Ever since its initial, cryptic announcement at Nintendo's pre-E3 press conference, ZombiU has been talked about for months. No other survival horror game has taken such a unique approach as this one, putting you in the shoes of a normal joe just trying to survive a zombie onslaught the best way possible, without an ammo-filled shotgun or super powers to rely on. That may not be everyone's speed – especially after taking on the Left 4 Dead games – but it remains an exceptional stride away from most "blast zombies until you're dead" titles.
And now that it's here, I'm happy to say that ZombiU mostly lives up to the hype. I say mostly because it definitely has some flaws that are kind of hard to overlook. But when it comes to scaring the bejesus out of you – literally, no gimmicks here like you'd find in most teen horror flicks – it sinks its teeth in and rips you apart.
The game takes place in London, which has been overrun by a frighteningly real zombie outbreak. As a general survivor with no combat capabilities, your only solace rides with the "Prepper", an ally who guides you through each step of your horror-filled journey via radio. However, you'll have a lot to contend with along the way. Not only will you have to watch out for the zombies, but you'll also need to search through small rooms for items, utilizing your GamePad as you would a sensor.
The utilization of the GamePad is probably one of the most novel uses we've seen for it in a third-party game. Though there are times your searching will be inconvenient – like desperately hunting down ammo while a zombie's hot on your trail – it's really well done, and helps bump up the tension a little bit. It's also handy if you're looking to snipe the undead from a distance, though you'll need to be steady with it, lest you waste a perfectly good bullet.
However, there are a couple of snags within the game. The first is that, despite how fragile they look, some of these zombies take multiple hits with your cricket bat to bring down. We're talking five or so good whacks, and when you're confronted with a group, it's not only tedious, but frustrating. Also, despite Ubisoft's best efforts, they couldn't overcome the loading times that frequent the game. Even when you're moving into a new area, escaping from zombies, everything has to stop for a second while the new locale loads up. It throws off the tension a little bit.
One thing you'll need to understand about ZombiU is that it truly lives up to its survival horror name. It's hard as nails for newcomers, and once you're dead, no matter how deep you are in the game, that's it. There's no save point or area where you can recover and get right back into it. You do it successfully in one run or you're toast. Granted, you pick right back up as a new survivor when you restart, and if you do manage to find your former dead self, you score your old supplies back. That is, if you can find yourself amidst the horde. (Good luck with that.) Though this approach won't work for everyone, it's genuine, and a very cool angle at that.
Along with the single player portion of the game, ZombiU features a fun survival mode pitting player (holding GamePad) against player (on TV), with one unleashing zombies and another setting out to kill them. There are some decent online functions in the form of Leaderboards, but don't go into this game expecting a Left 4 Dead experience. It works way differently than that. And as a neat bonus, you can also turn yourself into a zombie, or your friends, and take pictures.
The graphics may not be as top-of-the-line as other Nintendo driven efforts, but they do the job when it comes to providing you with dank surroundings and sheer chills. The zombies look frightening, no matter who you're facing off against, and the fact that you'll need to scamper to find as much light as possible is quite effective. As for sound, the pinging on the radar does get a little old, but the moaning and groaning of zombies are quite realistic…for apocalypse-ridden horror effects, anyway.
ZombiU's style of play won't suit everyone, especially if you're an impatient type who just wants to let loose with carnage-dripping mayhem. But if it's a realistic experience you're after, or a third party Wii U game that you'll actually get mileage out of, this is one dead man's party worth hitting up.