For the second system in a row, Nintendo’s biggest third-party launch title is an exclusive from Ubisoft, an original IP with a lot of promise and a lot more hype. Unfortunately, the Wii’s Red Steel failed to deliver on either, and so it would be understandable for Nintendo fans to be a bit skeptical about this one. You know. Once bitten, twice, you’re a zombie. The game takes place in London. Or at least, what remains of London. All we know is there’s been a terrible disaster, and the only signs of life in this burning landscape are from things that are dead, the walking corpses of thousands of victims. I guess they’re called “zombies.” I don’t know, never heard of them.
Fortunately, you seem to have survived. And that’s what ZombiU is about survival in the most basic form. This is not some action-packed shooter. You don’t battle massive waves of enemies. At least, it is not if you’re quiet. Instead, you’re sneaking around like a rat, scavenging in the shadows and trying desperately to stay out of sight. Of course, it helps that you have someone on your side. A strange voice communicates with you and guides you through London mostly through an elaborate series of tunnels that run beneath the city. And all these passageways lead back to a safe house, where you can get some sleep and store supplies for whatever comes next. And who ever comes next. See, that’s the cool thing about ZombiU. You play the game knowing full well you’re probably going to die. This is not a game for heroes or happy endings.
Sooner or later, here or there, you’re not going to make it. When you do die, you start back at the safe house with a new survivor. So hopefully, you stored some supplies. Otherwise, you’re going to have to find your former self. And hope he doesn’t find you first. The inevitability of death drives the entire design of ZombiU. Leader boards display the longest survival times like graffiti on the walls of London, a bleak reminder that even the best players in the world eventually died. I’ve never played a game so fitting of the term survival horror. Food is scarce and bullets are noisy. And noise is a real problem. Just as emphasized as the concept of survival, however, is the GamePad?
The entire game is built around it, and it shines brightest during all the scavenging. See, you have to search all the dumpsters and all the…corpses yourself. You see the contents on the GamePad, and you have to manually drag items into your backpack. But meanwhile, the TV shows the scene around you…where a zombie could appear any second. That makes scavenging really tense, and that’s awesome. So where does ZombiU falter? Well, that’s where it does remind you of Red Steel. It’s mostly technical things and stiff controls, but there’s also a feeling that it should’ve been better.
ZombiU needed a lot more polish, and frankly, its lack of online multiplayer seems like a massive missed opportunity. Speaking of missed opportunities, there are certainly times when this game calls to mind the failings of Red Steel. But here’s the difference the failings aren’t nearly as severe this time, and this one does more than enough to make up for them. With a suffocating atmosphere and a myriad of problems ZombiU is far from perfect. But it is very, legitimately different.