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REVIEW | “ZombiU” Puts The Survival Back Into Survival Horror

By
Posted on December 3, 2012 AT 11:12am

My heart was racing as I searched the dark hallways of Buckingham Palace, making damn sure that there were no zombies in my vicinity. Ammo was low, but I had to keep it in my stock in case I desperately needed it. As my health bar began to blink I realized I needed to snack on something. Quickly I brought up BOB (Bug-Out Bag), and began to search through my stock of food and necessities. That’s when the swarm came, and quickly I got to my feet as they began to attack me. I tried swinging my cricket bat as much as I could, but it was too much for one man to handle. Letting out a scream I was engulfed by pale arms and rotting teeth, and I became one of them.

Welcome to ZombiU, the scariest game you’ll play this year.

Taking place in a London that’s seen better days ZombiU has you take control of a random survivor as you search for a cure, a way out, or just plain sanctuary from the zombie apocalypse that was once prophesied by Doctor John Dee. As you walk through the hollowed streets of the UK capital you must keep your ears peeled for the growls and grunts of the undead, for if you are not prepared you will become their next meal in a near-instant. It takes one bite to end your life, and once it happens (and it will many a time) you will respawn as a new survivor and be forced to kill your previous self if you want your stuff back.

Your Wii U GamePad acts as a few things. First it’s your Bug-Out Bag, where you can organize your supplies, keep your much-needed stock locked in for one-click necessity, and drop unwanted items off to make room for others. Second it acts as a scanner, which can be useful when your unseen assistance wants to hack local cameras and locked doors; it can also find hidden codes and secrets that will be useful to survive. In some occasions it will be used as a sniper scope, or a place to input codes to locked doors that cannot be hacked. It even acts as your light source, which you must learn to conserve. (Fortunately it only takes a few seconds to fully recharge.)

Most importantly the GamePad acts as your map and radar. At first most of the places you’ll visit will leave your GamePad will be blank with a “You Are Here” marker showing your presumed location, but with a hack of a security camera in the area a layout of your vicinity will be shown. This is not what you’ll be using the guide for, though, as the radar comes in the most handiness of needs. Your radar will flash red dots when you are close to lifeforms. Sometimes it’s just rats or birds, but other times it will be the zombies you’ll need to either evade or take down. As you progress through the game you’ll be able to upgrade your map and radar system and use it to your greatest advantage.

ZombiU is exactly what a survival horror game is supposed to deliver in a gameplay experience. In vein of the first couple Resident Evil and Silent Hill games the key elements of what it means to survive a horrific incident are all here. You need to tread carefully as you roam through the areas, as supplies are limited both on you and around you. Sometimes it will be best if you run away from danger instead of toward it, especially if the zombie numbers leave your heavily disadvantaged. It can be a bit slow-paced in some areas, but this is what it would be like if a zombie apocalypse did happen, not something like in zombie mode in the Call of Duty games.

Then there is the scare factor of the game. No matter how many times a zombie came into view I found myself jumping out of my seat, shouting expletives at my TV as I swerved away from them and tried to either take them down or run away with the tail between my legs. Add onto the fact that this is one of the very few games that follows zombie canon, and you’ve got plenty of reason to be on your toes the entire time. There’s no magic healing herbs, no immunity, and nary a mulligan to be found in this game. One bite, and you’re dead. End of story. When you come back as a new survivor not only will your stuff be gone, but so will the skill points you had earned, meaning you’ll have to start from scratch if you wish to improve your tactics.

The sights and the sounds of ZombiU also help with keeping the fear intact in the game. Cris Velasco’s score knows how to set the mood, whether it be a dark freaky room filled with zombies, or if it’s a dubstep party for the undead. (I’ll admit the sight of seeing zombies in a rave room gave me a good chuckle.) The graphics in the game take great advantage of the Wii U’s power, even if the zombies may look a tad ugly in some places. (Then again, when’s the last time you’ve seen a pretty zombie?) There were no framerate issues when I played through, making the game flow wonderfully both on the TV and the GamePad.

There is a tiny drawback to playing ZombiU. Only one game can be saved either in regular game mode or in Survival (where you play until you die), so if a friend wants to give it a try you either have to risk letting them play on your continued game experience or you’ll have to delete your game to let them start off fresh. It’s a pain in the neck, and I wish they had it so you could have at least three save spots so others can give it a go without fear of losing your progress.

Fortunately there are three fun multiplayer modes for you and your friends to play in. One player takes control with the Pro Controller or Wii MotionPlus and takes out the zombies, the other helms the GamePad and drops the zombies in to try and take out the lone survivor. You can do Assault (a capture-the-flag-styled game), Killing Box (where you kill as many of them as possible) or — when you unlock it — Survival, where the GamePad holder must kill the survivor in the quickest time possible. There will be plenty of competitiveness and douchebaggery for everyone to enjoy.

As for the single-player game length, it all depends on how good you are at these types of games. I’ve seen some players take as little as six hours to beat ZombiU, but I’ve also seen a few that took their sweet time and spent over thirty hours trying to reach the end. If you’re usually good at these types of game you can probably expect to fall with the former, but if you try to be the hero too many times a la Call of Duty, you may find yourself playing this baby for quite a long time.

PROS:

  • A zombie game that follows its true canon
  • Great usage of the GamePad
  • Fun multiplayer elements

CONS:

  • Can only save one game at a time
  • Not for those with medically-weak hearts
  • The game title is still pretty stupid

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Not since Dead Island has there been a zombie game that properly shows how long a person may last in a real end-of-times scenario. ZombiU goes one step further and gives players the full-on canon context we’ve not quite experienced in the gaming realm. If there is ever a reason to own the Wii U, it’s to play this game and see how a survival horror is supposed to make you jump out of your skin. With this and Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead, 2012 will be known as a great year for zombie gaming.

FINAL GRADE: 9.5 (out of ten)

Evan Bourgault is an accomplished music, anime, and video game critic. His passion for discovering new bands, developers, and Japanese pop culture began in his college radio days and continues on today. Evan joined the ElectricSistaHood team in 2008, where he is a contributing editor and host of one of the network's weekly podcasts. Follow Evan on Twitter at twitter.com/King_Baby_Duck


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