Friday, 1 March 2013

Now Playing: War Z

I bought into War Z last year when it was still in early alpha. I spoke then about the risks of investing in a title currently in development, but my initial impressions of War Z were largely positive. Considering its early stage of development, the game was remarkably stable online. I hit few bugs, encountered hardly any hackers and the community was small, but on the whole very friendly.

I thought the game had potential, but it clearly needed a lot more work and content before it could be considered for release. But War Z saw very little in the way of updates following that initial burst of enthusiasm, and after a time, I grew weary of the limited content and features on offer and I stopped playing, deciding to return when a few more content patches had arrived to shake things up.

Spin on a few months, and a few did. The map was expanded. New character models were added. Zombie numbers were increased. I returned to the game to check out the latest build, but these updates seemed to have made the game even less stable than the early version I’d got stuck into. What had originally appeared to be early placeholder textures, models and animations were still present - and the new stuff wasn’t exactly any better. Well, it was still alpha, right? You’d expect such issues to arise as content is added and the game is fleshed out. Except it wasn’t alpha now. It was beta. But, hang on, isn’t that- Oh wait! Now it’s released on Steam!

This is where things get messy. War Z had already attracted controversy for clearly cashing in on the success of the Day Z ARMA 2 mod. But what really matters isn’t what came first, but what does it best. And although War Z was tackling a similar concept, it was taking a slightly different approach - a more arcade like approach, which appealed to me personally.
But now there were rumours of false game bans, forum censorship and all sorts of claims ranging from the worryingly plausible, to the utterly ridiculous. It was a mess, but the developers and their publishers really only had themselves to blame. They’d released a falsely advertised, clearly still in alpha game on Steam. The backlash was tremendous, and the game was pulled for sale within a week.

Gone…but not quite forgotten, as the game has recently reappeared for sale. So what’s happened to it since then? Well, there have been a few more content updates. People are still playing it. I barely touched it myself for a few months, but I decided to go back to it recently and see what was going on.

Has it improved since that initial disastrous release? Yes. Is it any good yet? Well, no. It’s more stable than the build I played before release, and there is more content, new features, new hacking protection (or so they say) and bug fixes. But is it too little, too late? Has the damage been done? Is the reputation of the product tarnished beyond repair? Well, it’s hard to say. A lot of negatives have already been written about War Z, so I might as well touch upon the only real positive and the reason I was so initially interested in the product -

The moments when everything just clicks. Moments when you’re sneaking through a town at dusk, avoiding zombies, gathering supplies - tense, exciting moments, where danger potentially lurks around every corner – living or not. Moments that make your heart race a little faster as you spot something moving in the distance. A zombie? A player? A friendly player? The feeling of constantly being on edge, of ducking out of sight when you see a small group of survivors because you’re unsure of their motives. These moments are when the game excels. But sadly these moments are few and far between.

Ultimately, the biggest issue with the game (and probably an issue the upcoming Day Z release will face) is the problem of long term progression. What is my goal in this world? War Z, currently, has no goal beyond simply gathering supplies. And when you have more than you’d ever really need? What then? There is no story, no character progression, no way to clear and secure areas of the map. And once you’ve stockpiled a healthy supply of food, medicine, weapons and ammunition, there’s very little else to do.

As it stands, War Z isn’t really worth your time or money. It hasn’t really improved, and it doesn’t appear that it will to any significant degree. It was certainly enjoyable in early alpha. I saw it as a cheap, budget title which had potential. But those early days are gone, and the developers clearly see it as a ‘released’ product now. Well, on those terms War Z is a bit of a shallow mess in terms of content, features and stability. Given another year of development and testing it could have been a decent little title. Oh well.


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