For the record, I am not a fan of the zombie video game craze that seems to have latched onto gaming over the last five years or so. While there’s been a fair number of successes (Dead Rising, Plants vs Zombies, Dead Island), I can’t help but to think that developers are becoming too reliant on banking the concept of zombies as a device to be used, rather than pushing the envelope on the games themselves. I always keep an open mind though, as even the most overused gimmicks and devices could still turn out something worth noting. This is where ZombiU comes in – a major player in the Wii U launch window that happens to be another game with zombies as the featured attraction. Fortunately, ZombiU as a concept is creating something with more more trepidation than most other zombie games over the last several years, and it’s all aided by the Wii U’s Gamepad.
(Apologies ahead of time for the quality, and more or less lack of photos of this game – there was a mix of annoyingly placed lighting, along with dark gameplay and sunlight that, while somewhat obscured from the large windows, still provided too much glare)
Those familiar with 2011’s Dead Island will find a couple of similarities to ZombiU, from the first person perspective to its difficulty. The latter is quite high right out of the gate, where the player can be taken out by as few as two hits. The unique aspect that ZombiU adds to this is the fact that once you die, that character is staying dead, and moreover, becoming one of the undead. What happens afterwards is that the player assumes the role of another person, from the last safehouse/checkpoint, and they have the task to not only continue the previous characters’ journey, but recover the items left behind by that dead character to aid themselves.
Surprisingly, the Gamepad came into play throughout every facet of the ZombiU demo at the Wii U Preview Event. A majority of the time, the Gamepad acted as an inventory screen, where weapons and items could be swapped into place, from within your bag into your hands, and vice versa. It’s all real time inventory organization here, meaning there are no pauses in gameplay, so it’s imperative that any major inventory sorting is done within a safe area. Other key features on the Gamepad involve flashlight controls, which run on a slowly depleting battery that can slowly recharge when the flashlight is powered off. An investigative tool can be powered on and used through the Gamepad’s screen as well, which provides a much brighter perspective of the world around you. Players can hold the Gamepad in front of them and turn a full 360 degrees to investigate their surroundings for clues and possibly hidden passages that were not as easily seen beforehand.
ZombiU banks off the survival feel as well with dark, moody visuals. When I say dark, I mean even the provided flashlight doesn’t illuminate the way as much as one would hope. Luckily, the overall quality of the environments are impressive in their own right, outside the lack of lighting overall. The demo area consisted of a mostly interior setting, though there was a brief outdoor portion, in which I had to recover the previous players backpack, all while taking his now zombified carcass out. Combat is handled by holding the ZL trigger down while pressing ZR to initiate a melee attack or to fire a weapon, while pressing the ZR trigger by itself performs a shove, which proved to stun a zombie long enough to get a clean shot in on them. I was told that further along in the game, sniper rifles can be picked up for use, with the Gamepad acting as the scope, and the player motioning towards the direction that they would like to shoot. Ammo overall looks to be scarce, so the reliance on either melee weaponry or evasion seems to be the key here.
The sense of trepidation and tension was laid in thick with the ZombiU demo I tried. In a form of media that has seen way too many games featuring zombies as the antagonists, Ubisoft Montpellier is doing something that hasn’t been pulled off quite as well in the past — creating a world that not only feels creepy, but one where it legitimately feels as if there’s danger around every corner. My time with this launch title confirmed that this Wii U exclusive is on a path towards something noteworthy, and any skepticism those might have had for it previously should be laid to rest[Ha! – Ed].