Wii U review: ZombiU

ZombiU is survival-horror in the most literal sense. You are dropped into post-zombie outbreak London with little more than a cricket bat to bash in the skulls of the infected, a flashlight with a slowly draining battery that must take a few seconds to recharge after it hits zero, and a single pistol. While you can find submachine guns, shotguns, a crossbow, and a sniper rifle out in the various locales you’ll visit, the ammunition for any of these is extremely limited, and aiming at any part of a zombie’s body that isn’t the head won’t do you much good. You’re going to have to be tactical and conservative if you want to stay alive, and the game does provide you with quite a few options, be it the slow-and-steady routine of taking out one zombie at a time, or being gutsy and using yourself as bait to lure a group of zombies into a tunnel or other confined area before tossing a grenade or moltov cocktail into their ranks. ZombiU hones in on the story of the survivor and the narrating/instructing character known as the Prepper, and thus does not lose itself in trying to explain a larger world beyond the plague that hit London.

There are two single-player variants you can choose from. The more challenging mode gives you one shot to make it to the end of the game without being killed. If you are taken down by the infected, that’s all she wrote - you will have to start over from the beginning, regardless of how far into the campaign you made it. The standard settings are a bit more forgiving, putting you in the boots of a new survivor in the event that your current character becomes one of the infected. However, ZombiU still gives you something of a slap on the wrist - all the weapons, ammo, and health items you were carrying at the time of your unfortunate demise are still being carried by your previous character. To retrieve them (which is highly recommended), you will need to trek back through previously explored territory and kill the now-infected survivor. Any zombies you managed to kill before your previous character joined their ranks will stay dead, but your former self will put up more of a fight than any run-of-the-mill zombie.

As you progress through the game, you will be able to upgrade the pad that acts as both your radar and ranged hacking tool, and can eventually use it to pick up secret codes written on walls and decipher archaic messages left by the Ravens of Dee. Dispatching stronger zombies that emit red fumes from their body will reward you with one of four upgrades to your weapons, which can then be applied to whichever weapon you see fit at a workbench located in one of the safehouses. The gamepad can also be used as a scope for long-range weapons, and can zoom in to 2x and 4x distances. Occasionally, the game will also import other ZombiU players or individuals from your friends list as zombies that can reward you with a decent trove of supplies.

There are a little over a half dozen locales you’ll visit as you scour London for the CCV boxes, Letters of Dee, and so on. Each is quite wonderfully realized, though some are significantly smaller than others, due to their context in the plot. One of ZombiU’s greatest strengths is the presentation of places like Buckingham Palace, the Brick Lane Flats, and the Tower of London, due to the unique assets found within each. One flat includes a bathroom and bedroom with one body reclined in a bathtub, another individual lying on the floor next to the toilet, and three more figures piled onto a single bed, providing some insight into how others might have spent their last moments before the plague hit. The one-time use of objects like marble statues, a nursery playhouse, and a single accessible boat docked in the river really help define the experience and identify these areas as unique. The fact that few environmental objects are recycled shows that the ZombiU development team put a lot of love and care into the final product.

ZombiU may not be terrifying 24/7, but is spooky and tense throughout. That said, when the game wants to make you jump, it will do things like force you into incredibly tight quarters or have some outside factor cause your radar to drop out completely and be replaced with loud, nerve-wracking static. Traveling through areas like old city sewers, will cause dust to gather at the corners of your screen, and bright sources of light can obstruct your field of vision, a couple of nice additional touches on the part of the development team. Curiously, a brief Metroid-style segment wherein you are temporarily stripped of nearly all your gear is easily the game’s weakest point, and follows almost immediately after one of the game’s most challenging and brilliantly-executed segments. ZombiU does not have many low points, thankfully, and the aforementioned segment is but one blight on an otherwise exceptional eight-to-ten hour experience.

My rating: 9 (out of 10)

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