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Review: ZombiU (Nintendo Wii U)

ZombiU: Member Review

Nintendo Wii U 1 like 4 comments
Reviewed by TheMrIron2, posted May 23, 2019, last updated May 23, 2019
I found the game for cheap in a local game store (€4). I had heard it was one of the better third-party games from launch, so I decided it was worth a try.
May 23, 2019
  • Release Date (NA): November 18, 2012
  • Release Date (EU): November 30, 2012
  • Publisher: Ubisoft
  • Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
  • Genres: Action, Adventure, Survival, Horror
  • ESRB Rating: Mature
  • PEGI Rating: Eighteen years and older
  • Also For: Xbox One
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
Is Ubisoft's unique survival horror title infectious or incompetent?
TheMrIron2
ZombiU was one of the Wii U's launch titles - an exclusive, mature survival-horror game by Ubisoft. It was bold, but Ubisoft had faith in the system (that was, in hindsight, misplaced) based on the strong sales of the Wii, and decided to make ZombiU along with Rayman Legends - which was later turned into a multi-platform release after ZombiU's commercial performance. ZombiU is centred around no strict protagonist - the player's character is randomly generated with a random appearance, name and pre-apocalyptic line of work. This was done because the game relies on a "perma-death" system; when your character dies, he/she is dead and you cannot play as them again.
When you die in ZombiU, your newly generated character must hunt down your now-zombified dead character, kill it and retrieve their backpack. If the player fails to do so, the contents of the backpack are gone forever. The weapons are scattered around the map at random again, but any items will disappear, forcing you to find everything again. So how well does ZombiU play, with a bold perma-death mechanic, unforgiving difficulty and heavy use of the gamepad?

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GAMEPLAY

ZombiU is a survival horror title, the likes of which haven't been made in years, and it feels like a natural evolution of classic horror games. The game has a shamelessly stupid narrative - John Dee's 16th-century prophecy about a zombie apocalypse comes to life, with divided opinions on whether a cure is possible, and you play one of the few remaining survivors, getting entangled in different quests along the way. The game controls a bit sluggishly, but this was perhaps the intention - you are not a military expert, you are an ordinary survivor, relying on your wits to survive in the apocalypse. There is none of the clinical precision or fluidity of Call of Duty with firing your weapon - the kickback from your weapons feels hard, real and weighty. Ammo is also sparse, along with supplies, so you are forced to be efficient with what you have.

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The game overflows with tension because the game never stops; when using your inventory, the focus is on the gamepad screen, but the game is still on the TV and you are still vulnerable to an attack. The game also has a radar system, with your "Prepper pad" (gamepad) being able to scan the area for zombies. If a zombie is nearby, they show up in the form of a blip on the radar with an accompanying sound effect. This is done manually at first, but later in the game, the process of scanning is automatic - meaning every few seconds, you are reminded of a nearby blip. But the radar doesn't differentiate between zombies or any other life form - what could be a zombie could also be a rodent or a bird. Additionally, some zombies that are lying perfectly still are not picked up on the radar - so a floor full of zombies isn't safe. This amplifies the anxiety of hearing a blip closing in on you. And on top of all of these anxiety-inducing mechanics, once you die, you have only one shot to retrieve your backpack or your belongings are scattered - and you never play as the same character again.

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Interestingly, you don't just run into zombie versions of yourself - other players and their insentient ex-characters also appear, forcing you to face off against zombies who were once players just like you. By January 2013, just two months after launch, over 300,000 zombified players existed on the ZombiU servers - and that number has certainly grown since, especially with the release of the PS4, Xbox One and PC ports of ZombiU. You can also share messages with other players by using graffiti on the walls - unfortunately, only pre-drawn symbols can be used, so no, you can't draw genitalia at every corner in London. A missed opportunity.

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If you play ZombiU like Call of Duty, you'll find yourself not doing very well. Zombies are attracted by weapon muzzle flashes and gunshot sounds (though these can be negated with the use of a silencer later) and ammo can be hard to come by; for this reason, your best friends are melee and diversion. If you don't want to confront a flock of zombies, you can pick them off with a grenade or Molotov or, alternatively, use a flare to draw their attention while you sneak past. The game's stealth mechanics are decent, even if they are no industry benchmark, and make you think about every area you go through for a different approach.
Overall, the gameplay is quite solid with a variety of interesting mechanics and features and the emphasis on anxiety and tension is well produced.

PRESENTATION
The game takes place all over London - from simple Brick Lane Flats to Buckingham Palace to the Tower of London - and the game's environments are unique. The medieval roots of London really shine in the gritty world of the living dead.
Visually, the game's graphics are quite good for a 2012 Wii U launch title: environments are well designed, weapons look good and the zombies don't look too bad, even during close-up sequences. The game employs chromatic aberration to give edges a slight

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The environments are always varied in ZombiU. While Brick Lane Market, Flats and the nearby Shoreditch are mundane, zombie-filled suburban areas, the game takes on a different tone as you travel to a chilling old nursery, the Tower of London, the Queen's underground bunkers and Buckingham Palace, all of which are padded with zombies and one NPC in an area, if you're lucky. Even one area can have multiple different sub-zones, such as the flooded underground of the Tower of London that hasn't been opened in centuries or the lab in the Queen's bunkers. ZombiU does a good job of never feeling environmentally stale, and the game encourages you to explore these environments. If you want a map of the surrounding area, you'll need to find a CCTV Junction Box. From there, you can hack it and use it as a map on your gamepad - or, at the safe house, you can view the cameras and find out what supplies are in the area.

[​IMG]

SOUND

As a bit of a musician (note: a bit), I like to pay more meticulous attention to the sounds and music in a game. ZombiU, fortunately, does not let down on this front. While some of the bat-beating sounds the player makes become a bit tiresome to listen to, the rest of the sound design is strong - blips emitted from the radar heighten your senses immediately and zombie groans are an important audio cue to get a sense for your surroundings, though the radar already does this to some extent (albeit not distinguishing between zombies and other animals). The music ranges from unnerving in the safe house to aggressive and fast during combat. This is an aspect of the game that is often overlooked, but the best players recommend you not to turn off the music; it provides cues and kicks your senses up a gear.

A side note, before I get into the final scores: Zombi on other platforms is not quite the same game. The multiplayer mode was omitted from other versions of the game, and the lack of gamepad functionality detracts from the experience somewhat. This does not mean Zombi is a bad game - in fact, Zombi adds more melee weapon options and improves the criticised loading times, which weren't really that bad most of the time. Overall, though, if given the choice the Wii U is the more feature-complete package and the definitive way to enjoy the game.

Additionally, the game features numerous game-breaking glitches, so be warned. In fact, I was unable to see the final sequence of the game: I died while I was in the process of getting the doctor's eye in Buckingham Palace late in the game, and when I returned to the area, the body was gone - and the game didn't mark the objective as completed. I still proceeded to play as far as I could, but it prevented me from viewing the end credits and the final Tower of London scene. Indeed, other users have reported game-breaking bugs where objectives are incorrectly not marked as completed and are not completable: a common one is in the Nursery, where if you die before getting out after the boss battle the door out will not open. These bugs are not uncommon and I advise you to be particularly cautious during objective-sensitive scenes. I won't dock marks from the game for these bugs, however, as while they're prevalent enough to be of concern most players won't encounter them.
Verdict
Pros
+ Good visuals and art direction
+ Lively soundtrack
+ Unique and bold mechanics
Cons
- Glitches (some game-breaking) that were never fixed
- Lack of replay value
- Weak ending
8 Presentation
While nothing special, the graphics in ZombiU are gritty and effectively convey a very bleak, oppressive atmosphere.
8 Gameplay
Weapons are realistic and somewhat unwieldy, there are decent stealth mechanics and the emphasis on exploration is welcome. ZombiU ticks all the boxes for gameplay while feeling fresh and different.
6 Lasting Appeal
ZombiU sports three local multiplayer modes which revolve around the gamepad player controlling zombies and a player with a Wii U Pro Controller playing on the TV - and while these modes are nice, the game has little else to satisfy a second round, especially as all the scares are expected in a second playthrough.
8
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
ZombiU is an exciting, tense and refreshing experience that embraces the survival-horror genre for what it is. When it plays to its strengths, it is a brilliant experience - a strong representative of the genre as a whole, and one of the most riveting M-rated experiences on the Wii U. It has its share of problems, such as the bugs, but by and large, ZombiU is an experience worthy of any half-interested player's time.


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