Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Review: ZombiU


Platform: Wii U
Developer: Ubisoft Montepellier
Publisher: Ubisoft
Released: November 18, 2012

Dead Potential

I never thought much about ZombiU prior to the launch of the Wii U.  It just seemed like another generic Zombie "survival/horror" FPS except with fancy Wii U controls.  In fact, I hadn't even bothered to play the game until a month after launch.  At first I thought it was due to me being preoccupied with other Wii U games like New Super Mario Bros. U and Nintendo Land. Looking back now, what kept me hesitant was that I saw a lot of Red Steel, Ubisoft's launch title for the Wii, in the release of ZombiU.

When the Wii launched in 2006, Ubisoft's Red Steel released alongside it with a promise to display how motion controls could be properly used for the budding system. Instead we were shown a mediocre game that emphasized the problems that would overshadow the path of motion controls for the rest of the generation.  Now, with the newest generation beginning, I saw a repeat of Ubisoft's promise with the release of ZombiU, except this time I am surprised to say I am wrong . . . for the most part.

ZombiU does two things right; it showcases how the Wii U gamepad can be used in a creative and efficient manner, and how a survival/horror is meant to played.  When Nintendo first showcased the gamepad, an entire world of possibilities opened up about how it could be used to enhance the gaming experience. This idea ran wild in fans' minds up until the first batch of titles released and it became instantly obvious that developers had no intention of expanding creativity in the industry with the gamepad; rather they opted instead to use the controller as handheld map an options scroller.

Then comes ZombiU; Ubisoft's vow to Nintendo that they can show the consumers how the gamepad can be used properly with ingenuity.  ZombiU succeeds in giving the player a multitude of ways to use the gamepad in order to survive the hoards of zombies waiting around every corner.  If the player wants to check the inventory to equip a weapon or item, the player must turn their focus away from the action on the big screen and onto the gamepad leaving the survivor vulnerable to a zombie attack.  If a player finds a locked door, the player must perform certain actions on the gamepad that, once again, deter the player's view away from the screen. The use of the gamepad emphasizes patience, strategy, and discretion instead of a guns-blazing, leave-no-prisons mindset that so many modern "survival/horror" games rely upon for some reason.

With how well Ubisoft implented the gamepad controls and created a survival/horror game worthy of the genre's name, it's a shame that the overall game is quite mediocre.  Underneath all these creative mechanics, a very plain and run-of-the-mill zombie game lies.  The story is predictable and almost transparent, while the missions follow the same formula of "get from point A to point B and back to point A" throughout the entire game.  If it wasn't for the constant fear of death lingering around every corner and the necessity of using strategic gameplay, ZombiU would have absolutely nothing else going for it.

ZombiU only works because it is a Wii U game but unfortunately the mechanics can only take the game so far.  The core of the game feels so bland and rushed to the point where it becomes a glaring flaw in an otherwise potential and smart title.  If you have a Wii U this is a definite must-have title in the midst of a drought of content especially for someone craving a challenge. If you are wondering whether or not to buy a Wii U to play ZombiU; ZombiU is not a game that can carry the console until the next batch of titles hits the console.  So basically, ZombiU is a must buy merely on the fact that the Wii U has very few first party titles that use the gamepad to a certain extent and when more promising looking titles hit the market ZombiU will be set aside and forgotten.


The clever use of the Wii U gamepad offers the player strategy, depth and immersion lost in many modern survival/horror games.  With this said, the fact that underneath the mechanics lies a soulless zombie cash-in cannot be ignored.

Switching weapons with the touch of a finger feels smooth while controlling the survivors is as responsive as any other FPS on the market.

There are a ton of clever uses of the camera; using the gyroscope and the screen to look for hidden objects, its position on the survivor character while you search through your backpack to give you a view of any creeping zombies coming to ambush you.

The Wii U gamepad mechanics are what give the player the motivation to continue with the game.  The elements of difficulty and survival add to the appeal but the variety of game-breaking bugs and unnecessary loading doors drop the fun factor sharply.  In my playthrough I ran into about five glitches that made me reload a save file and, on one occasion, even create a new save file altogether.

Lasting Appeal:
The game is short and after that there isn't much to do afterwards except try your hand at Survival Mode which has the player go through the game with one survivor and if that survivor dies, the player must restart the game from the beginning.

This is not a pretty game.  With abysmally bland textures and mediocre character models, this game negates Nintendo's initial claim that the Wii U is graphically more powerful than current-gen systems with visuals that seem to come straight out of 2007.

It's a breath of fresh air to see a game dedicate itself to being a true survivor/horror game.  During your missions, you'll find that ammo is scarce, your health runs out fast, and you will find yourself trapped at any moment.  On death, the new survivor must go out and kill the previous survivor's zombie self and retrieve all of their precious weapons and recovery items. Be aware if you die without retrieving these items, they will be lost forever.  ZombiU urges the player to consider their options and plan ahead and even goes as far as to suggest retreating as an appropriate option if the going gets tough.

The piano based score is forgettable as is the voice acting.  It's the little sound effects such as footsteps, a gun blast, rain drops, and zombie moans that take the player for a ride.

While a neat concept, dying and having to start back at the hideout as a new character halts the flow of the game as you backtrack all the way back to where you last died, retrieve your items and finally continue on with the mission.  Sometimes dying during a mission will end it, leaving the next survivor character to reap the rewards and continue on.


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