A disembodied voice will guide you through the dark…
This is the game that everyone has been talking about for the Wii U launch, the gaming choice for the core gamer who happens to have picked up one of Nintendo’s awesome new consoles. This is Zombie survival, but perhaps not as you have seen before. In ZombiU, the player isn’t “hard as nails”, doesn’t have specialist survival training and hasn’t spent the last 10 years perfecting their gun skills. In ZombiU, the player is just your average Joe survivor. Well, actually they are a lot of average Joe survivors, depending on how good they are…
Ubisoft’s survival horror game is hard, and not one for the weak-willed. It is not quite on the same level as Dark Souls for example, but it is not far off, and manages to create an atmosphere that is incredibly tense, leading to panic and subsequent mistakes. So the player will die a lot and one of the games most interesting ideas is how it deals with these multiple deaths. Upon death, the player simply continues their game with a new average survivor, just without all of their hard-earned supplies. But the supplies are still out there, wandering the streets on the back of your Zombified previous character, and supplies are so scarce that it makes sense to go back, kill your previous character and retrieve them. If you die again before you manage to liberate your bag of supplies, then they are gone for good. It is an elegant system that makes much more sense in reality than check points or whatever, and it adds wonderfully to the tension.
And it is the tension in ZombiU that really makes the game. As a survivor of a Zombie blight that has taken over London, the player is tasked with surviving and exploring the mystery surrounding this outbreak, with a view to finding a cure. The player is early on armed with a cricket bat and a pistol, but more weapons are out there for the finding. But just having a weapon does not give the player a sense of power, they are still vulnerable, only a little bit less so.
Attacking a Zombie with the bat involves lining up the swing before letting rip, which takes time. All the while, the Zombie is getting closer.Using a gun is no easier, with ammunition severely limited, the Zombie swaying around like a drunk on Friday night, and about as much precision as a turnip, there is every chance that the player will miss completely, run out of bullets and die. And that is with just one Zombie menace. Add in a couple more, or have them leaping out of the darkness and the player might aswell just lay down and give up.
Fortunately, the game places more emphasis on avoiding the dead, rather than just running in, guns blazing. To that effect, the player has a handy tool which makes the best use of the Wii U GamePad. The crowning glory of the Wii U has a number of functions within ZombiU, but the most helpful to the player is the map and radar. Pressing a button will send out a signal from the player and “ping” anything moving, showing them on the map as a red dot. Whilst the player will still have to deal with any Zombies that don’t happen to be moving at that particular time, it gives the player a chance to plan their route, or prepare for battle.
The chance to prepare is one that shouldn’t be underestimated, as the other main use of the GamePad is as the players inventory. In another attempt to make the game more realistic, or perhaps just harder, accessing the inventory involves the character actually putting their backpack down and rummaging, while the player takes their eyes from the TV screen and busies themselves with tapping and sliding stuff around the GamePad screen. So even using the inventory raises the tension, opening the player to the possibility of a sneak Zombie attack.
The GamePad has other uses within the game. Players can use the GamePad to scan for supplies in their area, or as a sniper scope with some weapons. It can be used for picking locks or using keypads. It is also the way by which “The Prepper” communicates with the player. At the very beginning of the game, “The Prepper” will guide the player to the safe house and set them on their quest. The best thing is that his voice comes through the speaker on the GamePad, adding yet another little burst of realism to the game. I will admit that the first time his disembodied voice came through in my hands, I was a bit surprised. It is a cool little feature.
So, ZombiU is a hardcore game for the core gamer, on a Nintendo console. I won’t say that it doesn’t feel strange, but let’s just say that it’s going to take some time to get my head around Nintendo finally competing on the same level as Microsoft and Sony.
The single player game is edge of your seat stuff, but things don’t stop there. Ubisoft have also included a multiplayer mode that has two players competing locally in yet another interesting concept. One player uses the WiiMote and Nunchuk, or the new Wii U Pro Controller, to capture control points as a survivor. The other player, using the GamePad, also has to capture the control points, but with Zombies from a map view. It’s actually really good fun being on the other side and trying to put a stop to those pesky survivors. There is not a huge amount to the multiplayer game, but it is very enjoyable while it lasts.
ZombiU is a stellar launch title for Nintendo’s new console. The GamePad gimmicks clearly make the game, as without these it would be just another Zombie survival game. But with the handy radar, the tense use of the inventory and even the disembodied voice, ZombiU is a highly atmospheric, adrenaline-pumping launch title that should be on the shelves of every adult Wii U owner.