounds, and enormous flaming pits full of zombies.
With a few highlights, like when you have to steer and refuel a van through the streets of Rome while enduring continual undead assault, it’s still good ol’ face-smashing fun. Only those blazing holes filled with dead zombies may have stayed with me for a long time after I played the game; they might give me nightmares. But nothing else really did.
On the other hand, the frozen tundra of Kamchatka offers some incredibly memorable moments, like one place where you have to run between heaters while fending off waves of brain-eaters because a blizzard leads you to receive damage merely for being outside for short periods of time.
There are also several fantastic puzzle portions that call for teamwork, such as one where your group must use a flamethrower to melt frozen-shut doors while the others give cover fire, or another where you must locate and pull levers in the proper order in order to fix an electrical system.
With the constant fear of zombie hordes, relatively simple activities soon become difficult enterprises, and even the best-laid plans can swiftly devolve into a comedy of errors. It was also enjoyable to watch the designers have some outrageous fun with Russia in contrast to the relatively simple look of Rome.
But even when the new episodes are at their strongest, the storytelling in Aftermath doesn’t get any better, which is still as depressing as it ever was. The dialogue of the characters is campy and basically acts as background noise while you go around shooting things, and precisely zero of them are developed or intriguing in any manner.
In fact, it seems like characters kindly warned me not to shoot them in the head 90% of the time when they spoke. Because, y’know, when you’re fighting thousands of zombies in cramped spaces, friendly fire is a relatively typical incident, and the characters will never fail to mention it. Though World War Z provides plenty of mindless entertainment for me, narrating real stories in the vein of Left 4 Dead would make the world seem more deserving of salvation.
However, the optional first-person mode is my personal favorite addition to Aftermath since it gives World War Z a fresh new perspective. Getting up and personal with the flesh swarms you battle brings forth a whole new level of fear from your character’s perspective. I enjoyed taking on the zombie apocalypse in this method because I’m an FPS lover, and it offered me another reason to revisit World War Z’s earlier episodes.
The catch here is that, strangely, aiming down your weapon’s sights has not been included in first-person mode. Many firearms have scopes, but you gaze down the side of the weapon instead of the scope, which feels incredibly strange, awkward, and plain unsatisfactory. It’s particularly strange because ADS was already included in World War Z on select weapons, such as the sniper rifle, so it’s not like peering down scopes in the third-person was something you did.
Despite the first-person perspective’s ability to further immerse me, I was abruptly brought back to reality when I saw that I was looking away from my scope while in combat. I probably murmured “So we’re just not going to use that scope, huh?” a dozen or so times per play session because of how strange that felt, no matter how long I played.
A new character class called the Vanguard and a few new melee weapon possibilities are also welcomed additions to the sandbox in Aftermath, both of which successfully advance close-quarters combat. The Vanguard, as its name suggests, is all about getting in the face of the opposition.
It is outfitted with an electric shield that can be used to charge through hordes of zombies or block paths by transforming into a human barricade. As I discovered through my several foolish dives into piles of zombies, it takes some practice to get the hang of, but once you do, it’s a lot of fun and can be crucial to the survival of your team.
The Vanguard is far more feasible than other character classes, even if the high risk/high return associated might not be for everyone. Other character classes rapidly become Zeke food when they are close by.
But the new melee possibilities are just fun to play with all around. The melee system has been totally redesigned, now including dual-wielded weapons like the sickles and heavy weapons like the sledgehammer, as well as a perk system that aids in developing your play style.
The sickles, for instance, allow you to attack more quickly and less viciously than other melee weapons, but they also have the perk of healing your character when you go on killing sprees. In contrast, the fire axe is slower and more vicious, but it also has the perk of enhancing your effectiveness when fighting Zekes that are on fire.
The enhanced melee system increases gameplay variety and marginally increases the feasibility of close-range combat, which was previously exclusively used by people with a nagging desire to die. Despite this, unless you’ve truly tailored your Vanguard-class to it, you still won’t be able to defeat the undead masses with melee alone. However, it does assist to save you from the occasional surprise encounter with a zombie or two, which is a blessing.
The majority of Aftermath’s contributions to World War Z are appreciated, but rats in particular really made me pause. Yes, those are large, black rats with tails and all. You know, like in A Plague Tale: Innocence and also at my college apartment.
I have no idea why the makers felt it was necessary to include these, but occasionally, roving gangs of rabid rats may spawn in a level and just start gnawing your face off. The only effective protection against them is explosives or flamethrowers, which aren’t always readily available as they are a horde of tiny opponents that can’t simply be killed with gunshots.
A perfectly good run of a level can occasionally be abruptly stopped by a pack of rats that start munching on one of your teammates, wasting valuable healing supplies and ammunition, or, even more embarrassingly, murdering your entire team. To be fair, the rat swarms can be amusing at times and are certainly not without their novelty, but to be completely honest, I would prefer if they didn’t exist at all.
But much more distressing than a pack of furry rodents is the fact that World War Z’s Aftermath online play is still incredibly unstable. I was fortunate to have a bunch of friends to play with the majority of the time, and even though sometimes it can be difficult to load into stages and maintain a stable connection, it’s still a fairly enjoyable experience when you bring your own squad.
However, if you want to find someone to date, things move from functional to excruciatingly broken. You should prepare for incredibly lengthy wait periods to be matched with others or maybe just endlessly sitting in the lobby. Your best hope is to just start a public game and wait for others to join partway through.
However, this approach is not only less enjoyable than completing the level with a full team, but it is also not guaranteed, and you risk playing with AI-controlled bots that can’t get out of a wet paper bag. The only way to avoid this unpleasant online experience is to play entirely alone with AI, but this is also a horrible option, so you must select the worse of the two bad options. So, if you want to avoid a hassle, bring your own friends.
Aftermath significantly changes World War Z, which made me grin. Although Kamchatka is a fantastic new episode and the first-person mode and improved melee options are fantastic quality-of-life improvements, there are still problems with online play, little to no attempt at storytelling, and strange design decisions (such as the absence of aiming down sights in first-person mode) that are huge disappointments.
However, shooting my way through innumerable zombies still holds a certain allure, and Aftermath elevates World War Z above all others.