How long will you survive?
When you think about the launch of a Nintendo console it’s usually Mario, Zelda and Metroid that come to mind. New entries in these classic series are what most people are expecting, so who could have predicted that Ubisoft would drop an exclusive survival horror game on the same day the Wii U launches? Not me, but here we are, all the same. ZombiU will remind some of you of the Resident Evil series, but not the Resident Evil games you may be thinking of. Don’t let the first-person perspective fool you, ZombiU is all about survival.
ZombiU takes place in London, England, shortly after the outbreak of a virus that turns most of the population into the walking dead. You’ll play as a series of survivors who are being guided by “The Prepper”, a member of a group called “The Ravens of Dee”, who knew the plague was coming and setup safe houses in preparation. It isn’t a terribly original story, but it gets the job done and you would be hard pressed to find an original story involving zombies these days anyway.
You’ll notice above that I said “a series of survivors” and that’s because when you die in ZombiU you don’t reload a checkpoint, or re-spawn at the start of the area. Instead, you die. The game will then restart you in the main safe house as a new survivor that “The Prepper” has recruited to do his bidding. The catch to all this is that if you want to keep the ammo and items you’ve accrued, you’ll have to venture back out into London and find the dead body of your previous character. By dead body I of course mean newly zombified body, and once you kill this special zombie you’ll be able to raid his or her “Bug-out Bag” (backpack) to get your things. In what is only one of many parallels to Demon’s/Dark Souls, if you die before you retrieve your stuff then it’s gone for good. Luckily, there is a storage box in the safe house but you’ll still need to be very careful of your inventory.
Combat in ZombiU involves a mix of firearm and melee attacks. Bullets are scarce but can be found if you know where to look, and can be stockpiled if you’re careful with your shots. Melee attacks are slow and calculated, requiring timing and placement to pull off. ZombiU can be a very difficult game, if you try to button mash, progress too quickly, or get too close to your enemies. Aside from a few scripted sequences, you’ll only be facing a couple of zombies at a time and this is a good thing. Each zombie can kill you in a handful of hits, but can kill you instantly if they get close enough to grab you. This creates a system that isn’t unfairly hard, and actually makes the zombie a scary concept again, where recent games have taught us they can be mowed down by the hundreds.
The Wii U Gamepad factors heavily into gameplay and this is a good, and bad, thing. Most of the time, the Gamepad’s screen acts as your map allowing you to simply glance down to check it, instead of opening a pause menu every time. It is also used to manage your resources, which works most of the time, but has some strange quirks. If an item is simply laying on the ground, you can hit X to pick it up but if it is on a body, or in a container, you’ll have to look down at the Gamepad and drag each item into your inventory. This is a decent system but for some reason a dead body that is empty will simply let you know on the TV screen, but a container that is empty will force you into the inventory screen only to show you that it is empty.
The Gamepad is used for a number of other things, like scanning the area and allowing you to mark waypoints that will show up on the TV screen but it is also used for inane mini-games that involve tapping on doors to force them open. Like I said, the use of the Gamepad is hit or miss, but for the most part it is used to enhance the game. One thing that does not enhance the game is the strange visual filter that causes multiple lens flares at times, and makes it look like you have dust all over your glasses. I’m not sure exactly what they were going for here, but it didn’t come out quite right.
Overall, ZombiU brings the survival elements back into horror games, and really manages to scare you by creating tense situations instead of using shocking visuals or jump scares. It is a game where you have to be careful, you have to explore your surroundings, and you have to plan your attack. By doing things like making the character kneel down to rummage through his backpack, via the Gamepad screen, or making melee attacks careful and calculated, ZombiU is trying to make the experience more life-like and that’s something I can get behind.
ZombiU has one, two player, local multiplayer mode called King of Zombies. In this mode, one player takes the role of the survivor, playing with a Wii Remote and Nunchuk, while the other player uses the Gamepad. The survivor is placed in a map with some weapons, and the King of Zombies uses the Gamepad to look at a top-down view of the map. The King can then place different types of zombies around the map to defeat the survivor.
The game is balanced by giving the King a set number of zombies to spawn at a time, but new types can be unlocked as you level up within each match. The survivor will gain access to things like auto-turrets as he advances. King of Zombies can get pretty competitive, and is a lot of fun, it’s just too bad you can’t play online.
To me, ZombiU feels like a first-person version of an early Resident Evil game. Rather than mowing down packs of zombies, you’ll be scavenging for resources while engaging in tense battles with one or two of them. This approach won’t appeal to everyone, and the pace and difficulty might chase some people away, but those of you who were starved for a new, true, survival horror game should not miss ZombiU.
Available On: Wii U