Ever since it was announced at this year’s E3, ZombiU has quickly become one of Wii U’s most anticipated launch titles. It’s been lauded as the edgy, FPS horror game that Nintendo’s always wanted, and Ubisoft Montpellier are here to deliver. But there are some pundits out there who have been slightly more cautious in their praise of the game. They’ve been burned by Ubisoft’s launch titles before, after all, and with ZombiU being hyped as Nintendo’s golden ticket back into the mature gaming market, it’s all starting to sound a bit like what Ubisoft’s Red Steel promised for Wii– and we all know how that turned out.
But whereas Red Steel faded into obscurity after Wii’s launch, we’re pretty sure the same won’t happen to ZombiU. Graphics-wise, it is a bit rough around the edges, we have to admit, but what it lacks in visual fidelity is more than made up for by its innovative use of the Wii U GamePad. Our hands-on demo, for instance, saw us trekking through an abandoned and blood-spattered daycare centre in search of some medical supplies. Easy, we thought, no problem. But every time we wanted to have a quick root through in our inventory to switch guns or hold up the GamePad to scan the area for zombies, the game carried on running. This really set our teeth on edge, and even though the zombies themselves are the slow, bumbling, 28 Days Later kind of undead (or “infected”, as Ubisoft Montpellier have been keen to point out), that extra leeway becomes nail-bitingly short when you’re creeping through tight corridors.
You can probably steal a few more seconds in open spaces, but you really don’t want to have your nose in your bag in close quarters.
And if you do get caught, then it’s pretty much lights out as one hit kills in ZombiU, meaning you’ll have to start all over again if your character bites the dust. But what really makes ZombiU stand out from other horror games of its ilk is the fact that every time you die, you’re suddenly placed in the shoes of another survivor back at your safe house. Your previously chomped self, meanwhile, actually becomes another zombie, and it’s up to your new recruit to not only retrieve your backpack full of weapons and ammo, but also to take out your former self in the process. It’s a neat twist on the tired zombie genre– something Ubisoft seems to have borrowed from their original Zombi game– and it also allows players to be a bit more strategic about how they play, too. For instance, you may think that shiny shotgun would be a nice addition to your current pack of goodies, but if you pick it up and die round the next corner, your next character won’t have the same weapon at their disposal. They only have a bare minimum of ammo and health supplies when they start out, so leaving that shotgun well alone may actually help you later on if you happen to let your guard down.
Running out of ammo isn’t too much of a problem, though, as you’ve always got your trusty cricket bat to fall back on if you do find yourself low on bullets, but you won’t be hitting any sixes here unless you’ve got absolutely perfect timing. We were forced to use this quite a lot during our demo, but even though it’s a pretty crude (and brutal) form of attack, there’s nothing that gets the heart pumping more than the threat of death from a mistimed swing.
Of course, the thought of back-tracking through each level with new characters may make some players foam at the mouth, but considering enemies don’t respawn, it’s a pretty painless task when it comes down to it. If anything, it should actually make the game more challenging, as it’s not just your character’s life on the line every time you venture out into the unknown– it’s all your skills and special abilities too. This really piles on the pressure as these will also be wiped out as well if you kick the bucket, meaning you really will have to start from scratch every time you die. It’ll no doubt be frustrating for some who prefer to go in guns blazing, but we’re all for it if it means a more cautious approach to our zombie-slaying.
No oncoming horde for now, but replace those doors with hungry zombies and BAM. Instant tension.
Then again, you can never be too careful in ZombiU, as Ubisoft’s also announced that it’s going to be taking a leaf out of tougher than nails RPG Dark Souls by letting players leave little notes for other gamers around each level when they’re playing online. It may not be as new or as innovative as ZombiU‘s other features, but it’s solid proof that Wii U will be taking online gaming much more seriously than any of its predecessors. There’ll be a pre-set number of symbols you can choose from, but once you’ve chosen what you want to say, all it takes is a quick flash of your scanner and you’ll be well on your way to finding some hidden gear. Or at least you will be most of the time, because also just like Dark Souls, you won’t be able to trust everything you read, and you may just find yourself walking into a sneaky ambush instead.
Ultimately, though, what really sells ZombiU is its thick, heavy atmosphere, and our boss fight against a creepy, teleporting nurse was no exception. Not only were we low on ammo, with our map showing nothing but static and our torch flickering uncontrollably in the darkness, but there were also at least three extra zombified-survivors lumbering around alongside us, and it soon became as much a battle against the spooky nurse as it was against ourselves. In the end, we managed to scrape through victorious and retrieve the medical supplies we’d laboured so hard for (all with our cricket-bat, no less), but we’d be lying through our teeth if we said our hearts weren’t pounding furiously in our chests by the end of it.
So who cares if ZombiU isn’t quite the best-looking game we’ve ever seen– what matters is that it delivers on the thrills, and ZombiU has definitely infected us through and through. We really can’t wait to play this come launch day, and we have no doubt it will become one of Wii U’s most memorable titles, both at launch and beyond. Red Steel eat your heart out.