ZombiU Wii U Review
Publisher: Ubisoft Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier Genre: Action Players: 1-2
Age Rating: 18+ Other console/handheld formats: N/A
Zombies are very much in vogue at the moment, so what better game to launch a console with than a zombie game? It’s precisely this that Ubisoft has done with ZombiU for Nintendo’s new Wii U console, though it’s a zombie game that does things a bit differently to modern day games featuring the undead.
For starters it’s set in London, which in itself grants the game a refreshing flavour. You explore famous landmarks of the city such as Buckingham Palace and The Tower of London, all of which are given eerie zombie apocalypse makeovers. The atmosphere is unnerving and early on you just have the disembodied voice of Yorkshire man, the mysterious Prepper to keep you company. Meanwhile the visuals, whilst not remarkable, do feature some reasonably nice lighting effects and are overall effective enough to play a fairly substantial role in the overall creepiness pervading throughout the game.
ZombiU is also different in the fact that rather than being a simple action game like most horror games are today, it’s actually an authentic survival horror game that harks back to the pre Resident Evil 4 days. So it’s not all about exploding the heads of zombies, whilst inventory space and resources are limited and there’s somewhat of a cumbersome nature to the game that brings to mind earlier games.
Fighting in ZombiU doesn’t involve as much gunplay as you might think, as ammo is at a premium, another survival horror trapping that delightfully adds to the tension. Shooting isn’t always the best course of action either, as noise attracts other members of the undead that are stumbling around within close proximity and, if at all possible, it’s often in your best interest to take care of them individually, by viciously and repeatedly swinging a cricket bat into their already decomposed craniums.
In encounters with the undead, one bite instantly kills you, so even lone zombies can pose a threat if you’re not on your guard, making for a beautifully tense experience that demands cautious play ahead of Call of Duty style running and gunning, though it has to be said that some deaths can feel a bit cheap, particularly later in the game once exploding zombies (these are however fortunately relatively rare) are thrown into the equation, whilst the more crowded fights can feel a bit too demanding for the somewhat awkward combat on occasion.
You’ll probably die a lot, particularly against multiple zombies, though death doesn’t result in a typical game over, instead you’ll respawn as a fresh survivor. Much like the souls in From Software’s Soul games, you’ll lose all your items that you were carrying with the previous survivor at the time of their demise, though just as long as you survive on the way back to them, you’re able to find the earlier protagonist stumbling around in their newly zombified form and then you get a chance to kill them to loot their bodies and get the items back into your clutches.
You’re encouraged to stay alive for as long as possible, as points are rewarded with each zombie killed, whilst an individual characters proficiency with guns will gradually improve through usage. Death can also result in a fair bit of back tracking, though you’re able to discover manholes throughout London that act as shortcuts to get around quicker, which significantly cuts down the backtracking.
The screen of the Wii U Gamepad is used liberally throughout the game, allowing you to scan your surroundings for items, whilst it also functions as a map and a radar that warns you of the presence of any movement, be it a zombie or a simple crow. It also acts as a scope of a sniper rifle and you’ll pick the locks of doors and input key codes on it. The all important inventory management is also carried out on the screen.
It all complements the game wonderfully and since none of the actions on the Gamepad screen pauses the action, it further ratchets up the tension, always requiring you to keep aware that zombies don’t creep up behind you and chomp on your neck, as you rummage in your inventory, pick a lock or punch in a keycode and such.
In Demon/Dark Souls like fashion, you’re able to leave messages to help other players out in the harsh zombie infested universe, whilst you’ll occasionally come across other players as zombies, and by killing them you’re able to steal their items, providing they were carrying any at the point that they became zombified, which is another nice twist. Those people that just can’t stop dying should be glad that they’re doing their part in helping out the ZombiU community with all the items that will inevitably be looted from their headless undead corpses.
There’s multiplayer too, of which is strictly an offline affair and merely has support for two players. The two modes on offer have one player, as the zombie king, using a Gamepad to place zombies, whilst the other takes charges of a human and uses the Pro Controller or Wii Remote. One mode sees both players trying to capture flags, whilst the other sees the human player get just one life, whilst it’s up to the Zombie King to attempt to stop them, by placing zombies in their path. It’s worthy of commendation for attempting to bring something new, but whilst it’s not bad, it is however a bit too limited to be a long term fixture.
At a point when a series like Resident Evil has largely long turned its back on its survival horror roots, ZombiU is a game that recalls such games, but also brings its own interesting and inventive ideas to the genre and, at the same time, has the distinction of being one of the most interesting launch titles that, whilst not perfect, is an absorbing and unnerving experience that succeeds at making use of the capabilities of the system, without ever managing to feel gimmicky and, as such, it’s a strong early demonstration of the magic of Wii U.