Ubisoft has a bit of a reputation for backing a new console’s launch with… let’s say less than impressive efforts in the past, and while the Wii U has seen a couple of lacking games already from the publisher it has also managed to deliver some of the best. Assassin’s Creed 3 for one and more interestingly the brand new IP ZombiU. Is this Wii U exclusive reason enough to jump aboard Nintendo’s latest console?
London has been infested with zombies. One bite, and you’ll unfortunately find yourself joining their wondering ranks. Just as things couldn’t look any worse, a mysterious voice guides you into the only known safe house and offers timely advice to keep you alive throughout the tireless ordeal. While this sounds like very standard zombie-style stuff (and it is) the real difference here is, you’re a nobody. A disposable survivor. You’re not a hero complete with catchphrases and a back story, just a random average Joe, looking to make it out alive.
ZombiU is all about surviving. That is priority one. Other zombie games may see you speeding through as fast as you can guns a blazing but here you’re punished for such reckless actions. The pace is much slower here as you’ll often find yourself cautiously creeping corridors or peaking round corners praying the next room isn’t filled with shuffling zombies. Missions are handed out in a safe house by “The Prepper” where you’ll then be tasked with making it across the city whether it be Buckingham Palace, London Underground or Tower of London. Shortcuts are unlocked via manholes the more you explore and you’ll even come across other survivors along the way. While you may be given objectives on your travels, always remember the first rule of the game. Survive at all costs.
While all the action takes place in first person, shooting plays a secondary role in ZombiU due to the sparseness of ammo throughout the city. Instead you’ll find yourself relying heavily on your melee weapon, the cricket bat. Timing swings is key here as one miss is often the difference between a battered zombie skull and having your neck chewed off. The combat is often clunky and mechanical especially when it comes to melee attacks with five or so solid hits needed to take out an enemy. Your bat can feel slightly weak and the combat a little repetitive at times as you’re forced to repeatedly batter in a zombie’s face over and over again, but you could argue that the game is going for realism here. Approach a room with a single zombie – no problem, however two or more and you begin to really worry if you’ll make it out alive. Guns do help even things out and control well for the most part, but with ammo always lacking using them is best left for emergency use only. And this is where ZombiU really excels. Managing your items, deciding when to use rare weapons and generally getting creative with dispatching or distracting foes creates such a heightened sense of tension and fear that means you’ll barely have a moment to relax. Should I block this door? Do I use my last flare to distract that group of zombies? Is it worth using my gun and possibly attracting more zombies with the noise I make? These are all questions you’ll find yourself asking at many points throughout the game and nails that survival horror feeling really well.
The respawn system is a little different from your typical game with every demise resulting in you taking control of an entirely new survivor in the nearest safe house rather than simply continuing from a previous save point as the same character. This means all your customization and items collected are now gone and once again you start from scratch. In a neat twist however, your previous “survivor” is now walking around as a zombie carrying your backpack with all its loot and weaponry. Now you need to decide, if it’s worth the risk making the journey back to where you previously failed in order to grab your precious flares and ammo or simply move onward without. This certainly adds to the tension as every dash across the city is constantly weighed down by the ever increasing fear that your next battle may be your last.
In terms of Wii U features, ZombiU makes excellent use of the GamePad itself. A radar that locates any creature at the press of a button (and automatically when upgraded) proves invaluable especially when planning your next move. Rooting through bodies and managing your own rucksack is also handled on the pad itself. This means switching weapons or removing unneeded items is all done in real time with the action still playing out on the television screen above. With danger lurking around every corner, leaving yourself exposed to equip a flare or health pack knowing a zombie may appear at any moment is certainly stressful.
ZombiU does suffer from a number of launch title hiccups along the way however. For one it doesn’t look too amazing with some shoddy textures and disappointing background elements. The game does a good job at giving London the apocalyptic makeover but you find yourself wondering perhaps with a little more time it could look even better. Some GamePad implementation also doesn’t work as well as others. Aiming down scopes for example or scanning rooms is handled via holding your pad up to the television. It’s okay the first few times but after a while simply becomes annoying and overly fiddly.
The two player mode is an interesting concept giving the player with the GamePad the ability to spawn zombies on a map in order to overwhelm and infect the survivor controlled by the player with the Pro Controller. Claiming areas is the aim of the game here as the survivor sees off enemies with a limited supply of ammo. It’s a cool idea but isn’t as fun as it could be mainly due to a lack of options and no support for more players. If the player with the GamePad had more control over proceedings or four survivors could get involved this could maybe have been a great extra. As it stands, it merely feels like an intriguing experiment.
Despite its faults you have to admire Ubisoft for delivering a decent launch title exclusive that really does try to use the GamePad in a number of fascinating ways. There’s definitely potential here and should Ubisoft see fit to craft a sequel it’ll be interesting to see where the franchise could go from here.