ZombiU: The return of true survival-horror gameplay

November 28, 2012

Recently, with the exception of some very well done indie titles, the survival-horror genre has slowly but surely gravitated towards the action-shooter, in the hopes of appealing to a wider audience. While some games made the shift well, others have found themselves trapped in between, and left the true survival-horror niche tragically unfilled. The typical zombie has been relegated to a bit role, with many designers focusing more on the combat than the survival aspects of their games. Due to that necessity, the shambling undead zombie has been cast aside, in favor of faster enemies that better fit a faster-paced game.

With ZombiU, Ubisoft has addressed this concern, and given us a true survival horror zombie game, restoring the common zombie as something to be feared. As one of the few real M-rated Wii U launch titles (and the only one that isn’t a port), it offers both interesting use of the new hardware and a true survival horror experience. It combines jump scares with other elements, building a great horror game that moves away from what you would expect. ZombiU doesn’t have co-op, and this only adds to the feeling of being alone. Another thing I noticed? Difficulty. This game is hard, though it is pretty fair about it. Above all, ZombiU punishes impatience and impulsive actions.  Taking your time and thinking before you act help immensely. The difficulty is higher than I expected for a launch title on a Nintendo console, but it is a welcome change.

Adding to the difficulty is the penalty for failure. In ZombiU, you are not an individual protagonist, but the surviving population of London following a zombie outbreak. Your character’s death, or infection, will result in choosing another survivor to control. The inventory of your fallen survivor still exists, though you have to fight a zombified version of your former self to claim it. This is a mechanic that is inspired by From Software’s Souls games, known for their difficulty. Another aspect to keep in mind, is that the fallen zombified survivors of your Miiverse friends can also be present in your game, if you are connected while playing.

Another core aspect is inventory management. Something much more common in older horror games, it leads to many tough decisions that have to be made quickly. In ZombiU, managing your inventory, and wisely using what you have available, can be the difference between life and death. Important to remember: digging around in your inventory does not count as a pause. If zombies are coming, they won’t stop while you switch weapons. For this reason it is important to find a safe place to look through your bag.

ZombiU is also the best combination of TV and GamePad screen on the system so far. While the GamePad is often used for things like inventory and entering passwords, it is also used to look behind you, and as a zoom function when held in front of the TV. Ubisoft has clearly learned from Wii, though, that new features can be overused; these features all feel like they make sense, and aren’t simply shoved in just because they wanted to do it. For example, you can use the GamePad movement to aim,or you can opt to just use analog sticks.

ZombiU does have a few flaws, though for a launch title, many of them are fairly minor. The shooting controls are a little off, but the game’s limited ammunition makes this less of a concern, as I find myself favoring melee whenever possible. The multiplayer portion pits four players against the GamePad user, which seems to be a recurring theme on the system. The GamePad places zombies for the other four to overcome, and while it’s an interesting idea, the core mechanics don’t convert very well to this multiplayer mode.

With ZombiU, we have finally gotten the survival-horror game many fans have been asking for, and not just another third-person shooter. ZombiU is definitely not another Red Steel, and what I hope is the first of many third party successes on the Wii U. It is well worth looking past the gimmicky name, because this is a game that will deliver a great experience that capitalizes on the strengths of the new hardware.

Pros: Truly scary experience, good use of hardware
Cons: Motion control is a bit shaky, multiplayer doesn’t have much replay value

Score: 5/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.