Zombi U Review
An ambitious launch title built to utilize the features of the Wii U Game Pad, many were skeptical about the Ubisoft game, calling it another Red Steel fiasco from the Wii launch. Find out how it turned out.
Zombi U is yet another zombie-based survival horror game in which your character must fight amidst an infection outbreak that has turned the general population into undead denizens that crave for flesh and brains. However while other popular survival horror franchises like Capcom’s Resident Evil or Konami’s Silent Hill have opted to go for more action-oriented gameplay, Zombi U embraces the core elements of survival horror and is a return to form for the genre as a whole.
Survival is the key word here, as the entire game has been designed around this concept of staying alive. Unlike most games, death in this game is permanent for a survivor. There are no extra lives, there are no continues, there is no reloading your last save file to retry a segment. If you die, that survivor is gone and will only come back as a skulking corpse, a shell of their former self. This system punishes players who are too reckless, impatient and try to go through the game without thinking.
Not only do you lose the progress your character may have earned as in leveling up their firearms levels, any items your survivor was carrying are now on their corpse and if you want it back you have to backtrack back to the area to retrieve precious weapons, ammunition and medical kits. Players that strategize, that are aware of their surroundings, have an exit strategy if things go wrong and generally play safe will be rewarded, but even one simple mistake as not closing a door behind you can spell death for you quickly.
It’s from these consequences where the intensity of a survival horror game gets to really shine. As your character lasts longer, kills more zombies and begins to increase their loot, the bigger the risk becomes and the harsher the death of that character will be when all that is wiped away. The premise of your demise potentially lurking around every corner and in every shadow only intensifies this feeling of dread as your survivor risks everything at any given moment. It has been a long time since a video game has made me hesitate before attempting to reach the next area or even scour a few rooms for the hope of finding even a fistful of bullets. When you die in this game it is inevitably your own fault and you can only blame yourself for what happened. Learn from your mistakes and make sure you don’t repeat them with your next survivor or else be caught in a vicious cycle of failure.
There is however one sequence in the game that is questionable by design and I won’t spoil it here for you to discover on your own but I found myself somewhat annoyed and frustrated with. It is unlike any other segment of the game for very obvious reasons when you get there and unfortunately while the goal of this sequence is apparent, the way you have to execute it is a bit of trial and error and I lost a few survivors there. It wasn’t because I didn’t know what to do but because in this particular segment accuracy, precision and execution takes sudden precedence over everything else you learned in the game and it takes away from the overall experience of the game. Thankfully it is only once and it is short, but certainly the lowest point of the game for me.
For those of you wondering, every single zombie in this game has the abilityto kill you. Respect their lethality and deal with them accordingly. Even though it is fairly easy to dispatch a lone zombie using your trusted cricket bat, a single miss will wind up with you getting a chunk of your health taken away. Not only that, but you may be too busy to notice that another zombie snuck up behind you to join their undead companion to gnaw on your flesh and bones. The potential for even a one-hit instant death strike exists from the beginning of the game if the proper requirements are met and you will find yourself cursing that you didn’t play out the sequence differently. As you progress through the game you will find a number of different type of zombies that have their own abilities and powers that only add to the already immense pressure to survive.
The game takes place in the famous city of London and you will find your adventure taking you to various real life locations like the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and more. Although it is not apparent at first, the game world is very much designed like a 3D Metroid title. Certain areas can only be accessed when specific key cards or item upgrades are found and you will find yourself traversing through the different areas more than once, so players who familiarize themselves with the levels will be rewarded when you need to return later on in the game. Shortcuts exist in this game through the use of sewer tunnels found via manhole covers that you must remove to be allowed access so you won’t have to travel too far once you’ve explored an area.
Visually the game is somewhat of a mixed bag and though certain parts are definitely more impressive than others, sometimes there are painfully obvious flaws that stick out like a sore thumb. It’s understandable to a degree since it’s an original launch title for a new system and some forgiveness is necessary but thankfully the developers have used these flaws in ways to enhance the game. Poor textures aren’t worrying when you’re in darkened areas and the light offered from your flash light isn’t enough to be able to notice them. The levels are small by scope and design, you won’t find any expansive, open world enviornments but this allows for a more cramped, almost claustrophobic feeling since there’s no where to hide and only minimal places to run. The lighting in this game is particularly impressive however and before I adjusted the brightness on my HDTV I was actually having a hard time navigating through tunnels and unpowered rooms. This is a title to play at night with the lights turned off for sure.
Another area where Zombi U shines bright among the Wii U launch titles is the use of the Game Pad and all of the functionalities that it has to offer. During the majority of the game, it acts as both your map, radar and inventory. Since the game is simulated through a first person view, you don’t have a small mini-map in the corner of the screen and instead most of the Game Pad screen will display the map of the area you’re in, provided you scanned appropriate devices to get them. This feature alone would add to a slew of existing titles, as quick flicks with your fingertip will allow you to move the map on the Game Pad to plot out your route or try to discover alternate routes. In addition to this, early on in the game you get a radar for your Game Pad in which a pulse is sent out to detect motion from your survivor. Extremely handy to know where things are moving and their proximity to you and you will find yourself glancing down immediately when you hear the pinging that something has been found. Past that, the screen also serves as your inventory and item selection. You have a few slots for being able to quickly select different items instead of cycling through them via button presses and when you loot items from corpses or lockers you must drag and drop from that to your backpack. This is fairly intuitive and enhances the immersion that the game offers, but be warned that this does not stop the game play and you are at risk of being attacked while sorting through your inventory.
During the game you will find doors that are either locked or barred and to bypass this you will be prompted to perform certain actions on the Game Pad screen while your television will show your survivor from the third person, simulating a real life scenario of the zombie apocalypse where you are susceptible to attack at any given moment. Lastly, there are a few guns where your sniper scope zoom has you lifting the Game Pad to use the motion sensors as aiming and the screen will be used to show the zoomed area, much like something out of Konami’s Silent Scope series. At the very least the game is a wonderful display of the capabilities and potential experiences that can only be had through the Wii U Game Pad.
Some other small things like being able to read spray paint from other players in the community on walls that can either help or trick you or even messages from the developers themselves are a fun, neat little feature. It was certainly motivating to see people beating the game and getting high scores even in survival mode. There is also a multiplayer portion of the game. One player, using the Game Pad, is the sort of “zombie master” who can place and spawn types of zombies on the map while another player, using the Wii remote and the television screen, has a limited arsenal to defend themselves. It’s a strange take on a capture the flag game type that may be familiar to anyone who’s played a FPS and unfortunately I haven’t spent too much time here, but it is a welcome addition regardless.
All in all, Zombi U is an incredibly satisfying game for not only survival horror and roguelike fans but is perhaps the best demonstration of what the Game Pad is capable of for a mainstream, core game experience. It is certainly a unique and innovative game that despite some rough spots that can be chalked up to being a launch title is a game that you should play if you desire a challenge or immersion. It is truly a memorable title and one that deserves to have all of the ideas fleshed out and expanded upon in a sequel. Until then, Zombi U stands as one of the best survival horror video games ever released.
AYCG Score: 8.5 out of 10