Electronic Theatre In-depth Review: ZombiU

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Rating: 5.0/5 (5 votes cast)

Of all the titles included in the Wii U launch line-up it’s undoubtedly been left to Ubisoft’s ZombiU to present the mature gamer option. While there’s nothing to say adult gamers can’t enjoy the likes of New Super Mario Bros. U and Nintendo Land – and Electronic Theatre positively encourages you do so – the only other adult-themed videogames are already available on other formats. And so, ZombiU has to not only prove that there’s content for mature gamers but also that the core audience has reason to invest in the system. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a brand new third-party intellectual property (IP) at launch.

In its capacity of being a third-party launch title delivering thrills through a first-person perspective, ZombiU often recalls SEGA’s ill-fated Condemned. However, while that title attempted to make use of new hardware without really knowing what it was truly capable of, ZombiU is arriving on Wii U with an established goal already set for it. What’s more, it’s inviting innovation in entirely new areas, leaving physics puzzles, internet connectivity and visual fidelity for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and instead opting to make use of the Wii U’s GamePad. A wise decision for sure, as this is where ZombiU sets the pace for other Wii U titles to follow.

Set in modern day London, ZombiU strikes a familiarity with the British audience in the same way one would assume Grand Theft Auto does with Americans or Sleeping Dogs did with those who reside in Hong Kong. That is, a sense of knowing of the culture and environment despite the world being an entirely fictional representation of real-world locations. And ZombiU is all the better for it, as while London is a wonderful city to visit, brimming with British ancestry and varied world cultures, it wouldn’t necessarily make the most interesting playground for a zombie apocalypse. Ubisoft has clearly been aware of this throughout the development of ZombiU, bringing that attraction to the videogame by rejigging the city’s landmarks and inherent appeal and making them fun locations to explore, hunt and hide in.

And those three components really are the basis fro your zombie slaying adventure. Beginning at a safe house you will wander out and explore the local area, scavenging what resources you can find and taking down undead enemies at every possible opportunity, before scuttling back to your hiding place to rest and save your progress. It’s a simple but very effective system that’s clearly been influenced by the likes of Fallout 3 in terms of the constantly expanding field of play and Dead Rising in that the most sure fire path to success is to play it safe. ZombiU has picked it influences well, creating a videogame that is constantly tense even when you are equipped and ready to take on whatever may be lying around the corner.

Less successful however, is the use of the Wii GamePad. The inventory and map screens are the most respectable – if bland – mechanics, and while the looting may seem like a good idea, representing the loss of concentration as you search a dumpster or dead body, in practice it becomes a frustration that will inevitably see you ignore many of the options available to you. The scanning is an interesting and welcome idea, especially given the handy player-devised notes that work similarly to Dark Souls, but getting to the right point of interest can be a fiddly procedure; it’s a wonder the developers didn’t opt for a simple object lock that can be scrolled with the right stick, but then you would some of that same concentration effect given with looting. Again however, the resulting effect is that you’ll rarely scan areas unless it’s deemed absolutely necessary.

Another of ZombiU’s inventive ideas comes when faced with death. For many videogames, it’s a simple respawn or restart at the last checkpoint. Here in ZombiU however, you become a brand new character. Much like the underrated Baroque, each restart sees you re-enter the world with all the same knowledge you had previously and the same abilities too, but your equipment is now gone. You can retrieve it however, simply by locating your previous character and defeating them in their now zombified state then looting their remains. It’s an interesting design decision that yet again reflects Dark Souls’ life-after-death system, and one which extends the life of the videogame considerably as you will often have to retread old ground to secure the equipment even if your next objective lies in a different direction.

This rebirth isn’t seen in ZombiU’s alternative gameplay mode however, a beastly endeavour in which two players on a single system go head-to-head. One player takes on the role of the survivor using either the Wii U Pro Controller or Wii Remote and Nunchuk combination, while a second player uses the Wii U GamePad and plays as the ‘King of Zombies.’ From just this basic set-up it’s easy to predict what the gameplay will be like, and it’s actually quite an enjoyable addition to the videogame. Of course, its lifespan is far shorter, but for those gamers with relatively few of the Wii U’s launch titles itching to get their friends involved, they could do far worse than an evening spent with ZombiU’s multiplayer gameplay mode.

The visual quality of ZombiU is a mixed bag, frequently impressive while at the same time bearing all the hallmarks of a videogame designed for a system by developers still getting used to what the hardware is technically capable of. A lot has been said about the Wii U’s inability to keep up with next-generation systems from Microsoft Studios and Sony Computer Entertainment, and while that may eventually be the case at present we are yet to see anything from either party. At this point, with titles such as ZombiU it certainly looks like the Wii U has a fighting chance, if only for another year or two. The sound quality however, ranks very highly indeed. The clever use of the Wii U GamePad speaker – clearly adapted from the developer’s time with the Wii Remote speaker – proves just what developers will be capable of doing further down the line, if they are given the chance.

A tidy horror adventure for Wii U, ZombiU doesn’t break the mould but does offer a few ideas that will most likely lead to bigger things. It wears its influences on its sleeve, and just as with the original Darksiders, those titles that have left a mark on ZombiU are some of the best around. Alongside the likes of New Super Mario Bros. U, Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2013, Ben 10 Omniverse and ZombiU, the Wii U launch line-up presents a picture of a system being able to satisfy a market from all corners: ultimately, ZombiU fulfils it’s ambition to become a leading light in the Wii U launch line-up for mature gamers, and that in itself is reason enough to invest in it’s tale of terror.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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