Something strange happened at E3 this year, Nintendo unveiled new hardware but it wasn’t a first party title that had people talking. Any conversation about Wii U would ultimately come around to ZombiU, a first-person survival horror game from Ubisoft, and for good reason. After having seen and played around with the game, I can say that ZombiU is well deserving of the attention it is receiving.
One thing that I haven’t heard too many people talk about is just how apt the “survival horror” description is for this game. Most games in the genre have grown more and more action centric (Resident Evil and Dead Space both come to mind) but ZombiU delivers a rather tense experience, an accomplishment made all the more impressive by the cacophony that is the E3 show floor. The visuals help in this effort; the world is dark and claustrophobic and the atmosphere is made all the more intense by the detail that is revealed as your flashlight dances around the environment.
The biggest factor contributing to this, however, has to be the zombies themselves. You can’t simply shake a zombie bite off with a quick herbal remedy; nope, one zombie bite and you are infected, returning as a zombie to harass survivors you played the demo. Quick reactions can shake off a latched on zombie, and syringes filled with an antidote/zombie poison will pop up from time to time for close quarters defense, but otherwise you will find each zombie to be a significant threat. When the zombies come in mass, that’s when running becomes a much more viable option.
That’s not to say you are helpless; pistols, shotguns, crossbows, and blunt objects are present, but every shot, swing, and especially reloading demands a realistic amount time to reset for the next attack. The controls also contribute to this. In ZombiU there is no such thing as firing from the hip, you have to hold L to aim, otherwise R will just be a relatively harmless, albeit immensely useful, shove that will buy time but won’t do much in the way of ending the zombie menace.
The tense atmosphere and combat were shown off brilliantly in the single player demo, which tasked you with pilfering a daycare for medical supplies, but things play out a little differently in the less talked about multiplayer mode, that is, if anything, a much better example of why this game is perhaps the best example of what Wii U can do for gameplay. The idea is simple enough, two player compete over four flags on a cramped map filled with guns, ammo, and auto turrets waiting to be deployed. The big twist is that the player with the gamepad is playing an RTS rather than an FPS. The gamepad displays an overhead view of the map and a selection of zombies, each designed for a specific purpose: attacking, defending, or capturing flags. The player touches a zombie and drags it onto the map to spawn it there. Thankfully there are some limitations to even things out, the zombie master can only have so many minions deployed at once and they can’t spawn them in the immediate vicinity of the survivor who has infinite respawns. The end result is a unique, fun experience that is an amazing example of asynchronous multiplayer.
After its unveiling, Ubisoft has mentioned the possibility of ZombiU coming to other consoles, and while the single player doesn’t really do anything above and beyond the functionality of a traditional controller, the multiplayer mode, while feasible on the competitors’ systems, takes such great advantage of the Wii U gamepad that I don’t think it will translate nearly as well. Considering all of this, there is obviously a great deal to be excited about for ZombiU; it is mature, graphically impressive, amazingly unique considering the glut of zombies of popular culture, and takes amazing advantage of Wii U’s feature set. The big questions remaining are just how the single player will play out over a full game, and whether or not their will be sufficient online functionality to make the multiplayer something more than a great party game. Hopefully all this will answered alongside Wii U’s launch.