You watch carefully as the radar pulse reveals two red dots not far from your position. That’s two life forms between you and your goal. You check your ammo: only two bullets left. That doesn’t leave much room for error. You decide it’s best to save the bullets for later and withdraw your cricket bat. You take in a deep breath, ready your weapon, and jump around the corner. Squeek! Squeek! Rats! It was only rats. You lower your bat and check your radar again. No dots this time. Good. You scan the area for any useful loot. Nothing. You decide to move onward, passing through the room, and exiting the building. Rain is pouring down. Your flashlight does little for visibility in these conditions. You step outside cautiously. Then you see her. It’s just one woman, standing placidly. She hasn’t seen you. You tap your radar but proceed forward, not wanting to miss this chance to sneak up on her. You raise your bat and strike once, twice, three times. You strike once more to finish the job. Then you hear them. More grunts. You jump just fast enough to see the other two zombies approaching. One grabs you and you’re down in an instant. It’s over. You know you should have been more careful.
Then you wake up, another person, another survivor, ready to give it another try….
That’s how a round of ZombiU plays out, with an ever-present feeling of tension around you. Zombies are everywhere, one bite does a lot of damage, and there is little around for you to defend yourself with. You have to be resourceful and careful and plan your actions wisely. One false move and you will very likely regret it. This is the survival-horror genre many of us remember from 10 years ago.
The team at Ubisoft has done an excellent job bringing the survival-horror genre back with this title, and used the Wii U GamePad very creatively to do so. Resource and inventory management is a very big deal since tools are so sparse and zombies are so common. If you want to use a gun to mow down the enemy it’s going to cost you a lot of bullets and bullets are very hard to come by; and, as stated above, if a zombie grabs you that’s all she wrote – you’re down and out, your inventory is lost to the zombie horde, and your next survivor will have to reclaim it. There’s plenty going on here to create that sense of tension and anxiety that I believe is worthy of the zombie apocalypse.
Few resources. The first is obvious: there’s not a lot to work with here. Ammunition and guns are quite hard to come by. Beyond that, the mechanics are built to be a first-person shooter – you don’t have cover control or tight aiming. You have a gun which you can point and pull the trigger. Health is even less frequent. Even tools for barricading doors are few and far between, forcing you to use those at only crucial moments. Add to this the fact that if you die these items are lost (until you track down your old now-zombied self and reclaim your backpack) and you have good reason to be worried when you find a horde coming after you.
Swapping takes time. You only have six slots for keeping tools within quick access and most of these are occupied pretty quickly by your flashlight, cricket bat, and handgun. Don’t have something on hand? You’ll have to retrieve it from your backpack, which literally means you will have to remove your pack, place it in front of you, and rummage inside for whatever you need. Meanwhile the world keeps spinning and the zombies continue shuffling. Obviously, this is ill-advise except in safe rooms, and it can very quickly increase the risk and punishment of being in an ill-prepared situation.
Use your radar but trust your eyes. The radar on the GamePad is incredibly useful, if not flat-out necessary for survival. Of course, watching the map on your controller means you’re not watching the road in front of you. And pinging for life in the area is not instantaneous. You have to be careful and know when it’s good to check your surroundings and when you just need to keep watching the path ahead. The same goes when scanning for items–this takes time and the local predators will not wait for you.
The atmosphere is thick. The world of ZombiU is dark, quiet, somber, and more than a little foreboding. Footsteps echo in close corridors. The beam from your flashlight only covers so much of the land before your eyes. Rain, dust, and fog make visibility even worse. Like in a good horror flick, you’re always expecting something to pop out from behind the next corner you come to. Add this to the fact you can’t pause and must look away in order to do your inventory business and you’ve got a recipe for nervousness.
I am very pleased with how the physical world is built into the mechanics and atmosphere for this title: that actual requirement that you must look at one screen or the other, limiting your reaction abilities. And again, the tension is thick. ZombiU is cleverly crafted to deliver a very specific kind of experience, and, refreshingly, it’s a bit different than those experiences offered elsewhere on consoles recently. Moreover, as they’ve shown previously, Ubisoft is very good at building atmosphere and play mechanics that blend perfectly.
ZombiU was developed and published by Ubisoft. For this post, I played the game for about 3 hours on the Wii U. I played a borrowed copy.
This was originally written and posted by me on a former site on January 17, 2013.