World War Z Review – A Cooperative Zombie Shooter Done Right

    Title: World War Z
    Developer: Saber Interactive
    Release Date: April 16, 2019
    Reviewed On: PS4
    Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
    Genre: Third Person Shooter

I’ve been having an odd craving for zombie stuff this year — maybe I have a zombie virus or something lingering inside of me. The culprit, I’m thinking, is Focus Home Interactive and Saber Interactive’s multiplayer zombie shooter World War Z, as I had a chance to get a taste of it not too long ago.

Since then, my hype level has been like a towering horde of zombies for the Left 4 Dead-inspired game that’s based on the World War Z movie and book. It’s been 10 excruciatingly long years since the last Left 4 Dead released, so the chances of it coming back from the dead are slim at best. Needless to say, fans have been on the hunt for a game that’s similar to satisfy their zombie shooter craving as they wait for the next entry in the series — but many games released recently haven’t been as good, though. Thankfully, World War Z fulfills what fans of the zombie shooter genre have been hunting for and throws in massive swarms of 500 zombies just for bloody fun. However, there are a few issues that like the game’s zombie pyramids, keep it from reaching complete greatness.

Just like the World War Z book, World War Z features a multi-narrative approach rather than a single story as it’s made up of four individual cooperative narrative campaigns that each are set in various locations from around the world. For these campaigns, they each have four unique playable characters who have their own backstories as to why they’re even fighting swarms of zombies in the first place. Ultimately, the story in World War Z, as a whole, is for you and squad of three other players — whether AI bots or other players online — to shoot your way through zombies, fight for survival, all the while completing objectives. Given that World War Z is a multiplayer-focused game, the story clearly isn’t a highlight. However, it does have some nice tidbits to it that keep it from being a brain dead slog, and that further add to the game’s tense and thrilling atmosphere. 

What really stands out to me with the game’s narrative are the backstories of the characters you play as. After completing a mission as a specific character, you earn wonderfully animated, watercolor-like albeit short backstory sequence that paints a better picture for the character. I particularly like how this is set up, and the multi-location approach for World War Z works out in its favor all of the characters are surprisingly diverse. Sure, there’s the typical rough-and-tough soldier, but there’s also a New York City firefighter who suffers from traumatic stress disorder, along with a yakuza member who became the youngest yakuza member in LA, and plenty of other characters. World War Z has a band of do-gooders and outcasts that have to work together to survive, and that in itself is a unique concept. Of course, you can just buddy up and go kill zombies rather than learn more about the game’s lore — the choice is yours.

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If World War Z’s PvE cooperative 4-player multiplayer mode was zombie food, it’d be one heck of a delicious brain to chow down on. It’s what most players will want to experience, anyway. To make things easier for you, the mode has you choose one of six character classes that each have their own equipment. Each class also has a special ability — for instance, there’s the Medic class that, as you can guess, is a support class, but then there’s the Exterminator class which is all about crowd control with its focus on shotguns and Molotovs — letting you tear throw zombies with ease. Rather than being stuck with certain weapons, you do have the option to customize the weapons you want. The class system thankfully works well for cooperative play given that it encourages players to actually work together and utilize one another’s abilities, which means that players can’t just run off and do their own thing.

While missions generally consist of getting from point A to be point B safely, several of the additional objectives that come up mix things up. One objective has you fending off the evil undead to get on a train — that has a manically insane guy who laughs at your pain and suffering — while other objectives have characters, like a crew of military forces, who have more of a “we’re all in this together” mentality. These moments let you, basically, become more a part of the world you’re in as you play a more active role in the war that’s happening. 

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Trying to fend off waves and waves of zombies that come in like hives, shouting “Lurker!” when the lurker zombie (a fast running zombie that grabs you and prevents you from moving until you get saved by another player) arrives, refilling ammo and finding new weapons to toy around with, and simply just being the best (or worst) survival squad is what will keep players coming back for more. Thanks to adjustable difficulty levels, any player of any skill level can join in on the fun, which is great too. My only wish for the cooperative mode is that there was a couch co-op/split-screen offering since I can imagine it’d be a blast to gather up with three pals at home and go wild. Regardless, playing World War Z‘s cooperative multiplayer mode is still a thrilling experience to behold.  

Unfortunately, as I feared, the competitive PvP multiplayer mode — which is actually dubbed as “Players vs. Players vs. Zombie mode” or “PvPvZ” for short — is a bit of a drag, this is because it reminds me of competitive modes from games back in the early 2010s. The competitive mode has two teams of four fight against one another in various modes that any shooter fan knows, like King of the Hill. What’s unique about the competitive mode is that swarms of zombies show up at certain points during matches, which actually does require each team to come up with different strategies — and that’s great since it encourages teams to communicate, or at least … know when to stop playing so recklessly.

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What’s not so great is how the rest of the mode is set up as it’s a pain in the neck, especially with the class system. Similar to that of the cooperative mode, World War Z’s competitive mode has a class system, but instead of six classes, there are 10 classes which have their own set of equipment that can be leveled up. While this sounds good on paper, you can’t really customize them at all in the beginning and are stuck with whatever equipment and ability comes with each class.

So let’s say that I want to my heavy weapon to be a rocket launcher, in order to have that, I need to pick a class that has a rocket launcher — but on the flip side, I may end up having to deal with a primary weapon or other equipment that I don’t like to use. This system, unfortunately, restricts beginner players to the point where it’s a matter of just being forced to getting used to a class’ equipment. However, for players that have been playing the game for hours upon hours on end, they obviously have the option to have upgraded weapons and perks, so they ultimately have the upper hand — no matter what. With that said, the class system is rather in-depth, so some players may find it to be rewarding in the long run. For me, it was irritating more than anything. What makes matter worse is the size of maps as I feel they’re too small to the point that the mode has players focus on running-and-gunning and hip-shooting their way to victory. 

Despite my dislike for the competitive multiplayer mode, World War Z’s gameplay is addictive and fun. The third-person shooter gunplay is quick and responsive, which is definitely needed since there’s always so much going on at one time in the game. Seriously, there’s nothing quite like throwing a grenade at a group of zombies and then watching them fly up in the air after the grenade goes off — it’s a beautiful feat to witness.

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Speaking of beautiful, visually, World War Z is a beaut. Every location you go to and every character design is so wonderfully detailed. While most players might not be completely drawn into each location due to the lack of concrete world-building, you’ll still enjoy looking at the worn-down, decrepit environments that you’re in.

Clearly, the most impressive part of World War Z is it’s Swarm Engine that puts in 500 zombies in massive hordes. These hordes are insane to see in the game, and witnessing thousands of zombies coming right for you is a wild adrenaline rush that makes you go “Oh, crap…” — especially when the hordes climb up walls by making a pyramid or ladder of zombies. Audio design and soundtrack wise, nothing really stands out, and that’s okay.

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With that said, the game does have a couple of technical issues, like frequent connection drops, lobby problems, and even game crashing occurrences. One time, in one three-hour-long playthrough via the cooperative mode, my game crashed twice. Also, the loading screens are a little too long. My guess is that World War Z has a larger player base than what Saber Interactive was expecting. Thankfully, the game has been getting updates to resolve issues, so hopefully, things will run 100 percent over time.  

World War Z takes the zombie shooter genre to new heights that no one ever imagined. With its thrilling cooperative multiplayer mode alone, World War Z will undoubtedly satisfy all Left 4 Dead fans and zombie shooter fans in general. Those looking for a competitive experience may want to look elsewhere, however. Overall, though, World War Z is like a zombie, one that happens to be a friend, that you can’t help but love. Sure, it has its rough edges and may eat at you every now and then, but it wants you to have fun and run wild. 

Score:
7.8/10
A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Brad Crespo

Editor-in-Chief - On a quest to play as many new games as possible while trying to finish an endless backlog.