Zombies are the main antagonists of the World War Z franchise. They are the reanimated corpses of dead humans and are extremely violent beings that attack anything living to eat, kill, and infect.
The zombies in Max Brooks' book "The Zombie Survival Guide" and the follow-up novel "World War Z" are people who have been infected with the Solanum virus. They are slow-moving creatures that seem to possess a mysterious sixth sense and stop at nothing to spread the disease via biting and/or scratching living humans. The zombies from the books adhere to the traditional "slow" zombies.
While slow, they are extremely dangerous in large groups and can easily overwhelm survivors or corner them. Damage to the body will do very little to slow them down and damage to the brain is typically the surefire method of killing them.
In startling contrast to the novel, the zombies in the film adaptation of World War Z are depicted as the "fast" type of zombies, capable of running towards their would-be victims with ferocity. The zombies appear to have behavior heavily based on that of animals, hence the opening credits of the film which shows various animal species and their habits. For example, they are able to climb atop of one another to form a "pillar" or "wall" of zombies, allowing them to cross high walls, a characteristic taken from ants. Some zombies can lunge at humans, similar to tigers or lions. The zombies also behave like viruses themselves, as their only interest is in spreading the infection and seem to have no real interest in consuming their prey; once they manage to land a bite on a victim, they quickly lose interest in that victim and cease their attack to immediately chase after another uninfected person. While capable of grabbing their victims, they are more dependent on their jaws, snapping away once a target has been sighted.
When a human is infected, it is a matter of seconds before they turn. The pathogen responsible for zombification is one of the fastest recorded infections observed with people transforming in as little as 12 seconds. During that very short amount of time, the person writhes and convulses violently on the ground, contorting and snapping their body in many directions in an uncomfortable manner before finally standing up. Humans who have recently turned do not look too different from while they were alive. However, their eyes become blurry and black veins appear all over their face and body. After some time, they degrade and appear more like typical zombies with decaying flesh and hair loss, though they are still able to move quite fast.
The zombies are driven to infect any human they see on sight and are attracted to any loud or man-made noises; such as a car engine or a person's voice. When not attacking they enter a dormant state; listlessly standing around awaiting stimulus. The zombies secrete a black tar-like substance from their mouths. The ooze is surmised to be loaded with the virus though it has an incredibly short life span and must be directly injected into the victim through a bite. Having the substance splashed into the mouth does not result in infection.
Curiously, the zombies only go after those who are healthy. Those who have been seriously injured or stricken with severe illness are ignored by the infected. For example, Ellis, a soldier at Camp Humphreys, was ignored in a room full of infected due to his lame leg and was able to escape the room and incinerate the infected. Amputation has been seen as being able to stop the infection as demonstrated by a female IDF soldier. However, given the pathogen's extremely fast-acting nature, it is unlikely that by removing an infected limb (assuming that is where a person was bitten) they cut off the path that allows it to spread throughout the rest of the body. Instead, the host is rendered unsuitable to the virus as a result of the trauma caused by the amputation. Vast herds will actually avoid a seriously ill individual when hunting targets; running around the individual in their path. As a result of this particular quirk, the WHO was able to concoct a vaccine that renders individuals effectively undetectable by the zombies, by tricking them into thinking the person has been infected by a serious disease.
As the video game adaptation of World War Z is primarily based on the film, the zombies are also depicted as the running types with similar physical features such as the black veins and cloudy eyes. They also retain the same behaviors such as increased aggression, attraction to loud noise, and the ability to climb over themselves to reach higher areas quicker. Newly-infected humans still turn in a brisk 12 seconds or less while uncontrollably convulsing all the way through. The zombies seem to be slighter more intelligent than they let on, given that some are capable of jumping out of the way when running towards a survivor and seeing them aim down their weapon's sight on them. This displays hints of self-preservation, suggesting they are not entirely mindless and unthinking creatures.
Gameplay has shown that zombies can be killed with enough damage to their bodies, not just their brains. Although a bullet straight to the head is one of the quickest and most effective ways of killing them, many traditionally ineffective methods of harming zombies such as electrocution, gas, and shots to any other part of the body besides the head have proven to work well enough to put them down for good with enough effort. They have also been shown to occasionally react to pain such as clutching down over their legs when shot in the knee or lashing all around themselves when they are about to die from fire.
There are a few types of regular zombies in the game:
- Zeke - The common zombie and the main undead force of the virus that plagues the world over. Most, if not all zekes show signs of having been infected for some time. While barely a threat on their own, they pose a serious problem when in larger groups. They take advantage of greater numbers to overwhelm and decimate survivors. When attempting to reach targets at elevated levels, they will stack on each other to form a pyramid that allows them to quickly climb up to the players' level. If enough zekes manage to surround a survivor, they will be pinned down to the ground in a unique downed state and will likely require the help of others to clear them off to get back up. When sighting a survivor aiming down a weapon, zekes will sometimes dodge out of the way of survivor gunfire to throw off their aim. On higher difficulties, they become much smarter, more resilient against damage, and arrive in far greater numbers.
- Zombified Survivor - When a survivor is incapacitated and not rescued in time, has been incapacitated too many times (the number of incapacitations depending on the difficulty and class perks), or fails to disinfect themselves from infection, they will writhe uncontrollably on the ground for short while before getting back up as a freshly turned zeke. Having been very recently turned, zombified survivors are slightly faster and more resilient to damage, making them noticeably harder to kill, but otherwise act just like regular zekes. If the survivor was carrying a Medkit, a defense kit, or other supplies when they turned, it will be dropped for other living survivors to pick up. If the survivor was carrying a Virus Sample when they turned, it will be lost.
- Zombified Soldier - Soldiers (and in some cases, armed or unarmed civilians) can be attacked during certain scenarios during a chapter. Should they not be immediately supported back up by clearing away the zekes around them, or they have suffered too much damage, they will be infected by the zekes that attacked them and become a zeke themselves soon after. Having been very recently turned, zombified soldiers are slightly faster and more resilient to damage, making them noticeably harder to kill, but otherwise act just like regular zekes. Soldiers will usually yell out if they are infected, surrounded, or bitten to serve as a warning to the survivors that they are about to turn.
Special zombies, and other threats, exist, serving as a more dangerous threat to the survivors than the average zeke. Special zombies stand out with a more unique outfit and appearance. Some may possess objects or abilities that make them a bit different to fight against in contrast to all the regular zombies that are fought. Some possess fairly notable behavioral quirks that make them stand out when compared to normal zekes for the most part. Most special zombies seem to display greater cognitive abilities and more intelligence than regular zekes. This may have to do with the type of person they used to be and/or circumstances brought on them before their death and subsequent infection.
There are several types of special zombies in the game:
- Lurker - Special zekes in red track pants. The Lurker is often found hiding in places where players will not be able to spot him right away such as around corners or behind cover. He stays crouched, monitoring his surroundings in wait for someone to pass by. When the Lurker spots his victim, he will pounce on them and ruthlessly attack them while they are on the ground. The Lurker will not let go of his victim until he is killed, the caught survivor is incapacitated/killed, or they are freed from his grasp by a number of different methods. If the Lurker is spotted by a survivor out in the open or is attacked, the Lurker will come out of its sneaking position and attempt to lunge towards the player who discovered him more directly. The presence of a Lurker in an area is often given away by the hissing/growling noises he makes. Lurkers can sometimes appear during the middle of swarms and take advantage of the frenzy to pounce on anyone close by.
- Gasbag - Special zekes in yellow air-fed suits. The Gasbag wears bright chemical protective coveralls that makes him easy to spot in the middle of a firefight. When attacked, the suit releases a dangerous and toxic gas around himself that is capable of slowly damaging players caught in it. Once killed, all the gas is released as a large cloud on the spot where it died. From there, it will act as a large green smokescreen for several seconds before eventually wearing off. If any survivor walks into the gas, they will have a brief window of opportunity to get out before they begin to take constant damage and have their vision obscured by green liquid droplets. Although more noticeable while in the gas, standing close to but not enough to be harmed by it will cause players to constantly cough and wheeze. Since the gas is dangerous to be in, it acts as a form of area denial until it disappears. Shooting Gasbags clean in the head will result in no poisonous gas being leaked. After being killed, shooting his corpse will cause some gas to come out, but it will not do anything.
- Bull - Special zekes in riot armor. The Bull is very dangerous due to its fearsome attack and protective gear. When spotting a player within range, he will slam his fists on the ground while roaring loudly in rage before charging at their chosen victim at breakneck speed. If the Bull is successful, the caught player will be grabbed into the air for a second by the chest before being mercilessly smashed onto the ground nonstop. The Bull will not let go of his victim until either he is killed, the caught survivor is incapacitated/killed, or they are freed from his grasp by a number of different methods. If the Bull slams into a wall or other obstacle in his path during his charge, he will stumble in place momentarily. The Bull doesn't always charge at survivors on sight and will sometimes try to melee them a few times instead before doing so. Thanks to his body armor, damage taken is greatly reduced. However, Bulls are susceptible to headshots from the front once the helmet's visor is shattered with enough damage. Attacks to his vulnerable and exposed back are also very effective.
- Screamer - Special zekes in high visibility uniforms. The Screamer possesses a megaphone attached to him at all times, causing his noises to be magnified to an earsplitting level. As a result, his presence becomes apparent to everyone both living and dead whenever he performs his signature scream. Due to his extremely loud screeches, the Screamer attracts more zekes to swarm in towards the survivors' position. Taking too long to kill him will result in more zekes to deal with than a group can handle, so killing him as quickly as possible should be prioritized. The Screamer tends to appear in inaccessible but visible areas. In some cases, they appear in areas where they can be physically approached. While performing their signature scream, a shockwave is sent out in a large circular area around them. If a survivor manages to get close enough to be in the Screamer's shockwave radius when they scream, they will become disorientated for a few seconds.
- Infector - Special zekes in straitjackets. The Infector can attack survivors from short distances by spitting out a deadly fluid projectile. When coming into contact with the Infector's saliva, the player's vision is partially obscured with dark blotches that soon disappear. From there, they are forced to disinfect themselves or risk the consequence of instant zombification if they are not quick enough to act. While infected, the borders of the player's screen will pulsate and turn dark while dark red veins slowly grow bigger and closer towards the middle. The player's vision will also become increasingly blurry as time passes. The Infector will fall to the ground after taking enough damage from survivors. However, should she be left alone or players fail to properly dispose of her in time, she will rise back up to full health where she will continue to fight and infect some more. When the Infector is downed, finishing her off with further gunfire, explosions, or a melee attack/finisher will prevent her from coming back. Since a downed Infector is fairly resilient to damage, using the melee execution is the quickest and easiest option to put her down for good. Added in the Undead Sea Update.
- Bomber - Special zekes in military gear. The Bomber is a walking explosive with a delicate trigger. As such, Bombers should be treated with care or from a distance since getting close enough to survivors will trigger a countdown to a nasty suicidal explosion that deals massive damage to everyone near him when he blows up. At a distance, the Bomber's explosive vests can be triggered to explode immediately with a few well-placed shots to the chest that can easily kill him and other nearby zekes, including other special zombies. When close to survivors or shot a few times, the explosives on his vest will start blinking red and a countdown is triggered where the Bomber will self-destruct after a few seconds. Since the Bomber chases down players, scattering in different directions can help to mitigate the amount of damage the explosion can do to the team or possibly even avoid it entirely since he can only follow one player at a time. If the Bomber is taken down with precise shots to the legs or anywhere besides his chest, he will collapse and become vulnerable to a melee finisher which automatically defuses his explosives. If the Bomber is killed this way, he will drop helpful loot as a reward for the players' efforts. Should he not be defused on time, the beeping noise will begin to speed up, indicating he is about to explode. If he is shot while on the ground, he will explode instantly. In both cases, his loot will be destroyed as well. After being defused, shooting his corpse will not cause him to explode. Added in the Horde Mode Z Update.
- Booster - Special zekes in torn hazardous material suits. Added in the Booster Zombie Update.