ZombiU opens with uncertainty. Just what the hell are we getting into? Is the game good, bad, scary, ugly, beautiful? Music plays with a scattered melody as a man stands alone. Sweat drips from his face as the hopelessness of his situation sinks in, he’s surrounded. He threatens to give the scene a 4 out of 10, but the zombies pay no mind. They walk the streets with lopsided confidence. They know how dangerous they are, and soon everyone will.
Enter the Prepper! A nutjob “end of the world” fanatic has been watching you on security cameras and he’s got a present for you. What, you can’t see it? Look down. No, not with the analog stick, with your head! That’s right, the GamePad is an item in the game and it’s your new best friend. The GamePad lets you scan things, organise items, view information, including an all-important radar to spot movement. Is that a rat, or a zombie? Sometimes you just have to go around the corner and find out.
The mechanics of the game are what define the experience and separate ZombiU from other zombie games. What’s unique about ZombiU is that items don’t appear out of thin air, there’s always a “process”. You have access to 6 items on the quick menu, and changing items means an animation that lasts a few seconds. Furthermore, going into your backpack to swap items around and equip things completely removes your view of the main screen, where anything could happen.
When you want to use a long range weapon like a Crossbow; you’ve got to equip it, hold up the GamePad to aim, then fire. How awkward, right? Well imagine there’s a Crossbow on your desk right now. How quickly can you to lift it up and fire an accurate shot? You’d probably shoot yourself. These are normal people you’re controlling and ZombiU highlights our vulnerabilities.
The zombies themselves have basic patterns and usually approach with a slow predictable swagger. A few good hits with the cricket bat will do the job, the stupid zombies just walk right into it! They’re easily distracted by flares and enjoy a good explosion. The game at its core is easy, but the cocky nature of the zombies means you can NEVER let your guard down. You might think one zombie by itself is no big deal and you can conserve your ammo, but it’ll take 5 or 6 swings to kill it and that gives you plenty of time to make a mistake or arrogantly circle it and lose track of your position. Suddenly you’re dead and this easy zombie is enjoying a nice meal. One hug is all it takes.
Zombies mostly act the same throughout the entire game with a few different outfits and forms, but the scenarios and environments vary a great deal. The graphics are fantastic and it looks very polished for a launch game, some of the places you have to go are downright terrifying. Crawling in vents and wading through water leave you completely vulnerable as you can’t reach your backpack. There’s some nice looking places and a few surprises, the outdoor areas do a good job giving more scope to the whole “end of days” vibe. Some of the scenarios and events are quite unexpected and intimidating; it’s the kind of unexpected you have to expect when the world ends and shit hits the fan.
The online aspect isn’t quite there but it has a nice interactive feature that links your friends games together. When you die you appear in their games in that same spot as an infected, and you see others in your game too. It can be an ominous warning that you’re approaching a dangerous place, but that’s countered by the thrill of looting their backpack for supplies if you can kill them. You can also write messages on walls in the game but they’re all predetermined graffiti marks and I found it quite useless. I never saw any of my friends messages; only random people I’ve never heard of across the Miiverse, and the signs were just generic thumbs up or arrows. Did any of you guys see my messages? I’m curious, I left a lot!
ZombiU creates an amazing atmosphere and it’s the best survival horror game I’ve played since the Resident Evil Remake. The experience is crafted not through immersive graphics or over-the-top action scenes, but solid gameplay mechanics and terrific use of the GamePad that brings the controller into the game as an item. It extends the game outside your TV and gives meaning and comfort to the space around you. ZombiU is simply an amazing horror game and there’s nothing else like it. It’s my favourite game this year and the massive 9 hours I lasted in Survival Mode were the most engaging and memorable I’ve ever had playing a game. True horror, truly awesome. Stop hoping the world will end tomorrow and play ZombiU instead.