ZombiU is the game many think Resident Evil 6 should have been. It’s difficult – too difficult – and expects you to do the simplest things manually. You’re going to die. You’re going to die often and, almost without exception, it’ll be your fault. You’re going to be on top of the world when you have a small armoury in your backpack (not a euphemism), and then you’re going to struggle beyond belief when you die and are forced to continue with no weapon but a cricket bat. ZombiU is perhaps the only survival horror game I’ve come across on consoles that actually lives up to the genre’s name.
The Wii U’s first big chance to show its big boy shorts, ZombiU is a game that doesn’t necessarily gel with the image Nintendo has created for itself: it’s violent and bloody, it’ll make you jump, and you need to be constantly on edge if you plan to survive. For those that bought into the original Wii because of its family friendly image, ZombiU will come as a surprise. For those who didn’t buy into last gen’s Nintendo offering, it’s an indication of good things to come. Its scares are often fairly cheap – “THERE’S SOMETHING BEHIND ME” or “LOOK HOW MANY ENEMIES ARE IN THIS ROOM” – but it works, as it did in Resident Evil and Silent Hill all those years ago.
More so than that, ZombiU is actually a good game. The tension created is fantastic, of course, but the gameplay should be equally celebrated. Exploring zombie-infested London isn’t entirely different from exploring the island in Dear Esther – each location has its own story separate from the narrative, a horrifying glimpse at lives lost and homes torn apart. A trip to Buckingham Palace shows that nobody was exempt from this great equaliser. It’s not really touched on in the story itself, but it’s a constant theme and a hugely enjoyable one at that. The story itself is just an excuse to get you fighting zombies, but it’s fit for its purpose and is enough to keep you wanting to progress.
ZombiU takes full advantage of the dual screens, using the TV as your first-person view into an alternate London and the tablet as a radar, inventory, scanner and occasional aiming reticule. The graphics are more than passable, although the shadowy and generally dank atmosphere of the game probably has a lot to do with that. You won’t often find a ton of zombies on screen (you’re usually attacked by no more than four), but this is more so that you don’t become overly confident and the Wii U handles the added load relatively easily. Things are never as jam-packed as in, say, Warriors Orochi 3, but the moments with many targets are enough to really get the adrenalin pumping.
The second screen acts as an inventory and radar for much of the game. Lesser developers might have used it as an instant selection tool, allowing you to switch weapons on the fly. You get six slots in which to place food and weaponry. Food is instantly used, but weaponry takes a second to swap and, if needed, rearm. Aside from these “instant access” slots, you can go into your upgradeable backpack at any time and swap things at your heart’s content. This doesn’t pause the action around you and you must balance collecting/organising items with watching your TV in case something sneaks up on you.
It also works as a radar, also upgradeable. To begin with, however, you must press a button on the touch pad and this allows you to see enemies in the general vicinity. To gain access to local maps, you must find and hack CCTV cameras, not always an easy/obvious thing to do and, I admit, a little frustrating. To hack into a CCTV network, you must locate a box and scan it. To scan, you’ll hold the tablet up to the TV screen and look around from there. This allows you to not only hack, but to see hidden messages, to check bodies and storage for items remotely, to check whether doors are accessible and more. It’s a handy tool.
As I said before, though, there will come a time at which you’ll die – probably sooner rather than later. If you’re on survivor mode, that’s it, game over; you’ll need to start again. If you want a challenge, try getting through the game on this mode. If you’re playing story mode, you’ll wake up as a new survivor back at your base. I like the attention to detail here, something you’ll notice if you start playing as, for instance, a police officer or a butler. Each character looks as you’d expect them to based upon their profession. As a new survivor, you have a single life to find and kill your old character and to access your old weaponry. If you die on the way, you lose everything you’ve collected.
As well as the single player mode, there’s also a thrown-in local multiplayer mode that’s more fun that perhaps it should be. One player uses the tablet to deploy zombies in an almost RTS-like manner, while the other player plays in first person on the TV. In the game’s main multiplayer mode, each player must capture flags places around the maps, and the different play styles make for almost endless entertainment. Forget placing platforms for your friends having more fun, ZombiU sets the standard for future multiplayer modes, even if it was just added to get a multiplayer logo on the box.
ZombiU may have received mixed reviews at launch and I’m not entirely sure why. It’s difficult, it offers a survival element almost unheard of in gaming and a few minor annoyances (as well as trekking over old ground when you die) is really not enough to take away from such a fantastic experience. Games like this are entirely why the Wii U was made. Games like this are why the Wii U doom and gloom articles are so, so wrong. Games like this are why survival horror fans need to move on from Resident Evil 6 and try out a new IP. ZombiU is fantastic game, and if you own a Wii U, you owe it to yourself to at least check it out.
You can find more thoughts on ZombiU and other games on Mat’s website here.