Now don’t freak out when I say this but Zombies are a tad played out. I know, I know, I hate to be the one to break the bad news but someone had to do it. Because of this, it was a tad surprising that one of Nintendo’s headlining launch titles for the Wii U was a game based solely around a zombie outbreak. With the rather dull premise established, it becomes apparent that for ZombiU to be a solid title, the gamepad controls have to mesh perfectly with the gameplay. Do they do that? Yes. Does ZombiU suffer from some standard launch title woes? Most definitely.
The biggest question most have coming into any Wii U title is what exactly does the gamepad screen do? In ZombiU it very prominently features the current map (which you discover more of by hacking into cameras) and certain items you have hot keyed onto your touchscreen. You can also swipe down on the top of the screen to access your backpack. One of the best things about ZombiU, apart from the unrivaled atmosphere it sets up, is the way the gamepad controls only build upon what’s happening on screen, making things more and more intense but also more interactive.
Something else the gamepad does is allow you to scan the environment by holding L and controlling where your scanner is looking by either moving the pad or using your standard analog sticks. With scanning, you can identify all items around you, which is critical in dark enclosed areas as you have to know where a zombie is because if you don’t, he’ll be gnawing at your neck in a heartbeat. The unrivaled atmosphere that I mentioned is mostly due to the excellent design behind the gamepad controls. Ubisoft somehow made an annoying inventory management idea into a game changing feature.
Also adding to that atmosphere are some unsettling sound design cues and fantastic HD visuals. Sure, it’s nothing you couldn’t see on an Xbox 360 but that doesn’t diminish the impressive detail Ubisoft has put into the environments found within ZombiU. The art on all the enemies, though not varied, is brutally detailed down to every drop of blood on their faces. That also rings true in talking about the level design, it’s beautiful, but I’ve found more than a few repeated rooms that connect certain areas to other parts of the map. Even with those smaller issues, ZombiU still managed to establish a rich and horrifying world that you legitimately feel like a piece of.
The actual combat within ZombiU is an interesting thing to experience. A lot of the time it’s a tedious combat sequence involving you clubbing a zombie over the head with the same cricket bat around six times before he goes down. But in bigger situations, your plans have to become more elaborate and that is when things get exciting. Like other zombie related games, you have flares which will attract zombies to wherever you throw it. When you combine that with a mine, frag, or Molotov, things can get really explosive (boom) quickly.
Maybe it’s due to the played out fashion of zombies, maybe it’s because they didn’t have enough time, but the story in ZombiU is never really a thing you should pay attention to. Sure, it appears every once in a while but it only exists to open up some newer sections of the world. That being said, one very unique thing Ubisoft did with the story is never establishing a main character. This means that your current character you’re playing with is mostly irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. In all honesty, he/she will probably be dead within an hour. Then once he/she does die, you’ll wake back up in the starting zone as a whole new person. You then have to perform a corpse run and kill your zombie self to pick up all your items you worked so hard to find. Keeping items is critical as certain items only appear once throughout the game so if you lose them, they’re gone forever.
Similar to other launch titles, ZombiU features more than a few bugs that could have been worked out with more development time. Myself, I’ve ran into only three but the three I’ve hit have been pretty major. First off, it’s not so much a bug as it is poor design, but I died multiple times due to the fact that the game doesn’t load the whole map once your character enters the environment. I would occasionally attempt to sprint away from a pack of zombies and once I would be in a tight corner, I’d attempt to open a door to get away before they kill me. I was then greeted with a “loading” prompt at the bottom right of my screen that remained there for around 30 seconds before the door finally opened. I then perished and yelled a curse word at my TV.
Secondly, I’m not sure if this is a Wii U or ZombiU bug but I had one loading screen fully lock up on me. This isn’t a drastic issue as it happens to most games at some point but the kicker was that I couldn’t turn the Wii U off with the buttons on the front of the console. I could turn the gamepad’s screen off but after pressing the power button on the Wii U multiple times (and holding it down for 30+ seconds), it became apparent I had no other choice but to unplug the console from the back. Of course, I then lost around an hour of gameplay and full backpack of supplies as I was in the middle of a corpse run when it locked up.
Finally, and probably the worst one, I had the game’s single player completely stop progressing multiple times due to random bugs. The first time it was early on in the game where a mission marker never appeared for the next mission. With no marker I had no idea where to go and the mission objective never updated. The only way to fix the issue was by deleting my save and starting a whole new game. Thankfully, that was just at the beginning of the game. But the next progress killer came at literally the very end of the game. To finish one of my missions I had to blow a hole in the wall using C4 that I acquired an hour earlier and had used multiple times. But in ZombiU’s eyes, I never acquired that C4 and couldn’t blow up the wall. Also, the C4 isn’t an item I can run out of, which also means it’s an item that appears once in the game and never again. So there was literally no possible way to advance in the game, simply because it wouldn’t recognize that I had C4.
Despite its mostly unique game design in the single player, multiplayer may be the most interesting part of ZombiU. The idea is to put the gamepad holder in the position of “Zombie King,” where you can spawn different classes of zombies on a map to simultaneously mess with the humans but also capture flags to ultimately win the game. The humans are occupied by other players who are either using the Wii Remote and Nunchuck or the nice little Pro Controller. The humans obviously attempt to capture the flags as well but also must contend with the hordes of zombies that the Zombie King is throwing at them. The most disappointing aspect is the fact that this mode is local multiplayer only, which neuters the experience in the grand scheme of things. Ultimately, the multiplayer still provides a ton of new, interesting fun.
ZombiU has its fair share of issues, that isn’t debatable. But something else that isn’t debatable is the tension and legit horror that the game manages to bring forth due to great sound design and almost flawless integration of the gamepad. ZombiU covers the full range of emotions from pure horror all the way to heartbreaking disappointment due to some truly unfortunate bugs. It’s a fine launch title but I can’t stop to think about how much better it would have been with a few more months of development time under its belt.
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