Reviewed by G. Williamson
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2013-02-03 Wii U Survival/Horror M (Mature) Ubisoft

Reading The Zombie Survival Guide can prepare you for the zombie apocalypse. In theory, of course, because when you find yourself in it, it's a whole different story.

Our story of survival takes place in London, during the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. The Black Prophecy was foretold 400 years ago by astronomer John Dee. Now in 2012, the dead are walking, making the prophecy a reality. A secret society entitled the Ravens of Dee still resists and the surviving members attempt to find a cure.

The infected are everywhere and hunger for flesh. But zombies are so overused these days that you may wonder what makes this game so different than anything else and why would it be worth playing.

ZombiU takes the words "survival horror" literally, as you won't be bravely facing hordes of incoming zombies with an arsenal of weapons. Instead, you sneak, run, attempt to fight for your life using England's most enduring cricket bat, and will most certainly end up dead in a corner. Yes, because it will happen and the game isn't forgiving. These zombies may be dead but they're not falling apart just yet: they climb ladders, break down doors, run and chase you into dead ends, try to bite your face off, and kill you. And sometimes, the entire process can take less than 3 minutes.

When you die, your character is gone. No checkpoint to restart from, you lose everything you have collected. But you get another chance to play in the shoes of another survivor, and must start again collecting useful items. Your previously killed character returns as a zombie, carrying your backpack that you had worked so hard to fill with useful stuff. And if you find him or her, be sure that the rest of the pack that killed you is nearby.

ZombiU isn't something you play rushing around. You careful examine every room you walk into. You stop, look and listen to see where noise and movement can be coming from in the darkness. To help you in the exploration process, the GamePad becomes a useful tool.

You can use the touch screen to manage your inventory and check a mini-map of the current area with your location and nearby items. The touchscreen can also be used in certain interactive situations, such as hacking combination locks or barricading doors. You can tilt and turn the GamePad to look around you and scan the area via night vision to find items. While using the GamePad's in-game functions, the perspective on the TV screen changes as well, placing you in a static third-person view which makes you somewhat vulnerable since you can't see all around you anymore. In these situations, you must keep an eye on the GamePad and another on the TV since the game doesn't pause while you fiddle with your backpack or look inside a cabinet, and you never know when or from where something will come at you.

The game constantly makes you uneasy, carefully making your way through different areas without being noticed. Once you are spotted though, the panic is evident. Your heart races as you try to escape the zombies, and it doesn't matter if it's just one. Even "just one" can make the bravest of players jump in their seat, as they realize that fighting back with no weapon or the ever-faithful cricket bat isn't very efficient. Blows to the head are the only way to kill these things, and it takes a handful of good swings to get them down. At times, you may even notice a piece of their head missing, but they still keep lunging at you and you keep on swinging and shoving. And then you're on the ground ,and your brain and other body parts are now a zombie snack.

The combat mechanics are clumsy, at best, so don't expect anything of first-person shooter fluidity here. You attack with the right trigger, which is also used to push zombies back. To actually do damage, you must press the left trigger first to prepare the weapon (raising the cricket bat or aiming a gun) and then swing. And yes, you can certainly push/shove with a gun, which seems pretty weird.

You can't tell how many hits will take down a zombie, since it varies. It's completely random and it makes it impossible to predict how long it will take you to kill just one. Many times you're busy with just one and think you're relatively safe, and then a bunch of them appears. Never assume anything, and don't underestimate these zombies.

ZombiU uses some Miiverse functions. Your zombified former character can eventually roam into a friend's game, where it can be killed and looted. Likewise, your friends's newly-dead characters may also find their way into your game. You can also leave hidden messages to other players warning them of dangers ahead (much like in Dark Souls). You are limited to using symbols, though, as a preventive measure for offensive messages. You can mark the messages as trustworthy or not.

A multiplayer mode lets two players have some fun as one controls the zombies using the GamePad and the other attempts to kill them them using the Wii-mote and Nunchuck as if in your usual FPS.

The best thing about ZombiU is the feel of the entire game. There is a constant sense of danger and despair as you play, and the panic is contagious as you hear your character's breathing grow heavier and heavier, soon turning into sharp little yelps, and resulting into full-blown screaming. The reaction of an everyday person placed face-to-face with the zombie apocalypse definitely does a lot for the game's overall atmosphere.

Overall, ZombiU isn't perfect and it's certainly unforgiving, but it's definitely exciting, challenging and different.