|System: Wii U|
|Dev: Ubisoft Montpellier|
|Release: November 18, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language|
by Josh Wirtanen
Launch day titles for consoles are generally poorly veiled attempts at showing of the cool new gimmicks that the new piece of hardware is capable of. Often, this leads to shallow minigame collections (like Little Deviants for the Vita) or legitimately interesting games that are brought down by their insistence on cramming as many features as possible into the experience (like Uncharted: Golden Abyss, also for the Vita). ZombiU, however, shows off the Wii U’s feature set by making all of those things both essential to the experience and fun to use.
For the uninitiated, ZombiU is the Wii U’s first survival horror title. It puts you behind the first-person viewpoint of a single survivor and pits you against a London swarming with the undead. You have a handy communicator/scanner, which is an in-game item that is manifested in real-life via the Wii U’s GamePad.
While exploring the world, the GamePad serves as an overhead map, a scanner that allows you to hack into devices, and a first-person perspective for some of your weapons (like sniper rifles and mounted machine guns.) It also comes with a radar that lets you tap your screen and watch it ping for life forms.
This actually brings me to one of the coolest things about ZombiU: The game is constantly griefing you. See, in the radar example I mentioned above, a good portion of those life forms you detect will be zombies. However, rats and crows (which are abundant in ZombiU) will also show up as blips on your touchscreen. Trust me, the first time you ping your area when there’s a rat swarm nearby is absolutely terrifying.
Additionally, whenever you are rifling through a dumpster or a discarded backpack, the game world doesn’t halt. This means you can be attacked while monkeying around with your inventory. I’m sure many players will be frustrated by this, but those players are babies who wouldn’t survive a real zombie apocalypse anyway. Personally, I think it’s a feature that only emphasizes your helplessness as a survivor in this zombie wasteland.
And that’s always what “Survival Horror” has been about: making the player feel helpless. It’s one thing to be startled by jump scares, but it’s a different thing entirely to find yourself surrounded by zombies when you’ve got maybe four bullets left. And you will definitely find yourself running out of ammo here. You see, resources are incredibly scarce throughout the game. Again, that’s something that some people will undoubtedly complain about, but those people would probably have more fun in a game of Black Ops 2 than in a true “zombie apocalypse simulator.”
Adding to the terror is the fact that death is permanent. Well, sort of. Yes, you start out as a lone survivor, and once you die, you must start over again. However, a good portion of your mission objectives involve changing the gameworld in some way, and these changes are actually permanent. So if you, say, bring some cameras back online with one character, those cameras will still be active when you start over with a new character. So in a sense, you actually have an infinite amount of lives, only each life starts you as a new character.
But there are some serious drawbacks to death. The coolest one is that your bitten character will become a zombie and roam the world. So when you return to the place you last died with a new survivor, you’ll have to fight a zombified version of your old self, who is still carrying all the supplies you had on your previous attempt.
Unfortunately, you will only ever encounter your most recent death. That means that you won’t find yourself increasing the zombie horde with multiple deaths, which is something I’m actually sort of disappointed by. ZombiU could have made some of its sections exponentially more difficult by forcing you to fight through all of the previous iterations of yourself that you haven’t yet disposed of.
Another drawback to this is that whatever items that particular zombie is carrying will be lost forever upon your next death unless you manage to recover them. While this makes the game more difficult, it also makes it more frustrating and less “fair.”
Personally, the fact that I was constantly losing items to poorly planned escapes only made me start hording resources, filling the item box in my personal safe house and leaving accessible caches of ammo and food in places where I wouldn’t lose track of them. It also made me resort to the cricket bat as a weapon more often than I would have had I been blessed with a near-infinite supply of ammo.