ZombiU Review: Terrifying Launch to Wii U

ZombiU Review: Terrifying Launch to Wii ULet me start this off by admitting this freely: ZombiU for the Wii U has scared the hell out of me. Not like Resident Evil’s classic “zombie dogs jumping through windows” jumps, or even Silent Hill 2’s mental, “playing with sound and what you don’t see to incite fear,” techniques; I’m talking well-scripted levels of near panic. ZombiU is on a whole other level when it comes to conjuring fright and it scares the loving crap out of me.

First of all, ZombiU is a true survival horror game. More so than Resident Evil, which created the genre, ever was. The first words a player sees on their screen as the game boots up are, “How long can you survive?” It doesn’t ask, “How many zombies can you kill?” or “Can you solve the mystery of what happened?” as neither of those two things matter. Only survival. Your survival. And it’s not an easy thing to do.

ZombiU for the Wii U was developed by Ubisoft Montpellier, and is one of the very few Wii U launch games created specifically for the new next-gen system. Ubisoft takes full advantage of the GamePad controller, without making the experience feel too gimmicky. The GamePad serves as the map and the player also uses it to scan areas in blacklight, looking for hidden clues or items, and even identifying the infected they are in. Much like the recent “Batman: Arkham” games, it pays to scan every area, and every square inch. Item usage and management is also handled via the GamePad.

Whenever the backpack is accessed, the TV screen switches to an animatic of the player digging, while the action takes place on the GamePad itself. This state makes one vulnerable to attack while trying to reload a weapon, or to use a medpack. There are six quick-use slots assigned for weapons and healing items that can be used by touching the slot on the GamePad itself, though two of them are used for your limited flashlight and another for the basic melee weapon. This is by design, as getting into your pack during an actual fight is impossible. It’s brutal, but you can’t “pause” your own demise.

ZombiU Review: Terrifying Launch to Wii U

The game is played in the first person, as the streets of London are in waste after a mysterious blight has wiped out most of the population. You take control of a seemingly random character and, along with the help of a mysterious person known as the “prepper,” try to get out of London alive. The “prepper” is tucked away safe at an undisclosed location, and part of your goal is to hack into various Closed Circuit TV boxes in and around London, which gives the prepper eyes and ears to assist. It also creates a map that is useful.

You start the game armed with a handgun with six precious rounds, and a cricket bat, ala Shaun of the Dead. You must then scavenge everything else, including bigger and better backpacks, as item management comes into play very early. The game ventures to historic, real world locations, such as Buckingham Palace, where presumably there will be better weapons, and of course, anything and everything that can go wrong, usually does.

The cricket bat is a solid weapon for smashing in zombie brains, but some zombies are tougher than others, and it takes more swings to do them in. Gunfire of any kind attracts more zombies, so the cricket bat, and later the crossbow are two of the best silent weapons. Though your character screams as he/she whacks at an undead attacker, apparently, the other zombies are only attuned to the sound of gunfire.

ZombiU is a zombie game, meaning that there aren’t any half-reptilian “Lickers” or bloated “Boomers,” or Giant spiders/bats/or snakes. Just zombies. Now, there are four or five variations, including the regular zombie, who is of the fast variety and attacks quickly when alerted; the insane spitting zombies, which are all escaped mental patients judging by the straightjackets they wear; the fiery red zombies, who are more fierce and harder to kill; the gas-mask zombies, who blow up when shot or bludgeoned (taking you with them, unfortunately); and lastly, the electro-zombies, which can call in other members of the horde and they have the ability to warp small distances.

ZombiU Review: Terrifying Launch to Wii U

The zombies are everywhere and it is up to you to navigate to safety.

It’s also important to mention that you will die. Often. Especially in the beginning. ZombiU gives the player three preset characters to start, but afterwards, each new survivor is randomly generated. If you die in the field, your new survivor wakes up in the centrally located safe house and must continue the mission with one incredibly unique caveat: you must first go and find and kill the previous character, who is now most likely a zombie, to get the backpack containing all of the items back. This one wrinkle separates ZombiU from most other “survival games.” In fact, though it sucks most of the time, it is one of my favorite things about the game.

ZombiU also keeps track of the time of survival and there is a point system attributed to certain events, like finding quick-access manhole covers, or killing zombies. There is a worldwide leaderboard for the best times and scores and that board changes daily.

There are multiple modes in ZombiU, including a much harder Survival mode, in which the player is only given one life to try and complete the game. Local multiplayer is represented by a game called King of Zombies, where one player, using the GamePad plays as King Boris, the self-proclaimed, “King of Zombies.” The GamePad player directs zombies and tries to kill the other players, who are trying to survive. The additional players use the Wii Remote and Nunchuck controller, or the Pro Controller, or variations thereof.

What makes ZombiU so frightening is the excellent use of sound and lighting. Graphically, it’s not the best-looking game ever, but it does its job. Rooms are dark, and what light there is, is muddy and toned down. This is a world overcome with death and the artists at Ubisoft nailed it.

ZombiU Review: Terrifying Launch to Wii U

There is a level that is quickly growing infamous on social media (Miiverse, Facebook and Twitter) that involves breaking into a Nursery to try and recover some antibiotic to trade for fuel. This one level is, by far, the scariest level I have ever played in a game. EVER. I admit that I may have audibly gasped (may have been a scream… not too sure at this point) at one part, and when I was done, my heart did not feel right in my chest. I honestly thought that I may have suffered a minor heart attack. Thinking about what happened in that nursery the next day made me second guess wanting to play the game ever again.

Now, to be fair, I played this level the night of the tragedy at Newtown, Connecticut, and the thought of zombie children may have rested heavy on my mind, but I know that what I saw and experienced in the Nursery will haunt me for many years to come. Whenever a game (or a movie or TV show) can elicit that type of emotion – in this case, fear – in such a powerful way, it must be applauded.

ZombiU is the best survival horror game I have ever played. Hell, it’s the best horror game I’ve ever played, and one of my favorite games of all time. It is scary and exhilarating, and well-crafted from top to bottom. It is also difficult, and brutal, and downright terrifying. It is unapologetic in the way it tries to kill you, and its integration of the Wii U technology works perfectly to create a masterful game for adults, which is something that Nintendo’s critics have complained about for the last few game system generations. If Ubisoft had created a more robust multiplayer experience, and even possibly included some dedicated online play, ZombiU would have easily scored a 9.8 or higher. Yes, it is that good.

Shop for ZombiU for Wii U at Amazon.com (November 18, 2012 release date).

ZombiU Review: Terrifying Launch to Wii U

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