Surviving the dead: a review of “ZombiU”

No one seems to be interested in that sale back there.

The thick shadows press down on your field of vision. The flashlight is running out of batteries, and that means that even if you turn it on you’ll only have a few seconds of bright relief before being thrown back into the inky blackness. Their heavy breathing can be heard practically all around you and the radar on your Prepper Pad is sounding off multiple targets so quickly that it is almost mimicking your heartbeat.

No more bullets, one medical pack, a candy bar and the trusty cricket bat that was given at the beginning of your long trek into the dingy London Underground. Hardly an arsenal. How much longer can you hold out against the pressing darkness and the thought of the fiends shambling towards you, invisible, before you crack and run back the way you came? Or how much longer before one of them sneaks up behind you in your moment of indecision and panic and ends it altogether?

“ZombiU” really throws you hard into the survivor role. It never lets up, never gives you a break and sure as hell never stops. All that sounds like the game is full of sprinting undead, like those of “Left 4 Dead.” No, I’m talking about the speed of your heart and your thought process. The dead in Ubisoft’s new game don’t move that fast, but that slow gait makes for a tension that riles you up.

As you see them approach, you mentally gauge the distance between you and them, whether or not your bat can reach them or not. Are they too far away for the bat? Do you have time to switch to your gun? Do you have enough bullets in it? How good of a shot are you to put them down quickly? All of these questions run through a player’s mind, all the while the zombies continue to move towards you.

Not only are items and inventory a worry when fighting the enemy, but health and damage must be monitored as well. There are really very few hits that a player can take from the zombies before they are food. Not only that, but a player can die instantaneously if the zombies are too close and grapple them.

This insta-death spawns you as another survivor who has been drawn in by the mysterious Prepper, a man who is bent on finding ways to survive the apocalypse and full of theories as to how it happened. This serves two-fold, though. The ability to lose your survivor so easily means that the attachment the player places on the character can either draw them to be reckless and take many risks or be severely cautious.

Knowing that if the survivor dies the new character can kill the previous’s risen corpse and retrieve the lost loot seems to give the player a bitter-sweet taste, knowing that not all survive in these scenarios, but if you do for so long you feel extremely proud of yourself and accomplished.

It’s scary when those fuzzy hat guys actually move, isn’t it?

There’s something to be said for a first-person perspective in a game like this. “Dead Island” had a more fast paced and open feel to it, so the player was able to take in the scope of their surroundings and plan out how they would tackle a situation. Of course, there are times when close-quarters combat happens, which is more the style of “ZombiU.”

Enclosed spaces in apartments, the London Underground, a supermarket and on and on. There are very few places where the player can move back and regroup away from the oncoming hordes. Not only that, but the limited perspective heightens tension and freaks me out to no end in all honesty.

How does this compare to games like “Resident Evil?” Well the open field of vision allows for more zombies to be in the area, giving the player larger numbers to deal with. It helps that the game also gives the player much more ammo and firepower to deal with the hostile forces. “Left 4 Dead” does a similar thing, though their weapons and ammo are much more powerful and plentiful to compensate for the first-person perspective.

“ZombiU” is a solid game. With or without the story it has some very well put together mechanics, decent graphics and works well in compatibility with the Wii U gamepad. The survival gameplay is well done and many will find it enjoyable. There are some clipping issues, some confusion with how to read the radar and it did in fact freeze on me twice while playing. Sometimes the player will get lost or not know how to get to certain locations without a little help from outside sources.

All in all, the game is a 7 out of 10. An excellent launch title for the Wii U, lacking in some qualities but performing admirably when creating an environment of fear and tension. A very well-done zombie game.