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E3 2012: ZombiU Brings Mature Thrills to the Wii U

Posted on June 6, 2012 AT 05:02pm

EGM’s High 5: Forget the queen—save yourself

The sun has set, the once-vibrant metropolis of London, England is now ablaze; the streets are overrun with flesh hungry infected bent on ending your run as a hope-starved survivor. Lucky, you’ve got your trusty backpack…and, you know, a shotgun, a crossbow, and whatnot. If you make the right calls and keep your wits about you, there’s a good chance you’ll make it out alive. Such was the stage when I hopped onto a demo unit featuring Ubisoft’s ZombiU, and man, was it a wild ride. Here’s some of the highlights:

Glad to work the GamePad

First thing’s first. I’ve played quite a few Wii U games at the show, and for the most part, it was a massive mountain of “meh,” but despite sporting the one of the lamest names in videogame history, this custom-built zombie survival sim’s Wii U-specific controls work way better than its handle, offering a wealth of options that worked fairly well on the controller, including sniping, lock-picking, scanning for infected, and hacking keypads. Unlike some games I experienced on the upcoming Nintendo console, the team at Ubisoft seems to have gotten it right.

Borking the Basics

That said, I was a bit bummed to see that, unlike their touch-screen bretheren, the basic controls of the game were wonky as f***. The basic look features were way too floaty compared to other FPS titles, and there was a pretty steep learning curve on most of the essential elements of the game, making basic world navigation a bit of challenge when stacked up to…well..pretty much any other FPS on the market. They’ve still got plenty of time to tighten this up, but it was more than a little ironic that they nailed so many of the more controversial aspects of their game and totally whiffed on the one thing this industry has down to a science.

London Calling

We’ll see if they get there, but another area that was already filled with promise was the game’s level design. The game will feature a ton of famous locations in the city like Buckingham Palace and the river Thames, and man, are they all wrecked. Members of the dev team indicated that one of their core goals was to focus on a more organic approach to world-building, and they definitely scored high marks for their use of lightings, effects and geometry, as each area is littered with the haunting remnants of panic and pain that followed the initial outbreak, making this one of the best (and creepiest) examples of exploration the Zombie genre has provided to date.

Zombie Groundhog Day

Beyond this, one hook that will undoubtedly meet with a bit of controversy is the game’s decision to essentially reboot your character each time you die. You’ll have to start over on your journey towards survival with a new character. But on an up note, you’ll eventually run into your older, wiser, better equipped zombie self and have the opportunity to loot your now-dead corpse. Kinda takes the sting out of things, but I’m not quite sure how I feel about the need to replay things over and over again.

Shock Value

One thing I won’t get tired of any time soon is the game’s strong desire to scare the crap out of you at every turn, and their clever use of the Wii U GamePad to make that happen. There were more than a few moments in the demo where the devs stuck in a classic horror-movie scare into the mix, and they seem particularly enamored with doing so when you’re otherwise engaged with the equipment in your “backpack,” leading to some genuinely jumpy moments. All told, it’s a pretty gripping package, and it’s definitely near the top of my launch love list thus far.

Do you folks think Nintendo and Ubisoft can score a hit with this ambitious, bloody romp, or will it get swallowed by the horde? Let us know in the comments below.

Brandon Justice, Executive Editor
Brandon Justice spent the last 17 years in the game industry wearing hats as an annoying retail weasel, an overly opinionated journalist, and game-development ninja—until he got tired of the all the caviar and groupies, returning to the ring as a rowdy, rambling writer in 2010 for EGM Media. Follow him on Twitter @jokeontheworldMeet the rest of the crew.

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