System: Wii U
Release Date: November 18, 2012
Publisher (Developer): Ubisoft (Ubisoft)
ESRB Rating: M (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)
Pros: Generally creepy, good use of Wii U GamePad, unique way of handling character death
Cons: No story to drive the game, no attachment to characters, clunky combat, graphics aren’t that great, some wonky physics
Overall Score: One thumb up, one thumb down; 75/100; C; **1/2 out of 5
UbiSoft’s ZombiU kind of become the flag-bearer for Nintendo’s new Wii U system. Part of the original unveiling at E3 2011 (although known as Killer Freaks from Outer Space at the time…see if you can find the reference in the final product), it was set up to be an example of what the Wii U could do graphically and with the innovative GamePad controller. Whereas the GamePad aspect rises above gimmick status to become integral to the overall experience, there’s not quite enough beyond that to make it something you really need to experience.
The problem begins with genre, which is pretty much played out at this point. Developers tinker with setting, story, and strategies in their zombie games, but this is mostly no different from the your yearly Madden NFL updates; make it look prettier and add a couple features, but you’re still playing football. Here, you’re still a human trying to avoid the undead. Failing that, you’re a human trying to kill the undead in no shortage of violent ways. If that sounds entertaining to you yet again, have at it. If you’re not sure, let’s dig a little deeper.
ZombiU focuses almost entirely on survival. You start in a safe house, from which you explore various areas of London during a zombie apocalypse. An opening cinematic juxtaposes images of the plague with quotes from Revelations in the Bible, but the story (or lack thereof) does nothing to explore this. Rather, you’ve got this disembodied voice that offers some tips and sends you out on missions to gather equipment that open up other missions and gives you more powerful weapons and such.
In other words, you explore, and you kill some zombies, and that’s pretty much it. That could possibly be enough, but the problem is that the exploration is too linear and the zombie killing too clunky to be all that fun. I won’t blame the combat on the developers, however, as it’s very much a conscious decision. Are you adept at swinging a cricket bat at a zombie’s head? Good enough to kill it? Not right away. But the more you use the weapon, the better you get. It’s a unique mechanic that becomes quite cool as you get deeper into the game, but expect some frustration at the onset, especially considering the odd physics and camera control. Missing the zombie would be okay, except it would then take me far too long to locate it and line up the next shot, ending in numerous frustrating and unnecessary deaths.
Deaths, however, are handled in an interesting fashion. Rather than start over from a save point, you end up back in the safe house with a completely new character. The cool part, though, is that your previous character is still out there, now zombified, and he/she has your backback with all of your stuff in it. So, you have to head back out to kill not only the zombie that got you, but the zombie it created in order to get back your stuff.
The drawback to this, however, is that you never really develop an attachment to any one character, unless you manage to keep him/her alive for a while. Otherwise, you can sacrifice as many people as you want without a care.
Of course, there’s also the GamePad, which creates a fantastic method of managing your inventory and solving some puzzles. Having enemies approach you as you fiddle around in your inventory is nothing new, but placing this on the GamePad screen leaves the TV to show what’s going on around your character. You can see the zombies approaching, so you know when to get back up and do what you must to buy the few seconds you’ll need to complete the task at hand. The GamePad also serves as a scanner, a sniper scope, etc., so you’ll really come to rely on it.
If the slow pace of avoiding zombies isn’t enough for you (and most often, avoiding the zombies is the way to go), there’s also a multiplayer game that has the GamePad user controlling the zombies while the second player attempts to take them out. It’s fine, but the game could use some more modes to keep things interesting.
So, I was a bit let down by ZombiU. It does a good job of showing off the GamePad, but does little to show off the system; the graphics aren’t that great, and the action isn’t intense enough to make it interesting for new or multiple players. You really have to get deep into the game to enjoy it, as it mostly feels like another boring zombie game until you get pretty deep into it. Considering the wealth of new Wii U games available right now, I doubt most gamers are going to give it that much of a chance.