ZombiU is Resident Evil mixed with Dark Souls… for better or worse
- Wii U
ZombiU is going to be a polarizing game. It feels like the original Resident Evil played in the first person, mixed with a good amount of Dark Souls. When you die, and you will die often, it will be crushing. Each “life” in the game is a person, so when they die the next survivor has to find their zombified corpse, kill it, and loot the bag for the items you’ve collected. You will be put in situations where survival is nearly impossible, but those situations are often of your own doing.
Every time I died I asked myself questions. Why did you think you could take on three zombies in an enclosed space? Why didn’t you make sure you had the exits memorized before you began combat? Did you make sure you had area denial weapons and distractions in your holsters at all times? You don’t need to barrel right back into the mission after death, you can spend time in the other environments picking up extra weapons, items, and supplies. The slower you take you the game, and the more you think about every move, the higher your chances of success.
You’ll still die, of course, but you’ll learn more between those deaths.
ZombiU puts you under the care of a disembodied voice who can watch your actions and give you some guidance. This man brings survivors back to his safe house in order to give them missions, instructions, and goals. He’ll help you out of tight spots and feed you information. It’s disturbing to think how many people he sends to their death only to shrug and start over with the next.
The GamePad is more or less an item in the game’s world, which is a neat trick. It shows you your current map, allows you to adjust your inventory, and there is even a motion tracker you can hit that shows movement in your area. Talented players will learn to hit the motion tracker button with their thumb while playing and listening for the telltale sound of movement without even looking down. It’s very reminiscent of the motion tracker from Aliens: are those red, moving objections on the controller’s screen rats, pigeons, or zombies? The only thing you’ll know for sure is to be careful in areas where there is movement.
You can scan the environment by looking down at the GamePad and examining puzzles and clues, but keep in mind zombies are able to sneak up behind you. You’ll also need to look at the GamePad while looting things like briefcases and corpses.You’re putting yourself at risk every time you’re not looking at the screen, but you also need to be constantly searching for upgrades, ammunition, and information. You’ll never feel safe.
There are different types of weapons to find and use, and as you kill zombies you’ll gain levels in each one. Kill four zombies with the handgun, and you’ll become more proficient in its use. If you die, you lose those levels. The longer you stay alive, the more your death will hurt.
You learn the name and profession of each character and that’s it. There is also a scoring mechanism that tells you how well you performed in each life, and that information is shared online so you can brag or be embarrassed by your friends. There is a mechanism that allows the game to populate your world with the zombified versions of your dead friends so you can loot them after taking them down, and you’ll be able to leave helpful or misleading messages for others in the game as well, but I haven’t been able to try the social features.
Wait, how do I know this?
The idea that each “life” is actually another survivor lured back into that safe room and sent out on missions is great, but the game stumbles in its execution. How does the next survivor know what they’re supposed to be doing? Why do characters act like they’ve met me before? It would only take a few lines of dialog to explain what’s going on to the next person, but the game assumes you have all that information already. It’s almost like they’re talking to you, the player, and the not the character. In the game’s world you’re the only thing that’s truly persistent, and that’s an odd feeling.
The game’s graphics aren’t as sharp or detailed as late-era 360 or PS3 games, but the clever uses of lighting, filters, and darkness make up for it. This is a dark, atmospheric game that takes place in a London that always hostile to the survivors, and the game is effective at keeping you unsettled and fearful. While the “scientific” zombie, complete with a viral genesis and carefully constructed rules, may be popular in modern pop culture, the world of ZombiU seems to be filled with black magic and religious fear.
I’m not anywhere near the end of the game, at least I don’t think so, but I’ve spent more hours than I’m comfortable disclosing simply walking around and trying to get the best mixture of supplies before moving forward. Don’t think of this as an authoritative review as much as a hearty endorsement of the experience I’ve had so far: I wanted to wait and play it with all the fun online features.
This is what I’ve learned: You need to be sure to set aside a good chunk of time for each session, since it can be tricky to find your way back to a safe house when you’d like to log off. You’ll need to make sure you understand how to safely kill zombies with your stock weapons, as advanced or upgraded weapons will sometimes be unavailable. Your hand gun and cricket bat will see an extensive amount of use, but even a large number of zombies can be controlled if you understand how they move, where they stumble, and when to turn and run.
ZombiU succeeds in pulling off the neat trick of making you feel more vulnerable as you become more powerful. Once you start gaining weapons proficiencies, get a collection of items, and really make a dent into your current mission you’ll begin to realize that you have something to lose. The more you have in your pack, the more tense combat becomes. There is no way to save and reload your game to avoid a death: you can save your game by sleeping at safe houses, but the game also autosaves after you die. There is no way to go back and “do it better.” When you die, you are dead. The next character now has to find your bag and learn from your mistakes.
This isn’t for everyone, and I can see why people may be turned off by the unforgiving nature of the game. You need to plan your moves, act slowly and methodically, and in some cases scavenge weapons and supplies before going after the bag on your last character. If you try to rush your progress you will die. If you try to finish an objective without supplies you will often die. If you do everything right and make a single bad move you may still die. The rush comes in keeping a character alive for hours, and then realizing how much you have to lose by their death.
There is a multiplayer game where one player watches the screen in first-person view while the other places zombies to attack them with the GamePad, and there is also a fun toy that maps zombie makeup on your face using the GamePad’s front-facing camera. These are fun distractions, but they’re just icing on the campaign’s bloody, frustratingly wicked campaign.