The Nighttime Raid
It is nighttime in The War Z. I have played the game on and off for six hours. In that time, I have died six times. I creep up to the edge of a cliff overlooking a town and scan the layout. It is overrun with walkers, but I am not concerned about them. It is players I am looking for. In the middle of it all I see a gold mine: a wrecked cruiser in a police barracks parking lot. That abandoned building represents all the motivation this game has to offer. It is a promise of food, water, a flashlight, or even a gun and the bullets to load it with. I reject the thought of going to a barn that is closer and may be safer, because The War Z is about survival, and if you have a gun, at least you have a chance.
As I snuck down the hill, I took care not to be seen. Zombies in the game have poor vision and only questionable hearing, but if they catch wind of you, they will not relent in their pursuit of you. One spotted me as I crossed a piece of broken fence. The character was fresh and my sprint meter only half full, so running was not an option. I made my way onto a pile of boxes and let it come as music cues rose shrilly in my ears. When it was close enough, I pulled out the only weapon I had, a flashlight, and swung for its head as it clawed at me. One, two, six hits later, the monster was dead. Others had heard the commotion, though, and were coming. I crept away quickly and hid in the shadows.
Darkness in The War Z is true, unadulterated night. While one could simply turn up the gamma and brightness, that would defeat the purpose. Without outside sources, you can see just enough to not walk into what is right in front of you. Zombies, in the glow of a flashlight, stand out in a way that feels much more realistic than any other zombie game I have played. Players can remain hidden, waiting for the perfect moment to attack. Naturally, this puts players looking for an authentic experience at a distinct disadvantage.
I made it to the cruiser safely but my position was precarious. No less than three zombies shambled through the parking lot as I peeked through its windows for supplies. A bottle of water, nothing more. The barracks was similarly devoid of much needed provisions, except for a curiously large supply of flashlights. My already desperate situation seemed to have gotten a whole lot worse. After all that, the indecision of even approaching a town (the most dangerous places in The War Z), the terrible tension of creeping between houses, knowing all the while that one stray walker – or worse, one stray player – would mean another death with nothing to show for it. Defeated, I was ready to log out and not return.
Something caught my eye as I made my exit: a small house with an open front door and a playground out front. I had a straight shot to the house, so I made my way. Inside was the treasure I had been waiting for: an assault rifle with a full, 40-round clip. From that moment on, the whole game changed.
Savior, Stalker, or Both?
After getting that gun, I no longer traversed Colorado in fear. I could defend myself. When most people had pistols or nail-studded clubs, I had military-grade weaponry and enough ammunition to be my own little conqueror. I left the town feeling like a new man. I scoured ruined roadblocks and wrecked highways with impunity. I welcomed, no, dared, trouble to find me. Someone called out the location of a bandit (player-killer in the game’s parlance) and in a moment my mindset changed to that of the grand defender. Why should I not stand up for the weak?