Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier / Publisher: Ubisoft / Played on: Wii U / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Mature [Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language]
With the launch of a new console, you need intriguing games to convert naysayers into early adopters. For the Wii U, the lineup has familiar names like Super Mario Bros. and a game specifically designed to show off the console’s mechanics, in this case Nintendo Land. But Nintendo has also promised that the Wii U is the console for the core audience, and their efforts with third-party ports has demonstrated that.
That’s all great, but what’s new? What new IP looks appealing to the “hardcore” audience? Is the answer ZombiU?
About 400 years ago, astronomer John Dee (an actual English scholar and astronomer, fictionalized here) predicted the Black Prophecy, an outbreak that would take over the world in the year 2012. His prophecy has since come true, in the form of zombies.
The game immediately introduces you to “The Prepper,” a man whom you don’t see but uses an intercom to instruct you on how to survive. As you explore London you meet a doctor trying to find a cure to the plague, as well as other survivors like members of the Ravens of Dee, followers of John Dee’s prophecies.
You play as a survivor with a random name and profession, which doesn’t mean much given that if you die, you respawn as another survivor with another random name and profession. It’s a mechanic that tries to cater to the realism of an apocalypse – after all you don’t respawn in your real life – but it falls short when you realize you’re still performing the tasks of the previous survivor, and you as the new survivor have no idea why The Prepper is so disappointed in you.
You start off with a cricket bat, a pistol, and a flashlight with finite battery life. Your best bet is to use the cricket bat, as it’s quieter than a gun and oftentimes a more practical solution to killing the undead. Because the game is all about survival with the bare necessities, you don’t usually have much ammo to mow down a sea of zombies, and even if you manage to scavenge supplies, you’ll likely die and lose it all.
Slightly reminiscent of Dark Souls, when you die, you lose all you had on you. You respawn at the Safe House, while your former self is now shambling the streets with a backpack full of much needed items. It’s a good concept, though it would have worked better if the game took you to your last save as opposed to the same starting point. Having to backtrack all the way to your previous destination is agonizing, especially when the game barely helps steer you in the right direction if you’re too far away from your current objective. Even when you find where you were, there’s a reason why you died in the first place, so the three zombies that overwhelmed you before have a new friend for the fray.
The game isn’t necessarily as much difficult as it is tedious in its pacing; you eliminate every zombie in the most drawn out way possible (see: cricket bat). It takes several hits to smash in a zombie’s head, which is exasperating when you’re dealing with more than one at a time. Again, I understand the aim for a realistic world of using everyday objects as weapons as I didn’t want to play the game as a supreme soldier, but this is just tiresome and repetitive.
That said, the Wii U gamepad is used in interesting ways that showcase the range of opportunities this control mechanism has to offer. One such way is as a scanner to find items and clues to opening secret passageways. You can spin a complete 360 in real life while still scanning the environment in the game, leaving your virtual self vulnerable to any attacks at the same time. You also remove barricades by tapping on the pad, or shoot a zombie right in the noggin using a crossbow by lifting up the pad in the zombie’s general direction.
The entire user interface (radar, map, mission log, inventory, etc.) is also displayed on the gamepad, opening the game up to scary and tense moments, such as when you’re staring at your map and all of a sudden a zombie grabs you from behind. The audio also plays a key role in the gameplay, as you hear zombies before you see them, which gives you an edge you desperately need.
You’re provided objectives by The Prepper and other characters you meet throughout the game that usually serve as “fetch me this” tasks, but not much story develops from these objectives. It doesn’t help that many corridors and rooms look exactly the same, making for an unsatisfying experience.
As for the visuals, there is not much detail to the environments or even the zombies themselves. Even with a flashlight, most of the surroundings have a dark and grainy look. This visual approach is intentional to give everything a grittier feel, but even in a zombie apocalypse there should be some more color and light than this.
It doesn’t help that zombies often clipped through walls, reminding you of one of the game’s many glitches (other glitches include zombies getting stuck on stairwells, objectives left unchecked if you die at crucial points, doors locked when they weren’t locked for the previous survivor, etc.).
A breath of fresh air comes with ZombiU’s multiplayer that consists of two local modes: Assault and Killing Floor. In Assault, the objective is to capture four flags. One person is the survivor, manning a Wiimote or the Pro Controller, while the other is the “King of Zombies,” manning the gamepad.
As the King, you have an allotted number of resources available to plant zombies. You can only have eight zombies at a time (though that changes as you level up) and you can only place them in specific areas, which opens up the game to a bit of strategy and fun. Zombies capture as well as attack, so the survivor has to be mindful of protecting themselves and stopping the Zombie King from capturing those control points.
Take these mechanics and change the survivor’s objective to lasting as long as they can, and that’s Killing Floor mode. I found this to be the more entertaining of the two, but both proved more entertaining than the single-player overall.
One online multiplayer feature this game has to offer is that when you die, your friends will receive a notification of your death. This means they can now hunt down your zombified self for supplies before you get to them. This does add some tension to the experience when that ghoul of yours has an AK-47 you desperately need, and you have to rush to where you died before they can snatch your items.
ZombiU is a mixed bag that just doesn’t deliver, at least for me. Despite how interesting the gamepad is used to play the game, the ten-plus hour campaign itself just isn’t fun. The multiplayer is a better experience, but that’s not saying much. ZombiU is for those gamers that truly want difficult survival horror with no end purpose, and that’s fine for those that don’t need complexity to their zombie apocalypse. But with little narrative and tedious combat, I would pass on ZombiU.
– Little to no narrative
+ Interesting Gamepad implementation
– Tedious melee combat and looting
6 / 10