Review: ZombiU (Nintendo Wii U)
Out of all the Wii U launch titles, creepy survival horror game ZombiU would had been one of the most anticipated.
And with good reason. Developed by the fine folks at Ubisoft Montpellier, ZombiU plays to the Wii U’s strengths, certainly kicking the belief that only Nintendo can take advantage of their consoles unique gameplay elements.
With the game that was once Killer Freaks From Outer Space finally in the hands of gamers in most parts of the world, does it live up to expectations?
Read on and find out!
ZombiU is set in present-day London, where a zombie outbreak has turned the city’s residents into blood-thirsty monsters. The cause of the outbreak is something called The Black Prophecy, which believe it or not was actually foretold to occur some 400 hundred years ago.
Ever since word of The Black Prophecy went pen to paper, a group calling themselves ‘The Ravens of Dee’ have sought a way to prevent the plague. Though clearly they fail since even before you start up ZombiU London has literally already gone to Hell.
This premise, as well as the overall story itself, certainly isn’t ZombiU‘s strong suit. It presents a rather mundane and overly uninteresting plot that revolves around the aforementioned ‘ravens’, a man named ‘Prepper’ and a cast of overly British characters who are actually quite charming. You’re sent from one plot point to another, fulfilling rather uninspired requests given to you by random characters and Prepper alike – who hypocritically has you do him favours despite his constant warnings to do otherwise.
While ZombiU‘s story won’t set your world ablaze, its gameplay certainly will.
This game is genuinely scary. I don’t mean in the ‘jump out and scare you’ way, rather ‘oh my gosh I’m going to wet myself, what the heck is happening!’. Atmosphere and a tense underlining tone plays itself throughout the entire game, a surprising touch considering many survival horror titles (Resident Evil 6) start off by slowly building tension and a sense of terrifying isolation only to later evolve into non-stop action set-pieces.
Sure, there are a few times when things get rather hectic, but that same perfectly balanced sense of dread and fear never truly goes away. This mostly is contributed to how lighting, or lack thereof, is handled. For the majority of ZombiU you’ll be navigating pitch black rooms, corridors and tunnels where the only source of light is a tiny flashlight strapped to your shirt. And just as often the only means of defending yourself is a cricket-bat since ammunition is incredibly sparse.
Another element that really helps create a true sense of survival horror is the implementation of the Wii U GamePad into the ZombiU experience. With the addition of a second screen players are no longer needlessly taken out of the action, the result of which makes for some truly tense and downright panic filled moments.
At any point in the game you can switch to viewing the GamePad screen to access your inventory to check your map or objectives, scan the area around you using a blue-light like device and in context sensitive situations fiddle with lock-picks or enter security codes to unlock doors. On paper it doesn’t sound like it pushes a lot of gaming mechanics to there limits, after all this is all stuff we’re used to. However, it all just feels so ‘fresh’ and ‘new’, almost like a unique spin on rusted old ideals/
Though the best part about this added second screen is all these actions doesn’t pause the game, so if you’re not careful you will actually have a zombie come up and attack. And believe you me, you don’t want them taking you unsurprised.
Rather than playing the whole game as a single protagonist, all charm and character, ZombiU casts you in the role of seemingly normal survivors. Regular people who want nothing else but to stay alive. The hook, as it were, is once you die that’s it. Game over – in a sense, because once you do die you’re taken back to your safe-house (one of the game’s very few ‘safe zones’) to start anew in the shoes of another random survivor.
Okay so you don’t actually start ‘anew’, only in the sense you’re stripped of whatever weapons and supplies you were carrying, left only with a trusty cricket-bat, flashlight and a handgun with 6 bullets – as well as a few essential tools you’ve collected along the way. Admittedly it sounds annoying in theory, a game that punishes you by stripping you of all that you had simply because you went and died, but this is actually one of ZombiU‘s more unique elements – outside its mastery of the Wii U GamePad.
Since every one of your characters appear to have knowledge of the previous survivor’s mission – something that does require some measure of disbelief and suspension of reality – you need to trek back to where you were killed. Luckily zombies don’t appear to re-spawn, or at least not all do, so rarely will you need to fight your way back through hordes over and over again. Though once you reach the spot where you died you’ll stumble across your previous self.
This in of itself is insanely cool – and also extends to not only your registered Wii U friends, but other random players who’re connected online too – since it allows you to fight against your previous self’s zombified corpse. Or loot straight away if you somehow managed to blow yourself up with mines like I did. If you do, and you were holding some pretty sweet gear then you’ll be able to get it back, providing you can kill your last character. Likewise, kill other player’s characters and you can reap their left-over goods as well.
Though sadly this and some rather nifty hidden messages that you can leave behind for other players is the extent of ZombiU‘s online features. The game does have a multiplayer mode, though it only supports local play. That’s not to say it’s by no means bad, in fact, it’s actually a lot of fun.
Only two people can play at any give time, one on the GamePad who assumes the role of the Zombie King and one using either a Wii Remote plus Nunchuck or Wii U Pro Controller who plays as ‘The Survivors’. The ‘point’ of multiplayer is the player using the GamePad is able to spawn random zombies by touching a bird-eyes view of the current game map, while the other player fights them off as they would in single-player.
It’s actually pretty fun, if you’re using the GamePad. Think of it as playing the role of a evil Overlord sending minions into battle, or a cruel scientist putting mouse eating animals into a maze with, well, mice. The lack of online however, does impact and limit the overall appeal of this mode. But, the multiplayer in ZombiU does well enough to show this type of gameplay, much like that found in Nintendo Land, has a level of appeal and hopefully soon will make the jump to online.
For a Wii U launch title, ZombiU stands up fairly well visually. Textures are admittedly a little low-res, and everything has a somewhat annoying ‘grit’ filter that I felt hurt the game’s appearance. Then again, one needs to consider whether this was a conscious decision to make everything look grim and bleak, given the context.
While unimportant graphical imperfections can be glossed over and filed away under ‘non really important when gameplay matters most’, I can’t excuse some of the technical bugs that exist. Black screens, some frame-rate drops and some weird occurrences such as climbing a ladder next to aforementioned ladder. Given the level of atmosphere and tension ZombiU so successfully builds these are the last things I actually want to see, since it tears me out of the experience.
ZombiU is dark, tense and a true standout in the survival horror genre. While the story itself won’t be winning anyone over, and some technical hiccups deters from the experience, this is one Wii U launch title certainly worth your time and attention.
There’s very few games that can truly make you feel terrified and alone, and ZombiU achieves it to a tee.