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October 2021

World War Z

Platform(s): Movie, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Saber Interactive
Release Date: May 5, 2020

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PS4 Review - 'World War Z' Game of the Year Edition

by Andreas Salmen on May 19, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Inspired by Paramount Pictures' blockbuster film, World War Z is a four-player cooperative featuring massive swarms of zombies who rush their living prey.

Max Brooks' book "World War Z" was turned into a less-than-stellar movie that was far removed from its original story. Six years after the movie, Saber Interactive announced a game that would be explicitly based on the movie rather than the book, mostly to capitalize on the film's portrayal of zombies. The resulting multiplayer co-op shooter was released about a year ago on PC, PS4 and Xbox One was quite all right. It's not a masterpiece, but World War Z filled the gap that titles like Left 4 Dead had left behind. World War Z: Game of the Year is bundled with all DLC and, most prominently, a new episode with three new stages. We checked out the PS4 version of the game to see how it holds up in 2020.

When World War Z launched a year ago, it was very solid co-op zombie shooter with a few rough edges and not much innovation. A bit like comfort food, it tried to emulate the frantic and brutal fun from other titles, but it didn't go out of its way to provide anything new. The good news is that not much has changed — but that's also the bad news.

World War Z is a co-op shooter where up to four human players face hordes of zombies while trying to complete varying objectives around the world. The base game included four episodes with a total of 11 missions, and three missions have since been added in free updates. The new Marseille DLC, which is included in this GOTY edition, adds another episode with three missions to bring the grand total to 17. Rather than providing a character editor, each episode has its own story and survivors, so you can choose between four options for each episode. While this choice doesn't have any gameplay implications, there's some variety in the map locations and playable characters. Unfortunately, variety isn't a core tenet of World War Z.

World War Z is meant to be played online, but it also offers an offline option with bots. Each stage has a story to accompany the act of shooting zombies and completing tasks. While we get to control different characters and story arcs in each episode, they aren't as varied as they may appear. Each stage feels like it's a copy of prior activities, and I'm not just talking about killing zombies. You'll need to reach or recover items, or you may need to escort NPCs around the map until a zombie horde make it difficult. At that point, you'll have to look for supplies in your immediate surroundings and prepare to defend your position via turrets, mortars and electrical fences. It usually feels like a variant of a wave shooter under slightly different circumstances, but it's hardly innovative or varied. Objectives quickly get old, and episodes can feel similar but with a different coat of paint.

World War Z is absolutely fun, especially when hordes of zombies are coming your way. Much like the movie adaptation, the defining feature of the experience is swarms of zombies that eventually funnel through the abandoned streets of New York or the snowy corridors of an underground car park in Moscow. These moments are impressive, especially since they play great given the amount of on-screen activity at the same time. It's exhilarating to watch hordes of zombies pile up and spill over fences or other obstacles, while you try to survive by setting up defenses and using teamwork to wear them down.

It's a minor miracle to me from a technical standpoint, since the hordes look seriously impressive, whether you're playing on PC, PS4 or Xbox One. The game manages to look and run smooth, no matter the on-screen body count. Killed zombies vanish almost instantly, which can be a minor blow to the immersion of destroying an army of the undead, but it's a small price to pay for an otherwise impressive gameplay mechanic.

The moment-to-moment gameplay is exactly what's expected. We usually deal with undead cannon fodder that is easy to kill, but they're dangerous in large quantities, especially if you venture away from your team. Special zombies mix up the experience, but they're a touch too generic to be memorable, such as buffed zombies in police armor, infected zombies that leave behind toxic gas, and little creepers that jump out when least expected. I hate to compare World War Z to Left 4 Dead as much as I do, but the special zombies feel similar to the "special zombies" from that series.

World War Z offers everything you'd expect and then some, but it doesn't go out of its way to be more interesting. You choose one of five classes, and you progress within those classes as you play. It's important to note that your progression is exclusive to your current class, so switching classes doesn't mean you would pick up where you left off. This may not sound immediately problematic, but I found it to be limiting. If you've played a lot with a given class, you may have unlocked a few perks and are comfortable taking on stages with higher difficulties. However, if you want to mix things up and change classes, you will need to lower the difficulty, since it's undoubtedly harder for you to prevail since you likely haven't unlocked enough perks. In short, if you want parity among the classes, you'll have to level up each class on its own. Paired with the somewhat repetitive formula of its levels, that means World War Z can feel quite grindy if you're trying to get a class on par with another.

Speaking of long-term, World War Z includes prestige ranks, so you can reset your level to zero after you've maxed out your class, and you can receive additional perks and bragging rights. It does not change much about my prior complaint, unless you're happy with sticking to a single class. The available classes aren't perfectly balanced, but they're also not so wildly different that you'd feel like you were missing out by choosing one over the other.

The biggest draw for me were the available difficulties. What used to be five has been expanded to six total difficulty levels for each mission. As newcomers will see, World War Z on its easiest difficulty is a challenge if you're playing a low-level class and your team isn't well-oiled. With each difficulty increase, resources get scarcer and friendly fire gets more intense. You may not start with a med kit or deal with perma-death on higher difficulties. If there's a game to keep challenging you, it's World War Z.

The matchmaking hinders the fun in World War Z, which has enough content to keep players busy for hours. Even on lower difficulties, it can be difficult to get a lobby of four to start a game, and I would often start matches with two or fewer companions and a few bots. People can join games in progress, but if you're set on playing a specific level without inviting friends directly, there is a chance you won't play the maximum of human players — at least on the PS4. This may be alleviated somewhat with the announcement of cross-play, which has already been rolled out for Xbox One and PC. The cross-play feature is coming soon to PS4, so hopefully that'll boost matchmaking across all platforms. For now, it can be quite hit-and-miss.

While we have spent most of this article talking about the cooperative bread and butter of World War Z, there are more modes, such as daily challenges, a horde mode, and the "usual" multiplayer modes. The latter includes its own class system and variants of multiplayer classics, such as King of the Hill, capture the flag, and Deathmatch. They are fun distractions, and the inclusion of zombies and hordes adds some flavor to these modes. Combined with a variety of character and weapon variants, World War Z includes pretty much anything one could wish for in a multiplayer-focused experience. I cannot fault the title for its ambitions and content, even if it's a full-price re-release. If you don't currently own anything in the GOTY Edition, there is enough content here to warrant the full price, unless you can get the base game on sale. If you're keen on some undead run-and-gun action, this is surely a solid offering.

World War Z is admirably consistent in its offerings, so there isn't much here to gripe about. Saber Interactive has released several free updates to introduce new levels, modes, skins, and system changes. If you're a season pass owner, you won't miss out on anything that this pack offers, since you'll receive the same upgrades and the same content. If you'd like to play the new Marseille episode with friends, you can share and play it with everyone in a private lobby as long as one of you owns the episode. Marseille introduces new characters and new levels, but the new levels feel like more of the usual content. If I didn't know it was paid DLC, it would've fit with the original episodes. That may be good news for some, but it may be a disappointment for others.

As mentioned previously, the game is technically sound. The hordes are a visual feast as they climb, jump, pour and run into the scenery like an agitated wasp colony. This visual prowess appears elsewhere, with detailed character models and environments that look clean and rich in detail. This is especially evident when swapping between episodes that take you from overrun New York City streets to cold environments in Moscow or even a Japanese cruise ship. Every area looks distinct and interesting, which helps to distinguish the experiences.

Sound design is solid, but it can sometimes feel weak. The music is perfectly serviceable, with epic tracks that feel like you're the undisputed action hero, but explosions and guns sometimes lack that satisfying "oomph" as you decimate hordes of zombies with what feels like an airgun and fire crackers.

If you were wondering whether World War Z: Game of the Year Edition is worth playing in 2020, you'll be pleased to know that it is. It's still very much the same experience that it was a year ago, except there's a lot more content. Matchmaking is a concern, but that may be alleviated by the introduction of cross-play across all platforms. Another issue is the general lack of variety in most areas, but if you get a good crew together, World War Z is plain, uncomplicated fun — and that's what matters.

Score: 7.2/10

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