World War Z PlayStation 4 Review: The Horde Won’t Leave You Bored

Let’s be fair — it hasn’t exactly been the greatest year for those who wanted to play collective zombie-killing games. Skybound pulled the plug on Starbreeze’s troubled The Walking Dead game before it could come to fruition on consoles, and Valve still hasn’t learned to count to three with Left 4 Dead yet, despite the demand.

That said, however, things aren’t entirely bleak. We got a killer remake of Resident Evil 2 from Capcom to start the year off right for solo players, and then Warner Bros. and Turtle Rock Studios have a great L4D tribute title coming this year called Back 4 Blood. Then there’s World War Z, Saber Interactive’s take on the Brad Pitt zombie film that came out…six years ago? Something tells us this probably should’ve come out a lot sooner and with a better narrative. Oh, well. What it lacks in storytelling strength, it more than makes up for with raw, unhinged zombie-killing gameplay.

The game isn’t entirely based on the Left 4 Dead formula, as it has some Killing Floor elements as well when it comes to taking on armadas of zombies that can pile on you at once. That comes from a particular moment in the film, when they seem to form some sort of undead anthill to gain height on their opposition. It’s a savage tactic, but one that works well, forcing players to gun them down before they start piling up on you. It doesn’t happen too often; but when it does, it’s almost instantly recognizable.

Other than that, the game’s pretty much cut and dry with its structure. You play as one of four survivors, working with one another to not only stay alive, but clear the place of zombies before moving on to the next objective. Make it and you’ll be promptly rewarded with boosts; fail, and you’ll need to start all over again.

 

Great Gameplay Makes Up For Lacking Narrative

Now, in terms of control, World War Z isn’t half bad. In fact, it functions pretty nicely when bugs don’t get in the way. Your character is fairly easy to control when it comes to general movement and aiming down the sights to shoot their weapon of choice at zombies. There’s also some nifty melee moves in case things get a little too crowded for their own good, which happens more often than you think with a game such as this.

That said, the tactics aren’t entirely deep. The game does have some good jump moments when you’ll need to protect others from a super-mutated zombie of sorts, like a grunt that bashes the crap out of one of your teammates or a zippy zombie that won’t hesitate to jump on you if it gets the chance. But other than that, it’s just “work as a team, clean house, and repeat.” For some, that’ll be enough, but don’t expect depth on the level of more intricate co-op games.

I do admit, the supplementary goods do help break up the action a little bit. There are points throughout World War Z in which you’ll need to set up defenses for stronger hordes. These can range from a gun turret with a heavy amount of ammunition to electrical floor traps that can take care of most wandering forces long enough for you to do something. They aren’t entirely plentiful, but they’re quite useful when you come across them.

For that matter, some of the heavier weapons can be a lot of fun, too. There’s something about cutting into hordes with the help of a chainsaw while it’s got gas to spare. Thankfully, it’s not like a “three times and you’re out” sort of deal like Doom. You can actually use it more, though you don’t want to go all Evil Dead on these games all the time. Save it for when it counts, such as against tougher enemies.

That said, two things kind of get in the way of a completely smooth gameplay experience. The first is bugs. When we played the PS4 version at the start, we ran into game crashes that were a bit bothersome. They’ve been cleaned up a little bit since launch, though the game has conflict on occasion with camera and gameplay. It’s not to the point where it throws you entirely off, but keep an eye open.

Also, the narrative isn’t the strongest. Granted, we know that World War Z isn’t trying to tell a story like the Pitt film did (if that counts as a story to some), but it seems like Left 4 Dead lite when it comes to moving things along. That’s not to say the lack of this ruins the game. Far from it. It’s still a good deal of fun with the right group, but for a game labeled World War Z, I would’ve liked to have seen a little bit of depth with the characters.

 

A Good Looking Experience But Needs Polish

World War Z probably won’t blow your doors off with the presentation here. Saber Interactive wasn’t trying to ape the Left 4 Dead experience, merely making their own so that it clicks with the harrowing world.To that degree, they’ve succeeded.

While the game looks like something that could’ve easily come out in say 2015, World War Z does have its moments. For instance, that zombie-stacking I talked about earlier is really cool, and watching some of the heavies run around can be unnerving. The blood effects also go a long way.

That said, the character design isn’t really too in-depth, sticking with more general caricatures instead of, again, fully developed characters. It’s okay, serviceable, but hardly innovative.

Then there’s the level design. Sometimes it’s pretty basic, like taking place in enclosed hallways or dark areas. That definitely adds to the unnerving feeling that a zombie could be anywhere. But I’m a fan of the bigger set pieces, like in a building in one of the opening scenarios where you see zombies come at you from all sides. The idea of using the environment to your advantage is neat too, such as shooting structures to crush zombies below so you can conserve some bullets.

The sound isn’t bad, but it’s not on the level of Left 4 Dead. The voice acting is adequate, but also about on the cheese level of, well, the movie, actually. Perhaps that was the developer’s intention. However, I would’ve liked to have heard the dialogue go a little more out of the way, instead of just with general lines.

The music’s not bad, but it’s also surprisingly unmemorable. Like, you’ll get through a stage and only hear hints of it, and then forget it just as quickly as you make your way to survival. Again, maybe that was the point so you hear more of the zombies’ growls, which are convincingly cool. That’s all that matters, I’d assume.

 

Bring Some Friends

You can play World War Z by yourself if you please, but be warned. The AI can be slightly goofy at times, especially when it comes to getting around to saving you in the midst of a zombie horde.

Like all games of this nature, your best bet is going with co-op. The game supports up to four players in a session at once, and it’s not too shabby at all. Granted, connection times can take a bit at first, but get a good, stable group to back you up in action and you’ll find it’s actually not too bad. This is especially true if you want something a little bit different from the Left 4 Dead front on Xbox One.

The more friends you have, the more you’re likely to enjoy World War Z, as it makes the experience a little smoother than, say, relying on bots to save your butt. Half the time, they can’t even save themselves. You’ve been warned.

Gameplay: 7.5/10

While I would’ve liked for some things to be mixed up a little better with the gameplay, overall it has more satisfactory moments than bad ones. The ability to use secondary weapons and gear to trap zombies or make more of a mess is never really a bad thing.

Innovation: 7/10

This is essentially Left 4 Dead and Killing Floor meshed with a film license from a few years ago. It’s an odd decision; but considering the game’s first week sales, it’s not entirely a bad one. After all, Valve hasn’t made a new game in ages, and we’ve got to wait a bit before Back 4 Blood even gets on the board. Better this than whatever the heck Starbreeze was trying to drum up with that broken Walking Dead game.

Learning Curve: 8/10

Perhaps the best thing going for World War Z is the ability to jump in and play. Sure, the difficulty can be a little off the charts, but you can adjust it if you want a little lighter experience. That said, the AI isn’t always your friend, mainly because, well, they behave erratically at times. But get a good survival group behind you and you’ll have more of a ball with it. You don’t even have to be mega-experienced. Just prove that you’re a team player and you’ll be going places.

Oh, and enjoy those other modes as well. There are a handful of competitive modes that’ll keep you busy if you get tired of the story mode. Never a bad thing, honestly.

Graphics/Sound: 7.5/10

Not an essentially perfect experience, as the sound is lacking in some areas, and there are noticeable glitches that can hamper the smoothness of the design. However, these are minor experiences; and as a whole, World War Z isn’t too shabby. Its mixture of big and small levels alike is rather neat; and the zombie sound effects are as good as they’ve been in prior games of this type. I just wish the game spent more time developing characters that could be on the same level as Pitt’s.

Value For Money: 8/10

One good factor that World War Z has going for it is that it’s not an experience that will completely suck your wallet dry. Saber Interactive wisely priced this one for $40, mainly because, well, it has an older license – at least, that sounds like the reason to me. That makes it a little easier to swallow than a $60 experience, though the Left 4 Dead games are rather cheap on Xbox One as well, but for PS4 players this is the only game in town.

Just be aware that you’ll have more fun if you have a capable group of zombie killers aside you. The AI isn’t the greatest to lean on, so this may not be the most suitable single player experience unless you go light on the difficulty. But if you know folks that are jumping into this at the same time as you, you’ll have a ball.

Not to mention that the game has various competitive modes that you can tinker with, such as Vaccine Hunt, along with a handful of others. It’s not the highest count, but it does add significant replay value to an already less expensive title.

Overall: 7.5/10

World War Z doesn’t pose any kind of threat to the dominance of Left 4 Dead, and it’ll have its hands full of Back 4 Blood lives up to its pre-build hype. However, there’s more promise with Saber’s release than you might expect.

There are problems with the narrative and presentation that keep it from being a top-tier title. The AI could use some balancing, but it’s got some great gameplay going for it, along with tense moments that come up a lot more than you might expect.

Some things may not add up when it comes to World War Z, but it’s a lot more fun than I thought it’d be – and that’s more than I could say for the movie, really.

Pros:

  • Better gameplay than expected, thanks to an array of weapons and secondary items
  • Online co-op is a blast once you get a good match going with friends
  • Competitive multiplayer is firmly stacked with extra modes as well
  • Not a bad looking game for the most part

Cons:

  • Not much narrative or character building to care about
  • Occasional glitches, camera issues and annoying dialogue
  • It can take a bit to connect with an online session at times
  • The AI isn’t exactly the most reliable

(Disclaimer: a review code was provided by the publisher.)

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