Nintendo has often been criticized for lacking “hardcore” adult games on their systems. However, if one were to look back on their history, it’s actually filled with titles oriented toward the “hardcore” crowd. GameCube featured timed exclusivity of Resident Evil 4, and had Resident Evil 0 and the critically acclaimed REmake as exclusive titles. Sweet Home, the first survival horror game ever made, was released for NES. Nintendo 64 featured the foul-mouthed shenanigans of Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem was named the scariest game in history on Cheat Masters.
On the horizon, Nintendo has a new system on the way. It is the first home console of the eighth generation of gaming, the Wii U. Nintendo has made great pains to ensure that the Wii U launch is filled with high quality releases, with previous generation ports of blockbuster titles such as Darksiders II, Assassin’s Creed III, and Mass Effect 3. Of course, there are also original, Wii U exclusive titles that will be available on launch day, such as New Super Mario Bros. U, Nintendo Land, Scribblenauts Unlimited, and the subject of this article, ZombiU.
Fancy a zombie apocalypse?
ZombiU is set in London, England in the year 2012. A zombie apocalypse has ravaged the globe, and the player takes control of various survivors that are being protected inside a bunker run by “The Prepper”, an ex-military man that makes sure the survivors have the supplies and skills they need to survive the zombie apocalypse.
Multiple locations in London can be traveled to in the game, including iconic London locations such as Buckingham Palace. The developers, Ubisoft Montpellier, traveled from France to London to get a feel for the city and attempt to recreate it as accurately as possible in their latest game.
People have voiced concerns that ZombiU will be “another Red Steel”. Way back when the Wii launched, Ubisoft prepped a very hyped game in the form of Red Steel. Red Steel failed to meet expectations, and wound up being a fairly mediocre game. However, Ubisoft Montpellier has a very impressive track record.
These are the developers behind the early Rayman games, the recent Rayman Origins, the cult-classic Beyond Good & Evil, and the surprisingly good film-to-game adaptation of the 2005 King Kong movie. They have a high studio rating of 75 on MetaCritic, and they many more hits than they do misses.
Zombies have been done to death in all forms of media. We’ve seen a multitude of films, books, and games all based around zombies. So, how is Montpellier doing something different with zombies in games? They are taking it to the extreme, cranking up the difficulty, and striving to make ZombiU a truly hardcore survival horror title.
Throughout the game, players will take control of multiple survivors. These survivors, however, are expendable. A single zombie bite will result in a permanent death, and then the player spawns back at the safe house and has to take control of a different survivor. The character they previously played as is still out roaming the streets of London, undead, and with all the gear collected.
By adding permanent deaths and one-hit kills, Ubisoft Montpellier hope to create a serious sense of dread and tension not found in many mainstream games these days. Zombies will be slow-moving, but dangerous, as a single encounter with just one zombie can result in death. The levels can be explored in an open-ended nature, so that there may be a zombie down one hallway, and the next time you go down that hallway, the zombies no longer there.
An item called Virucide can be collected that will help stave off an instantaneous death. If a player has this on them and they are attacked by a zombie, they have a chance to quickly heal that character of the virus to prevent them from being turned into a member of the undead as well.
While exploring London, the survivors will stumble upon supplies that they can use to help them survive the zombie apocalypse. These supplies include items such as firearms, ammunition, and melee weapons. All of this stuff is kept in the “Bug Out Bag”, which is a core feature in ZombiU.
I’ll get more into the GamePad controls in a bit, but for the bag, the GamePad is indeed used. To look in the bag, players have to physically look down at the GamePad screen. From there, icons have to be dragged to the “equip” menu in order to use them in the game. The action on the television screen does not pause when this is going on, meaning that everything is happening in real time, and inventory management is actually a survival skill and a core feature of the game.
If a character dies in the game, they become a zombie. The player then takes control of a different character. They will start from scratch, but the supplies that their previous character had can be regained. To do this, one will have to hunt down the zombified version of the person they just played as, kill them, and then retrieve their supplies.
The Black Prophecy
ZombiU centers around what is called “The Black Prophecy”. Philosopher John Dee had a prophecy that the end of the world would occur in 2012. His predictions have come true in ZombiU, as the world is overrun with zombies.
This adventure features a multitude of survivors that are controlled by the player. These survivors are going to be like a rotating door of characters depending on how well the player plays the game. Due to the permanent deaths in ZombiU, whenever a playable character is killed, they are gone forever, but then replaced by a different character. I’m not sure if there is a limited amount of characters to play as or what, but it will be interesting to see how ZombiU handles the permanent death mechanic.
In the meantime, these survivors are being taken care of by “The Prepper” a survival expert and ex-military man. He will give advice through an intercom system and try to guide the player through the treacherous London.
There are two other main NPCs as well, such as Sandra, the leader of the Ravens of Dee. This is a secret society that has formed with the purpose of preventing Dee’s vision of global apocalypse from coming to fruition. Sandra will also communicate with the player throughout the game in a similar manner.
And finally, there is Dr. Knight. Dr. Knight is an interesting character. He lives under Buckingham Palace, and once served as the Queen’s doctor. Now he is obsessed with finding a cure for the zombie virus that has been plaguing humanity. He speaks with the player from behind a glass window and in a Hazmat suit.
Friends don’t let friends fight zombies alone
Technically speaking, there is no traditional co-op mode in ZombiU. However, there is still online functionality. If there are people on your friends list that also has ZombiU, they can communicate to you through the game. While exploring the levels, messages can be painted on the ground, similar to Dark Souls or Demon’s Souls.
These messages can lead to secret areas or hidden loot. However, these messages can also be used to mess with people, and cause them to walk right into a zombie trap. It will be interesting to see how this mode plays out in the final product.
Online multiplayer is also used in a different manner. If you’re online at the same time as a friend and they die in their game, their zombie can appear in yours. The game will notify you about this using ZombiU’s integration of Wii U’s social media infrastructure known as Miiverse. The zombie of your friend’s character can be killed and looted in a similar manner as the zombie of your previous character.
While Ubisoft has been quiet on details, it has been confirmed that ZombiU will feature the multiplayer that was originally shown as a part of Killer freaks from Outer Space. This game was shown at E3 2011 at the annual roundtable discussion that is traditionally hosted by Shigeru Miyamoto. That game became ZombiU, and ZombiU retains many elements from that original title.
For example, there will be a “dungeon master” style multiplayer component in ZombiU. One player plays on the television screen, I assume using a Wii remote/nunchuk combination, but I’m not sure how this will effect the inventory management system of the game. Another player uses the GamePad to be the “dungeon master”, as it were.
The person with the GamePad has a top-down view of the map and they are able to choose the location where zombies spawn. They can use this to strategically attempt to kill the other player and win the game.
ZombiU takes full advantage of Wii U’s unique features. I’ve already mentioned the inventory system and how the game takes advantage of Wii U’s Miiverse functionality, but I haven’t gone into how else the game uses Wii U’s unique GamePad controller.
With the GamePad, players are able to do a myriad of things. For example, when wanting to zoom in with a sniper rifle, players have to hold the controller up to the screen and to look through the scope. Then using the touchscreen, players can zoom in and zoom out with the sniper rifle.
By watching the various developer diaries and gameplay videos that have been released covering the game, I’ve noticed other ways the GamePad is being used. One of my favorite ways I saw was when the player character had to hack into a door that was electronically locked with a keypad.
This action also doesn’t pause the game, so zombies are swarming after the player while they frantically try to input the correct code for the keypad. This type of tension-building gameplay is what this generation of gaming has been lacking, and if ZombiU pulls it off properly, we may just very well be on the cusp of a survival-horror renaissance.
While it’s not talked about as much as the other features of the Wii U GamePad, the GamePad is capable of motion control like the Wii remote. ZombiU uses the motion control functionality of the GamePad as well for melee weapons. The example most commonly shown is when a character has an axe equipped, and the player has to swing the GamePad as though they were swinging an actual axe to use the weapon.
ZombiU is releasing on November 18th exclusively for Nintendo Wii U. Ubisoft has stated that the game may eventually see a port to other systems if there is enough demand, but for the foreseeable future, ZombiU is a Wii U exclusive title.
ZombiU’s official reveal at E3 2012 really helped sell me on the system. It showed me a hardcore survival-horror game could succeed on Nintendo’s new console. The seventh generation has starved me of quality survival horror experiences, so ZombiU may just be what I’m looking for.
Graphically, the game has been very impressive. Zombies look fantastic and the environments look just as good as any Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 game. Considering this is right at the birth of the Wii U’s lifespan, I am excited to see how the graphics improve for the system over time. The levels I’ve seen with weather effects such as rain made the game look muddy and disappointing, unfortunately.
Of course, there are doubts. While I feel the “another Red Steel” prediction may be off, I can’t deny that I didn’t think the same thing at points. After all, ZombiU has a lot in common with Red Steel. It’s a third party launch title for Nintendo’s new system, created by a Ubisoft studio, and its primary focus is to appeal to the hardcore gaming crowd.
What I’ve seen of the story makes me worried for the game, too. I honestly think ZombiU would be better off without a storyline and just let players roam free in a post-apocalyptic London. The story seems somewhat generic and boring, dealing with a conspiracy theory and secret societies, with the NPCs communicating to the survivors through radio communication and the like. We’ve seen it all before.
ZombiU looks to be using the Wii U’s unique capabilities very well. Because of that, I have pre-ordered the game anyway, hoping it will be a good way to show off just what the Wii U is capable of when the game launches on November 18th.