ZombiU Review

by Ben Salter 5 Comments 13 Likes 6,296 Views 10/12/2012 Back to Wii U reviews ZombiU

Happy thoughts, happy thoughts!

Ubisoft has garnered itself a reputation for inundating console launches with utter tripe -- Rabbids say hello. However, that’s not the case with ZombiU. Aside from an awful, but memorable, name it’s hard to fault Ubisoft’s intent. It’s one of the few games actually developed with the Wii U in mind for the console’s launch and the shining light if you’re searching for a mature, dark launch title.

London has been infested with zombies. One bite, and you’ll join them. A mysterious voice guides you into the only known safe house and offers timely advice to keep you alive throughout the tireless ordeal.

The thing is, you’re a nobody. A disposable survivor. If a zombie bites you, your current character will turn into one and you’ll reappear in the safe house as someone else, another nobody. Your first task: find your old-self, kill it and reclaim your stuff.

Besides the hugely popular Day Z mod, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen the real zombies of ZombiU. Slow-moving, brain-dead creatures consumed by their desire to consume human flesh. They’re not smart, they don’t work together, and they won’t sneak up on you.

ZombiU is scary, dark, hard and very different.

However, they will tear you apart. One bite, and you’ve had it.

Your quest for survival is limited to items you can scavenge and your trusty cricket bat -- might I add, it’s glorious to see the willow getting the same attention afforded by Shaun of the Dead.

ZombiU is the only launch game to really use the GamePad innovatively. It’s primarily used to manage inventory, as it is in most games thus far, but it actually matters in ZombiU. You have precious few slots to manage, at least early on, and have to switch items while play continues. There’s no pausing to change weapon when a zombie is closing in -- the GamePad goes blank if you do -- forcing you to look away from the main screen and your deadly adversaries when something has to be changed.

If you’re not careful, changing gun or looting a corpse is asking for certain death.

It adds to the fantastic and genuinely frightening atmosphere in ZombiU. One hit kill makes it genuinely scary, and looking away to ruffle around in your virtual backpack makes it even more unnerving.

The GamePad is also used as a radar to ping zombie locations. Initially, you need to press a button to make this happen, but it soon becomes automatic. You’ll need to keep half-an-eye on the radar at all times, as it’s your most valuable asset when the odds are stacked against you. Although, it does have a nasty little habit of lying to you.

As a launch game, there’s some waggle, but at least it makes sense and can be ignored. By holding the GamePad at screen level, it can be used to scan the environment by physically moving it around. The same mechanic is used to aim scopes on some weapons. Fortunately, this can also be controlled using the analogue sticks -- it’s slower, but much better.

Combat is clunky and mechanical, but like the rest of the game, downright terrifying. Take-on more than two zombies at once, and there’s an underlying feeling that you’re not leaving the room alive.

With ammo in strong demand, the cricket bat is your main form of defence, and also one of the game’s biggest disappointments. It’s unbreakable, yet feels too weak. At best, it will take five hits, including a time-confusing finishing blow, to takedown just one zombie. When you’re struggling against a horde of the blood-thirsty mutants, it feels right. However, there’s no way to prepare and sneak up on one of them with a clean strike to the head. It still takes way too many hits to finish them off.

The gunplay feels cumbersome, and head shots aren’t nearly worth the trouble -- most of the time you’ll blast off part of their skull, but they’ll keep coming after you. While it might seem equally as lopsided, it feels more natural. The split-second longer than expected it takes to gather your composure and grasp a zombie in your sights adds to the electrifying atmosphere.

It’s not the difficulty that really challenges you in ZombiU, it’s the constant prospect of death around the next corner. Gamers are conditioned to avoid death, and without a modern checkpoint system, the pressure to stay alive and not make a mistake is exaggerated beyond anything in recent times.

ZombiU is a stressful game and I didn’t want to play late at night knowing that my sense of fear would be heightened and my decision making skills might be growing weary.

Half of my horrifying deaths weren’t even a case of being eaten alive. They were self-inflicted as the psychological battle of wanting to survive began to take hold. Blowing yourself up and falling to your death become all too easy when you’re fixated on avoiding a couple of slow-moving carnivores instead of focusing on the ridiculously ambitious plan to avoid them.

There are a few disappointing moments that break the tension or go overboard and ruin the moment. Like all good horror films, ZombiU is at its best when you don’t know what to expect. The fear of the unknown is better than seeing a horde come rushing at you at the crucial moment, which happens now and again and makes it feel like yet another zombie button-masher, but fortunately, such events are infrequent.

Considering its amazing atmosphere, ZombiU doesn’t look amazing. It has “launch game” written all over it with some shoddy textures and disappointing background elements. Conversely, that’s a testament to the overall presentation. It’s one of the scariest games I’ve played since Eternal Darkness, and stunning visuals have nothing to do with it.

There’s also multiplayer, but it doesn’t offer much and feels tacked on. The main mode sees one person with the GamePad drop zombies into the game for another with a Pro Controller to fight. It’s not a bad theoretical idea, but it doesn’t really work and conflicts with the clunky controls of the solo experience.

The Final Verdict

ZombiU is a fantastic, unique Wii U launch game and quite frankly, terrifying. It’s the best use of the GamePad as a second screen and is the prefect game to compliment Nintendo’s family-friendly approach. It has its issues, especially when the novelty of cricket bat combat becomes tedious, but some of its clunky controls contribute to the genuinely terrifying moments. ZombiU is scary, dark, hard and very different.


Got Right
  • + It's scary as hell
  • + Use of GamePad
  • + Real zombies
  • + What's around the corner?
Got Wrong
  • - Cricket bat becomes frustrating
  • - Movement can be questionable
  • - Multiplayer is so-so
Platform: WiiU
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ZombiU Review Comments

  • kangle4 36626 XP 10/12/2012
    Fair score.

    I really liked it and it is definately scary in some parts.
    I wasn't bothered by any of the problems people had with the game so I was able to enjoy it a lot more.
  • Olly 34008 XP 10/12/2012
    I don't find this game scary one bit :O There's no tension when your to rely on such cumbersome control mechanics and dreadful combat. Fear is brought on by atmosphere and great game design, it has the former but lacks terribly of the latter.
    If there is any panic in this game it is fighting with what I have covered above.

    If I reviewed this i'd give it a 5/5.5...
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  • 1wiierdguy 9824 XP 10/12/2012
    I find myself switching from moments of fear to moments of frustration. The idea is solid but the execution a little flawed. Still enjoying the game overall. Enough to finish it anyway. Would really like to see a more polished and refined sequel down the track.
  • davidhes 1630 XP 10/12/2012
    I hate combat in this game but love the game itself. I truly find it scary and it builds tension well. The use of the gamepad is welle executed and makes you so nervous scanning rooms or changing items.
  • chucky110 36814 XP 14/12/2012
    Scary as hell compared to?
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