ZombiU is an interesting experiment that has quickly become the Red Steel of this generation. It’s the mature offering amidst a sea of casual titles, and renders more than a semblance of hope for core gamers moving to Nintendo’s next home console, which is yet to establish an identity.
In a brief hands-on session with ZombiU, I’m convinced that it deserves to be the second title on everyone’s launch hit list. It’s not a port or a shoddy cash-in targeting the wallets of desperate early adopters -- let’s face it, Ubisoft has a history of such tomfoolery.
If ZombiU is genuinely going to be a scary or survival horror game is not for me to say from a preview build. However, it is punishing. There’s no respite if a zombie attacks. Unless you have a scarce hypodermic needle full of some type of “last chance” concoction, one bite and you’re dead. Yes, a single bite.
This is the first game I’ve played that has you murder your former-self so quickly, even if it is a zombie incarnation.
When you meet your inevitable demise, you’ll return as a new survivor in the security of your safe house; progressed made is carried over. Your previous character is now a zombie, and can be tracked down and murdered if you want to retrieve your prized possessions. This is the first game I’ve played that has you murder your former-self so quickly, even if it is a zombie incarnation.
The Wii GamePad controls, as expected, demand undertaking a serious learning curve. As with the Wii Remote in 2006, it’s unlike anything we’ve flailed around wildly before. It's wide with a screen smack-bang in the middle of it.
The tablet screen is best employed as an immediate inventory and crucial map. There’s no need to cycle through weapons with a D-Pad or pause the game to pull out your trusty cricket bat. It’s all right in-front of you to be accessed at the opportune moment or in haste panic during horrific fight for survival. Removing the need to pause a horror game brings with it a newfound element of risk that actually makes sense.
More important is the sizable map which isn’t wasting precious space on the TV screen. ZombiU requires the player to keep a close eye on the map as it shows the location of nearby zombies; you’d be a fool to wander into a room full of them. Even once you’ve mastered the controls, you’ll do well to handle three at once. Anymore and you’ll want to take a more tactical approach or face certain death.
The Wii U tablet feels surprisingly good in your hands. Forget doubts about the control sticks being too far apart, it feels as natural as any current generation controller -- once I remembered that ‘A’ is not the lowest button on the diamond (even though it mimics the 3DS layout I keep thinking it should be where it is on the 360 controller). Movement is fairly standard making use of the dual analogue sticks, and firing employs the triggers.
Using the Gamepad’s motion sensing capabilities is intuitive, but will be bypassed by the core gamer. Moving the tablet screen in-line with your TV transforms it into a scope employing point and shoot controls with weapons such as the crossbow. It’s a cool gimmick once or twice, but I don’t see horror fans incorporating it into their repertoire.
I hope it isn’t a sign that Ubisoft is trying to simultaneously attract the casual audience, but more likely it was included to complement the scanning system which also favours the gyroscope. To find hidden objects and get a sense of where you should go next, players are required to scan the room by entering the scanner mode and physical moving the GamePad in a 360 degree range around the room.
As a gameplay mechanic it’s reminiscent of Metroid Prime’s infatuation with scanning absolutely everything. The technology works really well, but once again, I’m not sure the naturalist control input will be favourable amongst gamers who despise the motion revolution.
As a trick to show your cousins on Christmas morning, it’s pretty cool.
With its survivalist, genuinely challenging gameplay, ZombiU is an impressive launch title. While death doesn’t diminish your progress, the impending threat of zombification will always linger in the back of your mind and forms the makings of something that could be a surprisingly scary horror game to launch the Wii U’s mature intentions.
By Ben Salter