Lots of Great Ideas that are Very Unfinished
By Corey Dirrig
ZombiU is Ubisoft’s high profile Wii U exclusive that is all about survival in the zombie apocalypse. Players must survive by traversing through iconic locations in London, finding supplies and weapons all while trying not to be bitten. When Ubisoft first showed off ZombiU, many in the industry were hoping it wasn’t going to be another game like Red Steel, Ubisoft’s hardcore offering at the Wii’s launch, which showed much promise, but ultimately ended up failing to deliver. Luckily, ZombiU delivered on it’s promises, but still had many issues that prevented it from being great.
The game starts with the player in a subway station in London, where a mysterious voice comes over the PA system giving the survivor some instructions. After that, it’s up to the player to live as long as possible. And that’s the point, survive as long as you can because once you’ve been bitten, you’re dead forever. That’s right, ZombiU introduces an awesomely terrifying mechanic called permadeath, meaning when you die, you must start with nothing as another survivor. Suddenly your new survivor knows everything that your previous one did, which makes no sense what-so-ever, but it serves the basic premise of the game extremely well. Also, being a game with absolutely no character development, I became incredibly attached to my survivor and felt awful when one of them died. one of the coolest features is how it tracks how long each of your survivors lives, uploading the results to the ZombiU leaderboards on Uplay and tracking how well you do compared to your friends and others.
ZombiU focuses on ideas and concepts that are dedicated to the touch screen and gyroscope features on the Wii U’s unique controller, the GamePad. The Prepper, who happens to be the voice over the PA system and gives you the missions, provides some pretty cool tech that feeds right into the controller. Finding items like med kits and new weapons as well as scanning the environment require you to look at the GamePad. It is also the only way to search through the inventory in which the player has gathered from the missions, which makes the intensity rise with each second. A lot of the puzzles require the GamePad as well, like using the security pad to unlock a door, hoping you can open it before you get bitten by the horde chasing you.
One of the more brilliant ideas I’ve seen in any game is the fact that I stumbled upon a filing cabinet or desk and I looted it, my onscreen survivor dropping to one knee to “go through his inventory” in his “backpack.” It may seem a little gimmicky, but I found it one of the more immersing things about ZombiU. Letting your guard down while sorting through inventory on the GamePad while the game is still going on the TV creates a lot of tension and quick decisions, making for some scary and intense moments. There are other mechanics like taking a syringe to draw zombie blood or breaking down barricades, which also add to the immersion. Though some mechanics feel unpolished and incomplete, the ideas that are there are good ones.
All of these ideas are great in concept, but in execution they feel very unpolished,sometimes feel buggy and unresponsive. The movement and camera feel clunky, as I felt like I was floating like in first person games from over a decade ago. Not only are the controls clunky, but the blocky textures and the zombies clipping through assets really took me out of the experience at times. Running through a beautiful environment like Buckingham Palace was a real treat until I watched two zombies clip through the stair railings, getting stuck on geometry while hunting me down. Even in the darker environments, you could still see the jagged edges that we know Ubisoft is able to hide in their other games. It honestly just feels lazy on their part.
All though those issues were negligible for the most part, one problem stuck out like a soar thumb, and that was the game’s combat. Reading coverage leading up to ZombiU’s release, I thought that it would take elements from the Dead Rising series, where finding objects throughout the environments would let me create better weapons, not on the scale of that game, but at least letting me hold my own against three or four walkers.
Weapons and ammo are scarce, meaning that saving them only for crucial moments makes the game feel more intense. It feels like the first few Resident Evil games in that respect. There is a basic upgrade system, and having weapons and guns are nice, but these weapons make a lot of noise which draws more zombies to you, making using them rare. After death though, my default weapon was the cricket bat. Again, beating zombies down when sneaking around them through dark corridors seems fun in premise, but that feeling deflates after the third or fourth scenario hitting a zombie sometimes five to seven times before it goes down for good. It felt more like a chore. What makes matters worse is that the game’s controls were, again, the bigger problem. The time between button presses and the action on screen was noticeably laggy.
If you’re looking for a multiplayer survivor game, you’re probably going to be skipping ZombiU’s try. One player uses the Wii U GamePad and another uses the Wiimote or Pro Controller. The Wii U GamePad player gets to drop zombie troops into the level inhabited by the traditional player who is trying to survive or capture flags. I had fun playing it for a small amount of time, but the game mode is shallow and doesn’t look like it will have any legs. There are three modes for two players only with no online options whatsoever . I’m sure some people will get really into the light strategy of it all and have epic fights, but most will pass this mode by without a second thought.
7/10 – The DNA Network
For what it is, ZombiU has many great ideas that with maybe another year in development they would have been polished and would have given us the game we all thought this one would be. The incorporation of the GamePad is the best use out of any of the launch titles for the Wii U and the permadeath makes the experience more tense and scary, but the clunky movement and combat become annoying as does the clipping animations and rough graphics. There’s fun to be had here as it’s challenging to see how long you can go before finally being bitten, but there are so many better zombie games out there that ZombiU is far from being a must-buy game.