ESRB Rating: M
For me, ZombiU represents the most important Wii U launch title. Rather than being one of the many GamePad-enabled ports, it has the task of being a big third-party game built from the ground up specifically for the new system. Its success could really pave the way for more original titles.
As for the game itself, it takes place during a zombie outbreak in London. Your main goal: survive at all costs. The twist here, and one of the interesting draws, is that if you fail, that character will forever turn into a zombie. You then respawn as a new person at the safe house and will have to hunt down your old self to get your gear back. While that’s a cool mechanic, ZombiU’s success will really hinge on whether or not it’s a good game.
What I Liked
Being that ZombiU was built from the ground up for the Wii U, it uses the GamePad in a variety of interesting ways. The most prominent of these is the inventory system. Whether it’s scavenging ammo from a corpse or selecting guns in the middle of an attack, the GamePad allows you to have everything you need right in the palm of your hands–literally!
Another feature that I really enjoyed was the constant minimap that could be pinged at any time to reveal nearby threats. While it may sound like that takes away a lot from the game, I felt that it actually improved it. By knowing how many zombies are through the next door, it allows you to strategize and plan the best course of action (though some zombies won’t move until you walk right by them).
If you see just one zombie, get your melee weapon ready to bust some skulls. If you notice a bunch of them, you’ll have to use some skill and precision to survive. This slight upper-hand won’t take away from any of the action in the game though, because your heart will still be pumping when that one zombie quickly turns into two, three, or four.
The GamePad truly makes ZombiU a better game and it shows off how useful it can to create a sense of atmosphere in a game like this.
It’s A Survival Horror Game That Truly Delivers Survival and Horror
Whereas certain survival horror franchises have ditched that concept and gone straight to the action genre, ZombiU brings you right back to the glory days. Ammo is in very limited supply, health is a rarity, you’ll jump out of your seat at times, and you’re effectively on your own.
Since ammunition is limited, you’re forced to pick and choose your battles wisely. You’ll have to use some real skill if you want to keep your character alive. This could range from having to light a flare next to an exploding barrel and shooting it to burn zombies, or trying to run up and melee a zombie to death if you don’t have any bullets.
Now if you feel completely outmatched running away is always an option, though the zombies will break down any doors you put in their path. This and everything else about ZombiU makes it a very tense game where surviving is the main goal, but it isn’t very attainable. Bundle in the many moments where you’ll be thinking “I don’t feel safe right now” only to have a zombie jump out at you and you have a survival horror game that will more than please fans of the genre.
The Damage Detection
As you may or may not know, Resident Evil 4 is my favourite video game of all time. One aspect I really liked about the game is when you shoot a zombie in the leg it falls down, or if you shoot it in the hand it drops a weapon. ZombiU is very similar.
You can still shoot specific body areas, but the most prominent part is when you shoot or melee zombie heads. Just one hit or bullet won’t kill them, but the damage you inflict on them appears right away in the form of a chunk of their head missing. There was something oddly satisfying about seeing your melee attack knock a piece of their head off, only to have a half-headed zombie charge at you.
Though you’ll never hear your character utter any real words (all the talking is saved for a few key characters), you still feel a big connection with each one of them. This didn’t really click for me until my original character had died and I was put in the shoes of a woman named Lexie.
Every time there was a zombie near and I was trying to bust open a door in a hurry, you could hear the fear in her panicked breathing. Whenever she tried to kill a zombie, you could just hear her struggling to muster enough strength, and once she succeeded, it was almost as if she let out a sigh of relief.
After she eventually succumbed to the zombies, I really took notice to how each character reacted to the situation differently, allowing me to really get into this game.
What I Didn’t Like
So Much Emptiness
Not in terms of the game world mind you, but the fact that while you may kill a swarm of zombies or open a bunch of drawers, you won’t necessarily find anything. Honestly, I found that about 10% of things I could try to loot actually had something in them. This does speak to the survival horror nature of the game and how everything has been looted, but in terms of a video game, I shouldn’t have been given the option to open so many things only to have them be empty.
To be fair though, you can use the GamePad to scan each zombie and drawer beforehand to see if they have anything, though I found that took longer to do than actually trying to loot them.
While the actual mechanic around death that I noted in the opening paragraph is a brilliant feature, this is more about how easy it is to die. If for just one second a zombie happens to latch onto you, that’s it. Game over. You do have a health bar for those times when a zombie takes a swing at you, but those times when it decides to grab you, there is no option to shake them off or defend yourself.
You do receive an item a few hours into the game that helps give you some defense, just be prepared for a lot of cheap deaths in the early going when you’re trying to learn the ropes of surviving.
The Repetitive Combat
Because of the fact that ammo is so scarce in London, you better be ready to use your melee weapon often. It works well enough, you whack the zombie, they back up after taking damage, and you repeat. The problem is that you do this exact same dance every single time. Four swings, they fall to the ground, and you finish them off.
There are some zombies that will take up to 10 hits to kill, but the most common of them will take that same four-hit combo and finisher to be killed, meaning that you’ll be repeating that same sequence over 100 times.
For the most part the graphics get the job done, it’s just that they could have been a lot better. I praised New Super Mario Bros. U for being highly detailed, but with ZombiU, I just found that it lacked a lot of pizzazz and overall it was behind the original Condemned in terms of visual prowess. Hopefully there’s a sequel (ZombiU + Mii?) so Ubisoft can fix the graphics and a few of the other problems because they have a great game here.
ZombiU isn’t a perfect game, though it does show that the Wii U can be used to bring exclusive titles to the market and have them be successful. The GamePad is used perfectly in almost every way and if you want a game that scares the hell out of you, while also providing lots of zombies to kill, this is a great launch title for your new system.
ZombiU was reviewed with a copy provided by Ubisoft.