For new Wii U owners interested in experiences on the system that are not crafted by Nintendo directly, you need to look no further than Ubisoft’s ZombiU. This is, hands down, the best piece of unique software on the console that doesn’t have Super Mario in the title. And while it might not be entirely flawless, it’s absolutely refreshing to get a true, honest-to-god survival horror experience back on consoles. PC gamers have benefited from a number of “scary” releases over the past few years, but we’ve been stuck in the action zone here on consoles as of late. ZombiU definitely looks to change that.
The concept is simple enough, and certainly not the most unique thing about the game. You’ll play as a survivor of a zombie apocalypse, with a backdrop of London. You’re tasked with a number of missions by an unnamed helper that interacts with you via security cameras and street speaker systems, giving you directions, helping you survive and so on.
You’ll start off the game with a hectic bang, which sets the stage for the rest of your harrowing journey throughout the streets of London, which will take you down into the sewers, through the hallways of Buckingham Palace, and more. Unlike a lot of other popular zombie survival games, you’re not left with a lot of devices to adequately defend yourself. You have access to a handy cricket bat throughout most of the game, which is fine for most one on one encounters. But when you start to throw more zombies into the mix, which happens often, you’ll quickly find yourself outmanned. This means instead of standing around fighting or shooting off hordes, you simply need to run, hide, or potentially barricade yourself in and plan out a little strategy to survive.
Along the way you’ll be able to scavenge a number of materials, but you’ll rarely find yourself with excess goods. You can get your hands on a few guns, but ammo is typically scarce. You’ll occasionally find wooden planks good for the aforementioned barricading, and sometimes stumble across food items to replenish health. But overall your character is pretty fragile, often not able to take much more punishment than a handful of hits from a zombie, before being knocked down, eaten, and then turned.
That’s right, there’s an element of permadeath present in ZombiU, another refreshing and exciting change from the norm that’s actually handled in a non-annoying way here. There are two single-player modes in ZombiU, the standard campaign and a hardcore variation. In the standard campaign, when you die, you’ll restart at your safe house as a new survivor, and lose the majority of your gear outside of the starting pistol, cricket bat, and bug-out bag that are pretty much necessary to get anywhere. However, your previous character does become zombiefied, meaning that if you can make it back to where you died, you’ll be able to kill your old self and loot the corpse, in an effort to get everything you lost back.
Hardcore mode takes that one step further, by giving you only one survivor to use throughout the entire game. So if you get bitten or die through other means (falling, eating rotten food) then it’s game over and you’ll need to start at square one. Both modes are incredibly tense, ZombiU does a fantastic job at setting atmosphere and mood throughout. But the hardcore mode present here really makes you reevaluate the way you’ll play the game, and makes for what I’d qualify as the best way possible to play the game.
One other added element for those of us online with our Wii U console is the inclusion of zombie friends invading your game. If you’ve got someone on your friends list with the game, and they die at some point, you might encounter their zombie in your own campaign. And just like your own zombie survivors, if you kill your friend’s corpse you’ll gain whatever materials they had on their body at the time. While the game doesn’t support a true online multiplayer experience, it’s a neat little addition for folks that take their system online.
As far as GamePad functionality goes, ZombiU tackles that in an interesting way that helps sell the immersion factor quite a bit. Your GamePad essentially serves multiple purposes. You’ll use it as a way of accessing your inventory, giving you a handful of quick and easy to tap slots for items, and an option to dig through your bug-out bag if you’re looking for something else. It also acts as an in-game scanner, so by holding down one of the top left buttons you can move the GamePad around to scan an area in the game, which will help you pinpoint items, searchable areas, doors, and even zombies. I found that it could be a little cumbersome to search using the motion function, but thankfully you can also move the view around with the analog sticks too.
The GamePad also contains your map for an area, which you’ll need to activate by scanning closed-circuit security cameras in various locations. Once found you’ll have a permanent map of whatever area you’re currently in, and it becomes second nature to quickly glance at the map to get a better indication of where you’re heading or need to go. Finally, there’s a function here that’s essentially a radar ping, which sends out a little burst of sonar that’ll pick up on zombies within a small radius, giving you some clue of what to expect around the corner. The game will still toss the occasional surprise encounter at you, but if you play carefully you’ll at least have sort of fair chance at survival here.
Overall I was extremely impressed by what ZombiU brought to the table for Wii U owners. It’s a fantastically tense horror experience, and one of the best zombie themed games I’ve had the pleasure of playing. It also does a great job of making the GamePad feel like a necessary device instead of just a simple gimmick, offering up a number of options that add to the overall immersive feeling the game is trying to deliver. This definitely should be at the top of everyone’s Wii U wishlist this season, and certainly deserves a look.