Seven things you need to know about ZombiU
- Seven Things You Need to Know
Most people who were either lucky enough to be at E3 in LA or who streamed it live or downloaded the highlights later would likely be hard pressed to argue that it was Ubisoft’s show. Announcements of Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation and Splinter Cell: Blacklist were enough to get people excited, but it was unlikely Wii U launch title ZombiU that got the most tongues wagging.
A dark, brutal survival horror aimed squarely at the mature, hardcore market for which Nintendo have rarely been known to cater, ZombiU’s rumoured launch title status alongside enhanced ports of Batman: Arkham City, ACIII and Darksiders 2 is a clear message from the Japanese giant that the Wii U is a far cry from the family-oriented, casual gamer-friendly Wii. As a Nintendo console it will have its share of party games and Mario-ware, of course – and that’s to be expected and celebrated – but games like ZombiU are set to show a different side to Nintendo.
Although the Wii U release date is still an unconfirmed ‘Holidays 2012’ (though rumours abound that Nintendo will date and price the console during a special event on September 13th), we’ve gone for a stroll around the ‘Net to bring you the seven things you really need to know about…
#1 Late Britain
It’s set in foggy old Westminster
A setting once reserved for Hollywood abominations starring Hugh Grant and some random American actress or over-the-top Cockney crime capers, London proved it could play host to apocalyptic terror in Danny Boyle’s seminal horror 28 Days Later.
Pitching its biohazard field tents up in Westminster, ZombiU allows players to creep and / or flee through an authentic representation of the UK capital complete with big red busses, Beefeater guards and, quite possibly, cups of tea. That being said, it could be set anywhere given Ubisoft’s attention to detail and frankly incredible environments. Reminiscent of Valve’s Left 4 Dead (to use the obvious comparison, sorry), the surroundings are charred, burned-out, smashed in and generally mauled.
With story details thin on the ground, it would appear that ZombiU is set after a period of civil unrest in the capital, perhaps during which the initial infection took hold of the populace. Whether Ubisoft’s epidemic is global or confined to the UK remains to be seen, and will likely be answered in future sequels should ZombiU prove as successful as it has the potential to be.
#2 Tooled up
The Wii U controller makes everything cooler
In the recently-revealed developer’s diary, Senior Producer Gillaume Brunier talks about the integration of the Wii U’s unique control system:
“When we first got our hands on the Wii U controller a while ago we saw the potential, and decided let’s say that this GamePad is not a controller but a survival kit for our players. The message we want to give is that if you hold onto this survival kit and you use it correctly, you’re going to survive our game. If you just go run-and-gun, you’re going to die a lot.”
Comforting words, right? Well when you see it in action it all makes perfect sense. The mini-screen on the GamePad is a multipurpose tool that acts as a sonar scanner, an inventory screen, a lock display when you’re using a lockpick or trying to crack a door code, or as an environment scanner to help you detect messages from other players or essential loot.
It brings a level of cinematic immersion to ZombiU that we’ve just never seen before. When you open your inventory and your character drops to his knees to rummage in his backpack, you can’t help but feel tense and helpless, just waiting for that telltale groan as a flesh-eating Beefeater sneaks up behind you. It’s a similar effect when looting corpses and objects in the gameworld, or when trying to hack a door, and it’s all designed to make you feel like you could die at any moment.
#3 One bite, one scratch
Death is permanent
Which, of course, you can. This is not your average zombie game, and there’ll be no limping to medkits to revive yourself – and certainly no teammates to run back and get you on your feet if you go down. In ZombiU you’re on your own and if you go down, you go out.
There are no Game Over screens, and absolutely no checkpoints. Death is permanent for your character and all the hard work you’ve put in to increasing their skills and gear will be undone in a few minutes of ravenous gnawing. After that you’ll find yourself in the body of a different survivor, and if you want your equipment back you’re going to have to work for it – by busting the head of your previous character. It helps the gameworld to remain consistent, so you’ll never have to go back and replay anything – you’ll always pick up directly where you left off.
“We wanted a realistic zombie experience like something that you’ve never played before,” explains Brunier. “When your character dies, you don’t get to play him or her again, ever. You’ll only see them as a zombie when you go [as a new character] to get your backpack back. We wanted players to feel the tension of one life… that, realistically, how long would you survive?”
#4 No more room in Hell
It’s seriously tough
During a gameplay demo at Gamescom in Cologne, Story Design Director Gabrielle Shrager demonstrated to GotGame.com just how difficult ZombiU can be. During a level set in Buckingham Palace (that’s Bucking-um, American chums, not Bucking-Ham), Gabrielle assured onlookers that she would die as the level is “so tough” – but she also revealed that ZombiU is a “revival of the old survival horror genre” and that “preparation, looting and taking your time is the name of the game”.
Which is what we want, of course. Too many games these days insist on holding our hands and signposting every available route and easy victory, when what so-called “core gamers” really want is a decent challenge. In the demo we see just how quickly zombies can appear and accost you, and how it can be difficult to take care of them even at point blank range with a loaded pistol. As Shrager confirms, “it’s headshots or nothing in this game.”
It ties in with what Brunier said about a realistic experience, and if titles like Dark Souls have (re-)taught us anything as gamers, it’s that feeling helpless and overcoming the odds irrespective of your fears and shortcomings not only promotes a real sense of achievement often lacking in modern blockbuster games, but that it’s also a lot of fun.
#5 With friends like these...
The campaign features Demon Souls-style interactions
From Software’s rather delectable yet rage-inducing RPG Demon Souls and its 2011 follow up Dark Souls elevated their soul-crushing campaign from great to awesome by integrating several unique online features. Being able to “invade” another player’s world or be summoned to help them in a boss fight was one aspect, whilst another was the ability to leave messages, hints and warnings for other players to come across.
ZombiU utilises a similar system to the latter in that you can leave arrows on the walls and floor to indicate areas of interest for other survivors to investigate – although they’ll only be able to see them by scanning the environment through the GamePad, which is another reason to take your time and explore every nook and cranny. Weapons, ammo and food are in such short supply that you’ll need to gather absolutely everything you can to survive.
Also, people on your friends list who die in-game will appear as zombies in your world, so you get the added bonus of braining your friends from time to time – and we all know there are times you want to. Go on, admit it.
#6 Us versus them
Competitive multiplayer features original gametypes
Unlike From Software’s titles, ZombiU has a fully-formed competitive multiplayer mode, too. With several different gametypes reminiscent of standard Capture the Flag and King of the Hill modes in other games, ZombiU casts one player as the survivor and another as a kind of zombie dungeon-master.
While the survivor traverses the map attempting to complete various objectives, the zombie player can deposit up to ten zombies anywhere on the map tactically to try and scupper the poor sod. You’re able to select from several zombie types including the standard chewers, tougher varieties for guarding flags and such, and a “spitter” zombie who can temporarily blind players.
How revolutionary ZombiU’s multiplayer elements will prove to be in practice remains to be seen, but Ubisoft have certainly found a few interesting ways of including a social aspect in what would otherwise be a very lonely, solitary affair.
#7 Rated M for Meat-fest
It’s not your average Nintendo title
These days zombie games tend not to be particularly scary. The Left 4 Dead titles are more like straight first person shooters than survival horrors, and the more action-oriented direction of the once-king, Resident Evil, ensures that it’s no longer lauded as the genre leader it was. But by all accounts and gameplay demos, ZombiU looks genuinely tense and frightening – something we’re just not used to seeing very often on a Nintendo console.
This kind of hardcore, insta-death punishment must, must, must be balanced with considered, almost pitch-perfect gameplay, of course (something From Software got right with the Souls series), and if Ubisoft don’t get that right then all the fancy GamePad shenanigans in the world can’t and will not hide the fact.
But we’ve got a good feeling, if we’re being perfectly honest. Hands-on previews are positive, trailers and gameplay demonstrations look tight and well-crafted and Ubisoft have developed ZombiU with a clear determination. The blood-and-guts combat, dark-lit, viscera-strewn environments and persistent, relentless tension might put off those looking forward to the kind of casual titles to which Wii fans have become accustomed, but the simple fact is that ZombiU is not that game. It’s not about family fun or social game nights with your friends, it’s about lone survival at all costs and, as such, is just the game to show that, with the Wii U, Nintendo mean serious business.
So there you go, seven things you really need to know about ZombiU. Take a look at the Gamescom trailer for a deeper insight into how ZombiU will play - and what you need to do to survive.
ZombiU is expected to launch alongside the console at some point between now and Christmas, and is being developed in-house by Ubisoft. For more information, visit the official website.
Words by Mick Fraser (Twitter: @Jedi_Beats_Tank)
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