After finishing ZombiU I can honestly say I’m a keen masterbatter. And while I should be embarrassed for batting over a dead zombie as his friend stumbles towards me in horror, I’m not. In fact I loved every second of it. If you want to have any chance of surviving through this game you’re going to have to get pretty darn good at smacking zombies heads off with a cricket bat. For many this will seem a bad design choice considering so many games before it offer so many ways to decapitate the undead. But for others, for old school fans of the genre, this will be absolute bliss.
Put simply if you’re not a fan of survival horror you’re not going to enjoy ZombiU. So many elements of the game which seem like a backwards step for other genres are where it truly flourishes and give it an incredible sense of atmosphere. Regular use of the cricket bat is an intentional design to force the player face to face with the undead in virtually every encounter. The player still has access to a variety of other weapons but the scarcity of its ammo means you’ll be preserving them for only the most necessary of moments. And then there’s the games one life mechanic. Once you die in the game that’s it for your survivor. You wake up in the skin of another while also losing everything you had in your backpack. Return to your place of death and you can recover that lost inventory by defeating your former undead self. You can even run into zombified versions of your friends if you’re online, whack them to their death and you’ll net everything contained in their pack.
What these mechanics achieve is an unrelenting sense of tension. I became my survivor, I was there for every smack on the head, for every small cache of bullets found and every step through a supermarket on the search for dead bodies that could potentially spring to life at any moment.
What really makes these individual elements pop is the Wii U gamepad. It adds an extra degree of tangibility to each environment and another way to interact with the action on screen. You can use the pads gyroscope to snipe in on zombies heads, tap the radar button to pinpoint enemy locations, navigate a batman style item finder to mark places of interest and quickly access your map or inventory to switch out your weapons. More than just a showcase for the Wii U’s unique features, it ramps up the onscreen tension.
While ZombieU is all about this tension and atmosphere there is a fairly straightforward story to follow. On your journey you’ll traverse suburban homes, Buckingham Palace, an army outpost and many more as you struggle for survival. Newspaper clippings, letters from the Queen and diary entries from a scientist reveal the cause of the outbreak and how it’s spread through the city of London. Yes it’s an incredibly overused story line but the game is really about survival and just getting out alive. One of the neatest features for this is a system that tracks your progress through the campaign and awards you points showcased to the world on a wall in the game. Die and your points are reset. Never has there been a more compelling reason to finish a game without a single death.
Unfortunately there’s also many compelling reasons not to finish the game. The most noticeable of these is the less than stellar graphics resulting in its ugly appearance. In-game textures look cloudy and object edges are jagged. The title actually looks better on the gamepad because of its higher screen resolution relative to its size. It all adds up to a visual experience that even early PS3 / Xbox 360 titles could easily topple. Despite this loading times can take quite a hit and this is not just starting up the game. Often you’ll be forced to wait 20 seconds for a door to open whilst the environment is generated. And for many who’ve been treated to the variety offered by more recent entries in the genre, most notably Dead Space and the later Resident Evil games, its mechanics will appear old and outdated.
But that’s where ZombiU really shines. It takes the core concept of survival horror, strips it back to its humble early beginnings while adding truly innovative twists of its own and then delivers an experience charged with heart pounding tension and overflowng atmosphere. It’s part Amnesia, part Dark Souls and part early Resident Evil. If you’re pissed off at the direction popular games in this genre have taken, you owe it to yourself, and survival horrors future, to purchase ZombiU.
- Reviewed On
- Wii U