Every console launch comes with ‘that game,’ the one that is supposed to define the system, the one that is supposed to make you run out and buy it. For the Wii U, ZombiU is ‘that game,’ whether it wants to be or not. Ubisoft Montpellier’s latest dives headfirst into Nintendo’s new console, hoping to deliver a unique experience that you can only have on the Wii U. Utilizing the touch screen and focusing on survival are the key elements, but there is also a unique take on asynchronous online functions and an interesting multiplayer type. ZombiU is definitely one of a kind.
The story of ZombiU is nothing revolutionary. A plague has taken over the world, and people are coming back from the dead and eating each other. According to the story, this blight was predicted, and ZombiU takes place smack in the middle of the chaos. One man, known as the Prepper, has been preparing for this for years, while a secret organization is searching for the cure. It is all standard narrative for a zombie apocalypse, and the game never makes it a focal point.
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What is at the center here is the survival. Games have become forgiving and simple over time. Checkpoints and continues are rampant. ZombiU removes all of this hand-holding and takes us back to the core of surviving against hordes of the undead. The single player game is truly a test of staying alive. Encountering one zombie in most games is a joke, while in ZombiU it takes planning and careful execution to take on one of these creatures; running into two of them is panic-inducing.
The game gives you just enough to survive, without ever giving you enough to feel safe. The balance of tension mixed with the design is incredible well done. Your main weapon is a cricket bat. While that may sound sufficient, it usually takes multiple hits to even take down one zombie. You also have to prepare each swing, thus leaving yourself open to attack. Combine that with the possibility that your encounter may be attracting other walkers, and things get intense. ZombiU does an amazing job of really driving players to the edge of their seat with each and every encounter.
It is worth noting that everything you do in the game happens in real time. There are no safe animations, or pauses in the action. When you open your backpack to sort inventory or check items, the game does not stop. This means you may need to heal, but you better be sure there is nothing around while you are doing it. Supplies are also limited, meaning if you find bullets, you should cherish them. Wasting shots is not something you want to do, nor can you afford to.
In the event that you die (which will happen, trust me) your bag of items will be left with your corpse that is now guarded by your former character. You are then spawned as a new survivor and tasked with retrieving said items. The idea that your character will return as a zombie, while the new survivor will have to put them down is psychologically effective. I grew attached to my survivors and knowing that I would have to put them out of their misery is depressing. I love this idea, and it made me play smarter and more cautiously. Survival horror has been long dormant in this pure form, and we welcome it back with open arms.
Controlling ZombiU is pretty standard fare for shooters. Left stick moves, right stick shoots and the triggers handle aiming and firing. The touch screen comes into play constantly for item management, but it also has some other cool features. Every time you enter a room you can scan it by holding up the controller towards the screen. While it sounds intrusive, it actually isn’t. I never felt irritated at having to do it, and it actually is beneficial for locating bodies that could potentially become the undead. The screen also works as a radar and, of course, the standard mini-games for opening things. The developers have made good use of the controller for actions that make sense.
Missions are laid out basically the same every time. ZombiU is a linear game with some freedom. Sure you can pretty much travel at will, but each mission is laid out in similar fashion. You will take a task, head out to obtain an item or such, plan your attacks and encounters, and return with said item. It’s nothing revolutionary, but like most of the rest of the experience, the journey is in the adventure, not the destination.
ZombiU also offers up a survivor mode outside of the main campaign. This basically allows you to take on the hardest challenge the game has to offer. You start the game with one life. Death is permanent, and if you die, the game is over. It is a really neat idea that is a serious challenge. Leaderboards showcasing how long you last and bragging to friends in the Miiverse is really unique. This is yet another example of how ZombiU is taking advantage of the tools it has.
Speaking of which, another cool feature is the ability to tag items and locations ala Dark/Demon’s Souls. You have a spraypaint can in your pack that you can use to spray messages on the walls. These are helpful in the same way the Souls game used them. Players can also invade others games and terrorize them. This offers up some nice bonuses if the player can kill them though. It is all a risk/reward system that works well when it functions. The Nintendo Network is still in its infancy, and oftentimes these features were hit and miss when we tested them.
Outside of the campaign you can also engage in some local multiplayer. Aptly titled “King of the Zombies,” this local-only mode comes in two flavors with limited maps and options. Basically, this mode has one player using the Gamepad to spawn zombies, while the other player uses the Pro Controller, or a Wiimote and nunchuk setup. The first mode simply has you killing zombies, while the other has you capturing flags. The zombie spawner has access to only certain zombies at the beginning, but after awhile you will earn experience and level up to earn new zombie types such as spitters, explosive and armored zombies.
The flag mode is actually more dynamic and fun. The killing mode basically lasts until the zombie spawner finally overruns the player, but the flag mode requires more strategy, plus the player can respawn. The flag mode requires each player to capture four points on the map. The player is given extra ammo, turrets and more, but must capture each flag individually. The spawner can capture multiple flags at once, but the unit they have to use costs massive resources. You have to find a delicate balance because the player also captures quicker. It becomes a frantic game of cat and mouse, and really is entertaining. The only downside is that lack of maps and no online really limit the appeal of the multiplayer altogether.
All of this doesn’t come without its problems though. ZombiU is a launch game, and with it comes plenty of issues. For starters, the glitches and general bugginess is jarring at times. I have seen zombies clip into walls, attack through walls and even had the game crash on occasion. The visuals are also nothing to write home about. Character models are abused and reused far too often, and the special zombies such as spitters and riot guards don’t differ at all. The game also just doesn’t look that good overall. The bland textures and generic look hurt an otherwise slick game. The loading times are also atrocious.
ZombiU is a great game with some minor setbacks you would expect from a launch game. There is a lot to be said about the true survival horror this game delivers. The touch screen stuff works, and the multiplayer is unique, even if it is limited. There is a lot to like about ZombiU (besides the awful name) if you know what to expect going into it. This isn’t a zombie shooting gallery, nor is it an episode of the Walking Dead. Zombies may be cliche and played out, but ZombiU’s strengths far outweigh its weaknesses. Definitely check it out if you own a Wii U.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.