Everyone in the world is dying. The day and the world population count appear on my screen in bright orange numbers. I watch the inevitable and long-expected turnover from 6 billion to 5,999,999,999, and I know that each number scrolling so quickly past is a person, a man, woman or child that died because I was too slow to wipe out the zombie infestation that is slowly but surely overwhelming the planet. I have to admit in some cases, I even intentionally spread the walking death. But this is the reality of the situation in War of the Zombie. As director of Safe Industries, I have to make tough choices and hope that in the long run, the human race survives.
War of the Zombie by Van der Veer Games is most easily described as a super-in-depth government-level version of The Last Guy with Plague Inc. sensibilities. As Global Operations Director – yeah, G.O.D. — of Safe, private military corporation du jour, you are given control of an Ark vessel — a double hull military carrier — and the task of ridding the world of the zombie virus. On individual missions, you control a “safeteam” of up to four soldiers in a top down or satellite view. Tapping the screen steers them around zombies and obstacles to rescue VIPs, eliminate rebel insurgencies and recover lost nuclear devices. These active missions share their 8-bit visual style with The Last Guy, down to the heat vision that allows you to see all the blood-sacks you need to pop – both living and undead. If you’ve never heard of the The Last Guy, think Hotline Miami or the original Grand Theft Auto (not GTA 3).
People look like pixelated ants even at the closest zoom, but I accepted the classic look as an homage when taken in consideration with the overall depth of the game. The one problem I had here was that compared to TLG, the VIPs — little white dots on the radar — are less likely to follow their protective squad in a neat little line like a row of ducks. VIPs are often doctors, diplomats, advisors or scientists that can be recruited if you manage to rescue them, so it’s painful to watch one veer off and take an alternate route to the point you tapped that takes them through group of zombies – and to their infection and ultimate death. It’s gotten better with a recent update, but could still be tighter, even though it’s understood that, unlike The Last Guy, the controls are “go to point” not analog stick, which leaves the route to said point open for AI interpretation. Thankfully, a recent update made multiple in-mission saves possible.
Completing or failing a mission returns you to the world map, or Tactical Map, in this case. Here is where the true scope of War of the Zombie becomes apparent. The Tactical Map is a world atlas where each country is represented with a symbol colored to reflect its disposition toward Safe. The breadth and dazzling number of dots on the atlas corresponds neatly to the depth of this game. There is always something to do, something to manage, and I appreciated the geography lesson inherent in the real-world map. Here, send out bombing runs, or scavenge for technology, select missions for your safeteam squad, conciliate countries by buying them off, or set up forward operating bases to expand your reach.
Visit the Supply Store for everything from nukes to knives. Warfare buffs will probably recognize the Tomahawk missiles, Supercobra choppers and Hornets in evidence since the tech is all real-world stuff. You can buy and manage laboratories to manufacture upgrades for use and sale, but you need scientists to run them and that’s where the Duty Roster comes in. Duty assignments are also part of your responsibility and add a significant layer of complexity. Each soldier gains experience points on missions that you distribute in the Duty Roster. This is where you can set doctors to tend individual wounded soldiers and assign scientists to labs. All of this adds up to a lot to do besides steering your tiny soldier around, and suddenly those soldiers have faces and names (that you can even change) and stats that you can adjust. They become more real than little dots that turn to red paint splats when they die.
If there’s nothing nearby of interest, you can move your Ark. To move you must advance time one day. Then the great orange counter appears, along with the change in global opinion about you. There are many ways to manage this, like assigning diplomats via the Duty Roster, leveling PMC soldiers countries send to you for training to elite rank, or accepting requisition orders for things like tanks and missiles, but it is an uphill battle. It’s difficult to spend money both on turning the tide of negativity and accruing Ark resources. For example, the B2S-Spirit Bomber required to drop nukes and obliterate overrun cities was initially priced at $750,000,000, but Van der Veer Games took pity on players and reduced the price to $500,000,000 in a recent update.
War of the Zombie is one long, complicated challenge. It’s got strategy, RPG elements, builder elements, action missions and the ever-present zombie menace. The level of engagement is impressive. Don’t let the throwback graphics style fool you; there is a lot of game in this tiny package. That said, it might take a moment to figure out the military strategy and Ark management portions of WotZ. While the combat missions have a clear tutorial, you’re expected to poke through the Supply Store and Duty Roster and figure out the strategy on your own. Still, once I understood what was going on – and made the decision to spend some of my long-hoarded cash – I realized with this much to do I will never be bored. Even the game settings are worth a mention: I have to give a nod to the ability to change the speed of the zombies not only because I appreciate with added challenge comes quality game longevity, but because the speed titles “Romero,” “Russo,” and “Snyder” are names any zombie aficionado will recognize as having directed –of the Dead movies (though I must say the Snyder should be called a Boyle, in honor of the running infected in 28 Days Later). It’s an unnecessary but welcome touch of humor in an otherwise dead-serious game.
I’ve restarted, and am doing a little better this time around. Back to the Tactical Map. My Ark is holding off the eastern coast of India. At the bottom of the screen the update loops: “Day 22: Safe attacked by Nepal Air Force… Trinidad & Tobago in a frenzy over appearance of rebels… Timor-Leste in state of emergency over a new outbreak…” and so on. I splurged early and got two Blackhawks, so I can do two safeteam mission runs in one day, and two KC390S Vultures so I can scavenge twice in one day…. or infect hostile countries. Maybe things will be better. Van der Veer Games is still adding new features, so I know for sure that the scope and level of detail put War of the Zombie on my best mobile strategy games list. WotZ is going to keep me coming back until I can figure out a way to stop everyone in the world from dying.
Classic graphics with military strategy, conceptual depth and plenty of death.