Preview | Final Hands-On with ZombiU
The world has gone to hell and I’ve got to make it into this supermarket. Critical supplies and a keycard are sitting around somewhere inside, useless. The man on the radio told me so. Off the side of the building lies a pile of rubble hugging a dilapidated fence. Beyond it, four clustered zombies press against the chain link, an eye for my flesh. They can’t get through.
Surely there’s a way to play this thing out smartly. I roll an explosive barrel over to the fence. I move away and give the thing a bullet. It burns away for a second before exploding, without much effect. The distance created by the rubble is just too great. A few of the zombies catch fire. They’re nonplussed. They keep snarling.
Where the rubble is at its highest, it crushes the fence down. I could run through, had I a death wish. I pull out my cricket bat. Old faithful. I move atop the rubble, swinging madly at the decaying mass below. The snarling has gotten louder, and pouring out of mouths now a mere yard or two in front of me, it fills my ears. I keep swinging. I overcommit. I fall among them, am devoured and converted.
ZombiU. Very cool game.
Quick setting recap: John Dee, an Elizabethan astronomer, supposedly predicted this whole “zombie apocalypse in 2012” thing, just as he’d done for quite a few disastrous events beyond his own life-span. As an average schmuck in the city of London, you’ll be pulled this way and that by a trio of characters with different interpretations of Dee, and different gameplans for how best to survive.
At Ubisoft, the concept was originally called “Killer Freaks from Outer Space,” and took place in four major cities across the world. They whittled that number down to one, London, and the survival horror experience you go through therein is miles more subtle than what the original “Killer Freaks” title would suggest.
And despite the fire and brimstone, ZombiU is strongly grounded in realism. Even a single zombie, if approached the wrong way, stands as a grave threat to your life. They can make swipes at you for hit point loss, but they’re just as likely to drag you down and eat your brains, no buts about it.
Another realistic aspect is the rummaging. Going through bags and cabinets come at the price of time and vulnerability. A lot of containers come up empty, too. After playing through roughly one quarter of the game’s content, the most pistol bullets I’d ever had to my name was 13.
But you’ve got to keep looking. Each of the regions you scavenge through holds two critical resources. The first is a hub controlling the area’s security cameras; hack it and you’ll earn a map displayed on the GamePad. The second is a manhole; uncover it to gain a welcome shortcut to and from your safe house.
The GamePad reinvents the inventory system, and you’ll also be using it for most of the resources you pull out of there. Among them, the sensor is most ubiquitous. It’s basically a filter for your vision, which can be shifted by moving the GamePad or with the right thumbstick. It displays markers that you can analyze for identification: items, doors, infected organisms (sometimes these are only rats or crows).
All of the deliberately paced action gets thrown out the window in ZombiU’s two-man local multiplayer. The Zombie King holds the GamePad, placing different types of zombies via a bird’s eye view of the map. The human, Pro Controller in hand, plays as one would a conventional shooter. A no-deployment radius around him or her guarantees that no zombie materializes close enough for an easy meal. Throughout the experience, a sadistic and joyful commentator shouts the match’s events, replacing the silence you usually live with in single-player.
As the Zombie King levels up, they’re able to choose a new zombie type for their arsenal. I found sprinters to be a good choice, saving up enough zombie-buying currency (which replenishes on its own) and placing two of them just outside the player’s radius. Playing as the survivor, I had to contend with spitters, whose projectiles hit for damage and blur your vision.
Multiplayer offers a good distraction and cool use of the GamePad, but I think ZombiU’s single-player component will prove the star, distinguishing itself as far more than just another shooter.
It can be deviously difficult, but that’s all for the better. I’m sure your delicious brains have already heard about the game’s original take on game overs. If (and when) killed, you’ll respawn as a different protagonist back at your safehouse. To get your gear back, you’ll have to find your old self and do some slaying. Such became my own predicament back at the chain link fence.
ZombiU launches alongside the Wii U on November 18th, and though it’s shaping up to be a game that stirs emotions mercilessly well, don’t let these get in the way. Just close your eyes and think of cricket balls.