Nintendo consoles have been a consistently strong home to great “E for Everyone” titles and games generally aimed at a younger audience ever since they released the NES back in 1985. With games like Mario, Pokemon, and Kirby leading their pack, the Big N tends to stay away from the grit and gore of more mature titles, very rarely going more “adult” than simple sword-fighting.
However, the ever family-friendly company just turned 23 this last September and with age comes yet an ambitious console release in the Wii U. With this new system, both Nintendo and Ubisoft hope to usher in a new era of Nintendo that gives greater attention to hardcore gamers.
How do they hope to kick this new era? With the lure of exciting new controls and game experiences revolving around the Wii U’s new gamepad, of course, and the survival-horror title ZombiU promises just that. Is this game a step in the right direction for players looking for more “mature” content? Has Ubisoft given the genre a breath of life? Or should they have just left this one for dead?
Great Britain has been overrun with the undead and ZombiU puts players in the shoes of a lone survivor tasked with somehow escaping the city while trying to uncover the truth behind the outbreak. And, with no specific skills or abilities, zombie avoidance is key as bum-rushing every undead you see will likely get you eaten.
The campaign of ZombiU has players scavenge their way through various parts of London from the famous Buckingham Palace to the Tower of London. Players are guided and taught valuable survival skills by “The Prepper,” a survivor like yourself who is kind enough to help you out. You never see the Prepper, however, as his voice is emitted from the GamePad’s speakers, making the player feel both panicked and alone.
ZombiU does a great job at creating tension, suspense, and panic, all of which are done through clever and innovative uses of the GamePad. The device itself serves as an environmental scanner allowing you to identify items and enemies you may have otherwise missed. The survivor’s backpack and inventory also find a home on the GamePads touchscreen, however, forcing players to find safe locations to manage their items or reload weapons. The survivor has to actually stop to look at their inventory, which creates some truly frightening moments as you look down and up from your GamePad to your TV making sure you’re not about to get eaten by approaching zombies.
The most practical use of the GamePad is also one of its most immersive features: the map/radar. During most of gameplay, the touchscreen serves as both a map and ping radar which soon shows itself as crucial to survival. ZombiU features some of the stealthiest zombies around and the only way to know where they are is by tapping your map, sending out a ping which reveals enemy locations. It also, on occasion reveals the location of some crows and rats, creating a few laughable moments amongst the zombie onslaught.
As previously stated, your character is not an ex-military officer or special agent of some sort. You play as a normal human being, so encounters with the undead are handled a bit differently in ZombiU. At the start of your journey you acquire a cricket bat which, seeing as ammo is hard to come by, becomes your basic weapon.
This is not a game about killing zombies. It’s a game about surviving a zombie outbreak. Managing your items well and learning to avoid hazardous encounters is the key to success in this game.
All of ZombiU’s environments look graphically decent. However, as you explore them you realize they are extremely constrained and claustrophobic, even the outdoor settings. There is also an ugly, grainy filter that is always present on the screen which, while okay at first, quickly becomes annoying and pointless. It doesn’t deliver on the London it promises.
Just as in most classic zombie stories, if you are eaten by zombies in the game you die and become a zombie, and ZombiU handles these deaths in an interesting way. When your character dies, players continue the game as a new character. However, in order to regain their backpack and supplies, you must trek back to the place where you were killed and destroy the zombified version of your previous self. It’s a cool twist on the formula that adds a lot to the game’s mood.
ZombiU tries very hard to make a place for the survival-horror genre on Nintendo’s new console and is successful in many ways with only minor hiccups here and there. The GamePad adds fresh and innovative new features, allowing ZombiU to explore the route of realism over action and explosions, which pays off with one of the most frightening, white-knuckle gaming experiences to date.
Aside from minor hiccups, ZombiU is a brilliant game with tons of innovation to offer the survival-horror genre. A truly terrifying experience and a great launch title for the Wii U.
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