Game Review: ZombiU
I remember when Nintendo presented ZombiU at E3 last year. I remember watching the conference, seeing the footage and thinking “that is going to be one hell of a zombie game.” Everything about it looked right: the atmosphere, the tension, knowing that no matter what you do a zombie can come out of nowhere and ruin your day. I was digging the gameplay mechanics they were highlighting for the Wii U’s new controller and thought it was really cool how they were incorporating it with the game.
So when the game came out, I couldn’t help but read the reviews. Normally I stay away from reviews of a game I plan on reviewing myself, but I was a little excited to see what people thought of it. To my surprise everyone tore the game apart. With each review I read I thought to myself that these guys are just being jerk about it, nitpicking about every little thing wrong with the game just because it was a Wii U launch title. Surely it couldn’t be that bad. So I played it, and played it, and played it some more and you know what…they were right.
Now as someone who plays games and reviews I’ve become accustomed to playing bad games. It is part of the job and quite frankly it would be boring if all I ever played were games that were good. I have played some bad games in my day, but holy crap is this just terrible. To say it’s terrible is actually being generous. There are other words I would like to use to describe how bad this game is, but there are children present. Point: this game is bad, bad, BAD!
I won’t go too much into the story because this isn’t your traditional campaign, but here are the basics. You are a survivor of the zombie apocalypse in London and someone saves your life by leading you to a safe house and from there you are sent to various places in London to secure locations and make life a little easier for yourself. Along the way you’ll learn more about what happened before the game starts. That’s about it in a nutshell. Most of the story consists of finding articles and journal entries strewn around London. You interact with very few characters, the main one being a voice over you radio telling you where you need to go and what to do as well as giving you some advice every now and then. But frankly the reason there isn’t much to the story is because of one simple gameplay mechanic: permanent death.
This could have been a very interesting and cool concept had there not been a few flaws in its execution. When you die the survivor you were playing as is turned into a zombie and you wake up in the safe house as another survivor. Want all those supplies you worked so hard to find? Then you have to trek back to where you died, kill the survivor you played as and collect the supplies. Better make sure you don’t die on your way there though otherwise you can just wave goodbye to those hard earned supplies. It doesn’t help that enemies respawn in areas if you die so good luck getting through those difficult areas with minimal supplies. The only aspect of this that works is that the game’s map shows you the location of where your former survivor is. It was a great idea considering the genre, but the execution fell short and what could have been a fun gameplay mechanic was instead a frustrating experience.
Combat in the game is, for lack of a better word, crappy. You start off with nothing but a cricket bat, which is just fine, except for the fact that it takes about 3-5 good whacks to the head to kill most basic zombies. Your guns don’t fare much better even with head shots it will still take 2 shots until you upgrade them. It’s almost as if the folks at Ubisoft have never seen a zombie movie or played a zombie game where rule #1 is a blow/bullet to the head kills a zombie. To make it more irritating is the fact that you have to hold down a shoulder button in order to ready your weapon. In this day in age of first person games having to ready your weapon is just silly. It would have been one thing to aim down the sights of your gun for accuracy, but the fact that something is right in front of me and I still have to ready my gun or blunt object for that matter before using it is really dumb. And forget there being an element of stealth either, because as soon as you get within range of a zombie it will turn right around and come at you as will any other zombie that may be nearby. There are items that can help you distract zombies for a while, but they don’t work as well as you’d hope so you still need to haul ass and get to the next area. Oh and I should point out that if a zombie should grab, it’s game over. There’s no fighting it off you whatsoever, which makes no sense because that just implies that the character you’re playing is too weak to fight off a zombie, but not too weak to bash in their head five or six times. And considering other horror games allow you to struggle out of a zombies grasp, this is just a poor design choice.
I will say this though; they made the zombies very persistent which does a lot to add to the tension. Going into another room and closing the door won’t cut it; you need to barricade it with boards you find along the way. This is where some strategy comes in because you should carefully choose which doors to block off and which ones to leave alone as you only have so many supplies. This leads me to my next point: gathering supplies. Now in any survival horror game it’s a given you’re going to have to scavenge for supplies which means picking up any and all items you find that would be useful. It’s the first thing we as gamers learn to do in these games and it keeps you alive when playing. There’s no getting around it. Here, finding supplies is life and death, literally. Whenever you loot for supplies the game doesn’t pause, forcing you to look at the Wii U pad to choose the items you want while also checking the TV to see if any zombies are coming your way. This is one of the few good aspects of the game as it forces you to be extra cautious as well as adding to the tension. Of course you are limited to what you can carry so you’ll find yourself having to either make a trip back to your safe house to store items or choosing what to leave and what to keep while you’re out in the world. And if you’re having trouble looking for items you can use the Wii U pad to look around the room and scan for items that may be around. This function works very well as it not only finds all the items in a room, but it also marks them on your map. If you scan a body it will even tell you if there is any loot or not so you won’t have to waste your time checking every single body you come across. This doesn’t mean you have to do this in every room you walk into and I never felt I had to so the pacing was never thrown off.
Your map can either help you or hurt you. The map is always displayed on you Wii U gamepad so you’ll never have to stop the game to see where you’re going. However when entering a new area you won’t have much in the way of a map until you scan security terminals which allow you to map out the area. This aspect is highly frustrating, because to you can go through a very large amount of space before finding one of these terminals, which means you’re going through most places blind for quite a while. It helps that you have radar that you can ping in order to see if there are any enemies nearby which appear briefly on your map as red blips, however it only tracks moving targets and that includes rats scurrying about so you’ll never be able to tell what’s what until you get close enough. And since most zombies you encounter don’t move often this function becomes fairly useless.
If thought the single player was a blast then get a load of the multiplayer. The multiplayer is essentially capture the flag, but with zombies. One player uses the Wii remote and nunchuck to controller the survivor while the other play, as the Zombie King, uses the Wii U gamepad to place zombies in the map and attack the survivor. This would be an extremely fun concept expect for a few hiccups. For one you still have to deal with the clunky controls and the fact that sometimes head shots don’t equal instant kill. Another is that the match can be very one sided at times. The player that is the Zombie King levels up each time they kill the survivor and each time they level up that gain new types of zombies to be used in the game to they are limited by how many they can use as each zombie has a cost to them. There are ammo crates and bonuses for the survivor to use, but it still becomes one sided since the player using the Wii U gamepad can just have hordes attack the player. The player can capture the flag if zombie are still within the area. And the last problem with the multiplayer…it’s only local. So while you and a few buddies can have fun playing the game at your house, if you can’t find someone to play along when you want you can’t hope online and play. This could have been such a fun aspect of the game, but the developers didn’t push it far enough.
Another online option is you can leave notes for other player throughout the world similar to Demon’s Souls and sometimes find the zombies of other players who have died, but this happens very rarely. Overall while the game highlight all the technical aspects of what the Wii U is capable with using the Wii U gamepad, that’s pretty much the only good thing about ZombiU. That game had a lot of promise and I went into it really wanting to love this game and prove everyone else wrong. But there were so many poor design choices and instead of the game being difficult and fun it ended up being frustrating and difficult. There are many other survivor horror games out there infinitely better than this one to play or just wait for Dead Space 3 to release in a few weeks.