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ZombiU Preview

by Diogo Miguel November 27, 2012

Ubisoft is never one to shy away from taking risks when it comes to video-games hardware launches. It has supported systems like the Nintendo Wii with titles such as Red Steel in the past. The launch of the Nintendo Wii U is no different with launch title ZombiU. Zombies have become a staple in video-games, but will the London setting ensure that ZombiU manages to capture the attention of new Wii U owners?

Imagine waking up in a zombie overrun London. No, it’s not just the aftermath of another Saturday night out in town. These are proper zombies that will bite anything that has a pulse. The first half an hour or so is spent getting to grips with the controls.

The GamePad is put through its paces with the various features ZombiU uses it for. Hence why most of the tutorial is spent showing the player how to use it. It’s almost confusing to try and keep an eye on two screen at the same time. Specially as they are not near each other like on the DS/3DS. However, the GamePad soon becomes a vital resource in the fight for survival.

The main use for the GamePad is as a map of London. At first it only covers a small area. It is then up to the player to explore and fill it out. Touching a glowing orb on the lower right screen will enable a scanner. This is a handy feature that highlights any points of interest within a short range.

It’s also used as a way to manage items more efficiently. Using the GamePad to pick up an item and put it in the inventory, is as easy as a few swipes of the stylus. There are many other uses for the GamePad, such as tapping it to destroy barricades, after acquiring a certain tool.

It’s certainly nice to see a launch title that isn’t using the GamePad in a lazy manner. ZombiU is full of surprises and most of them include the efficient use of this new tablet.

Funnily enough, the first survivor that the player controls does not have access to these GamePad functions. It’s not a surprise that he gets brutally slaughtered by the zombies. Most survival horror video-games will simply re-spawn the character at the location of the last checkpoint. Dying in ZombiU is permanent and there is no no option to restart. Instead the player will then control a new character. It’s even possible to bump into other fallen comrades that the player couldn’t keep alive. There is also a survival mode where the player must make it through the whole story… with just one character.

It might not sound like much trouble but the zombies are relentless. The characters don’t have any special powers either and it won’t take long for the zombies to overpower them. There are various tools and weapons to pick up. Ammo for weapons is scarce, so it’s essential to not waste bullets. This is perhaps the closest a video-game has come to the original Resident Evil formula. The fear that comes from not knowing what lies behind every corner, or if the ammo left is enough to get through an area riddled with zombies. This is the kind of fear that will put a player’s will to survive to the test.

Perhaps that is why certain game mechanics have been implemented to aid the player. A fast travel system, that uses the various sewer tunnels, makes it easy to travel between locations. This is particularly beneficial when playing as a new character in the safe house, since it’s where it all picks off again.

The safe house is a place where the player can also upgrade weapons and save progress. It’s the typical location where zombies won’t dare to go in. It’s all because of the mysterious guardian angel type person that guides the characters. This stranger gives small nuggets of information and is the only other survivor the player is in contact with throughout the brief hands on.

The streets of London have seen better days though. Everything is destroyed and even though the story is set a good twenty years in the future, it doesn’t look like much has changed. Not that it’s particularly bad since it means many London landmarks are easily spotted. Any Londoner will probably find it amusing to navigate familiar locations. Anyone else can think of it as a rather unique tour of the city.

The zombies themselves are very dangerous. They will attack the player on sight and sometimes even do it in groups. Shooting body parts will result in rotting human bits falling off. Head shots will even reveal some of the insides of a zombie’s rotting cranium. There are various tools around to ensure that players with quick wits can win this deadly game of cat and mouse. One particular gruesome death involved pushing some zombies into a fire. It was abit too amusing to witness their rotting flesh burn in the cleansing flames.

One of the only downsides found is how easy it is to get lost. One wrong turn and it becomes a nightmare trying to find the location of the next objective. It literally takes a long time to know earthly where to go. Hopefully it’s easier to get to grips with the map system with more play time.

ZombiU also has a multi-player and the capture the flag mode played is rather enjoyable. It consists of one player using the Pro pad to control a survivor. The second player uses the GamePad to place zombies on the map to hinder progress. Both players must then capture the flags. The first to win four points is declared the winner.

The player placing the zombies is clearly the one having all the fun. It’s possible to level up zombies and there are even various types. One for example will attempt to capture the flag. Well, it is destroying it but what matters is that the point is earned. Flags are only captured when the player spends a certain time alone within the flag area.

It’s an enjoyable twist on this traditional mode and demonstrates the potential for multi-player modes when including the GamePad.

ZombiU is not exactly the easier video-game to get into. But at the same time it proves that a survival horror video-game is not for the faint of heart. It will take dedication and skill to get through the many challenges ahead. But if the rest of ZombiU is like the short time spent playing it, then players are in for a fantastic journey in a London filled with many dangers.

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