Monday, April 15, 2013

ZombiU Review - Survival of the Fittest

Score: 7.75 / 10
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: November 18th, 2012

  • Revives the hesitance and caution that a survival horror game should possess
  • Gamepad works well in inventory management and map navigation
  • Healthy variety of guns and upgrades to adapt to your playstyle
  • Controls can be difficult to adapt to in the more hectic situations
  • Melee weaponry is limited to a single weapon
  • Repeating environments make the city feel a bit bland
  • Multiplayer limited to two players
ZombiU, ironically enough, revives a lot of what makes a survival horror game great. It brings the key element that makes the genre so enjoyable; hesitance. A single bite can kill you, and with zombies lurking in dark corners or roaming in packs through the streets, it becomes a game of caution as every enemy is a huge threat. Do you risk using bullets and creating noise or opt for a slower, quieter path? Do you engage the threat directly or sneak around? Do you stock up on barricades for a reinforced escape route or load up on health items? Though slumping on execution, ZombiU succeeds in creating a survival horror game filled with tension and trepidation.

Where is the nearest Home Depot?

You begin as any good apocalyptic based situation should; running for your life as zombies close in on your position, armed with nothing more than a good set of sprinting legs. Guided by an ambiguous voice known as "The Prepper" over a speaker system, your randomly chosen citizen makes it to a safehouse where you are tasked with finding a way out of the city. The overarching dilemma of escape soon becomes complicated as you cross paths with a doctor trying to cure the virus and a secret society dubbed "The Ravens of Dee". You begin to question your once solid commitment to your primary liberator, and your resulting loyalty will determine one of three possible endings. The choices feel less like actual decisions to make for completionists, but the questionable circumstance adds an indecisive trust. It's not very complex, but compelling enough, considering you embody a random character with no real backstory or speech.

The random identity you assume adds a sense of attachment. Once your character is bitten, you are down where you stand and are thrown into another distinct identity. Not only are you teleported back to the safehouse, you must also hunt your previous role down and kill yourself. It is an interesting mechanic that leaves you with an uneasy feeling as you bash your previous body's head in to retrieve your gear. Keeping your identity is not the only incentive in staying alive, as your character's once highly leveled marksmanship with weaponry will be lost upon death. Your corpse also has the possibility to appear in another players games, giving the subtle connection with the community in addition to spray painted warnings you can place on the wall.

Assuming the role of errand boy for The Prepper sets you out into different areas of the city, gathering items and slinking your way through droves of undead. Resources are precious, and simply blasting a path to your goal results in empty clips and panic. A single target on the map will indicate your goal, but the promise of stumbling upon a new weapon or finding a jackpot of medical items will have you combing through apartment buildings and suitcases to find every resource possible. Using a sewer system to fast travel between areas will have you returning to previously inaccessible territory as you gather new gear and upgrades. Objectives are pretty straight forward, and usually result in retrievals gone awry with alarms signaling undead or other events to heighten the already tense environment.

You couldn't have just used chalk?

The game works surprisingly well with the Wii-U Gamepad. Your map and inventory management is all handled on the seperate screen, using the touch screen to move items in your inventory or navigate the map to see what is ahead. A motion tracker sends out a blip on the map to detect enemies and points of interest, giving you a moment to enter a zone and plan ahead. The Gamepad is also used to scan your surroundings. Holding the controller up and looking around the room gives you the ability to scan enemies, items, and intel that can be marked on the map. Its blacklight will also show certain hidden messages that can lead to possible upgrades. With CCTV cameras opening up the map for each zone and the promise of finding loot, you find yourself using the feature quite often.

When the swarm of undead finally notice your presence, the game can get a bit hectic. While you begin fighting simple undead, eventually armored zombies or shrieking monstrosities will attract more enemies that can begin a panic. Luckily, there is a vast array of upgradeable weaponry for your preferred arsenal. Shotguns, machine guns, and the usual norm will be picked up for those who wish to be loud and sniper rifles and crossbows are available for those who prefer the long distance method. There is only a single cricket bat for melee situations, and killing one zombie takes an unsatisfying amount of time. The undead become predictable, but when a large group attacks, the click of an empty clip will make things frantic. The gamepad works well in inventory management, but during combat it can become difficult to switch weapons on the fly.

I'm out of bullets!...guess...guess I'll used that stuffed animal

A multiplayer mode is also included, but is limited to two players LAN. It's humans vs zombies in a capture point based game, with four scattered points on a map. One player acts as the zombie king, using the Gamepad to disperse forces against the human, upgrading to more formidable zombies as the game progresses. The human player has a set loadout of weaponry and must stave off the waves of undead while defending and capturing points, picking up powerups to stem the tide. It's a hectic situation for the human, and a manically enjoyable one for the zombie king as his zombies overwhelm the human's hold on a beacon. Though fun, the promise of adding a few more players to the fray would have extended the life of the experience.

ZombiU has its faults, but the overall survival horror experience was reminiscent of what the genre used to be. Limited resources, the reluctance of entering dark rooms, and the hectic fear that every zombie is as dangerous as the last keeps the game interesting. It makes great use of the gamepad in exploration and inventory management. The difficulties and issues with the controls and other faults may hold the game back from greatness, but as it stands, this ended up being my favorite launch title for the Wii-U.

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