Giant Bomb Review

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ZombiU Review

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ZombiU is not a repeat of Red Steel. It's a smart, scary, incredibly difficult action game with an unfortunate name, an experience that rewards patience and punishes arrogance.

You don't want to waste ammo, but three zombies requires more than swinging a cricket bat.

You could not be blamed for ignoring ZombiU sight unseen. One, it's a launch title on a new Nintendo system from Ubisoft, a publisher that famously pulled a bait-and-switch on players with Red Steel, a game that promised one-to-one sword fighting with then-new motion controls (ironically, Red Steel 2 was actually pretty good). Two, it's called ZombiU, a truly awful name that suggests little more than a generic shooter, and does nothing to hint at the substantive, thoughtful, ridiculously difficult game that actually lies inside. Ubisoft Montpellier was assigned an unenviable task by Ubisoft and the studio knocked it out of the park. ZombiU would be special outside of its place in an otherwise uninspiring launch line-up, but if you're joining the early adopter crowd on Wii U, ZombiU is both an excellent example of what's possible with Nintendo's new GamePad controller and a provocative video game that will, on more than one occasion, have your heart racing.

London has been overrun by zombies. At least at the outset, it's unclear why or if the rest of the world is grappling with the same reality. You are wandering the streets aimlessly until a voice identifying himself as The Prepper calls out, and offers shelter in his safe house. The Prepper does not identify himself, but he does promise you a way to defend yourself and a place to call home. You will return to the safe house often to pick up a new mission from The Prepper, drop off spare equipment, upgrade weapons, save progress, and generally take a deep breath. The safe house is not zombie-proof, but it's one of the few reliably protected places in the whole game. Saving and upgrading can take place in remote safe houses, as well, and you'll unlock manholes that serve as fast travel shortcuts around London.

"You" is purposely vague in ZombieU, as "you" are a random survivor, and "you" will become another random survivor when you die--which you will. Often, actually, and it will totally suck every single time. Though ZombiU does assign a name and profession to each survivor, it's meaningless data, and no individual backstory is ever fleshed out. The only time you hear survivors speak is when they're screaming in terror. This is fine, since ZombiU's story is all about your actions as the player. Though ZombiU does tell a perfectly serviceable story with a memorable spin on the reason zombies showed up, the moments I was telling others about had nothing to do with it. Instead, I would describe the time I tried to lay down a landmine near a pack of zombies, alerting them in the process--and the mine went off in my face. Dead. Instead, I remembered when I was crossing rickety, thin wooden planks in the sewer, zombies spawning on both sides of me, and as I attempted to deal with them, I fell. Dead. Instead, I recall picking a lock on the GamePad, which pans the camera out on the TV to provide a look at what's happening around you, and watching as a zombie slowly fell out of a nearby vent. Not dead! I managed to pick the lock, and close the door behind me.

One-on-one confrontations should be easy, but it doesn't take much to mess up in ZombiU.

Death has consequence in ZombiU, borrowing inspiration from FromSoftware's notoriously difficult Souls games and bringing in at least some of its sense of permanence. After dying in ZombiU, you respawn as a new survivor in The Prepper's safe house. All of your equipment is gone, and any skill progression earned from firing guns has vanished. The game offers you one opportunity to return to where you died, kill your previous self, and loot that equipment. Die a second time, however, and that body, along with any hard-earned equipment, disappears forever. When you die because of careless movement and take too much fall damage, it's not the end of the world. Be cautious and calculated, and you'll get all that stuff back. When you die amidst a pack of zombies and you have now become an additional enemy, it's soul crushing. I had one survivor make it nearly three hours, but I never found his body. I gave up, moved on. Clearing out a room of zombies with nothing more than a cricket bat and a pistol with a few bullets can take the better part of an hour, and it's easy to mess up. There are a few stats that carry from survivor to survivor, though. Weapon upgrades are permanent, and you can modify weapons at workbenches found in the safe house and around the world. Early on, I piled all my upgrades into the base level pistol, since every new survivor is granted one, and handgun ammo is one of the more common items.

Other players may have an easier time than I did, since most of my playthrough happened before Wii U's day one patch, which introduced its suite of online services. In ZombiU, players on your friends list and randoms connected to the Internet will populate the world after dying in their game. You're not actually playing with these people at the same time, per se, but if they die in their Buckingham Palace, their infected body is now part of your Buckingham Palace. The same is true for you. Random zombies do not carry much on them, but survivors are likely to have much more of what you need: ammo, medkits, and guns. The game keeps track of these deaths on the GamePad, and if you find yourself low on equipment, it's easy enough to identify where a friend recently died and go searching for their corpse. Creepy? Sure. Invaluable? Hell yeah. You may also leave "messages" for others throughout the world, ala the Souls games, but you cannot leave written messages, and must communicate through confusing symbols that say very little. One imagines this is to avoid players just leaving keypad numbers in the environment (discovering the numbers is one of the few puzzles the game offers), but it hamstrings what could have been an interesting feature.

Getting to those corpses will require extreme patience, a virtue ZombiU asks for often. This is not a fast paced game, and playing it that way is a great way to get killed. ZombiU punishes overzealousness. Its not-so-great shooting mechanics will rub some the wrong way, but it felt thematically consistent with the amateurish nature of the survivors themselves. Once you learn how the system works, you adjust. It's a jarring transition, but give it time--it will click.

There are two constants in ZombiU: your flashlight and cricket bat. Ammo will disappear, medkits will be applied, and flares will burn out, but your flashlight and cricket bat remain. The flashlight drains as it's used, but flipping it off will bring the battery back to full in seconds. There are no other melee weapons in ZombiU, and it would be easy to groan at the lack of variety, but like many design decisions in ZombiU, it's one with purpose. You cannot just wind up a swing with the cricket bat in perpetuity until a zombie approaches. Each swing must be deliberate, and perfectly timed. In some cases, enemies will have helmets that render them invulnerable until you've knocked it off. To that end, only having access to the cricket bat ensures you become intimately familiar with the timing of an individual swing, how long it takes before you can pull off another one, and work to establish rhythm of swinging, then moving, then swinging to employ proper crowd control. Over the dozen or so hours you spend with ZombiU, its reliability becomes a comfort. Conserving equipment is vital to longterm survival in ZombiU, and that means ample use of the cricket bat whenever possible.

The interaction between the GamePad and TV is put to good use throughout ZombiU.

To get this far without mentioning ZombiU's use of Nintendo's GamePad controller says much about how well it's implemented. Besides having you flip it up in order to activate gyroscope-based sniping (also controllable using the analog sticks, thankfully), it's good. It's largely used for inventory management, and at the start of the game, you have precious few slots to manage. (You gain more slots if you manage to find larger backpacks.) There are six quick use items, and the rest are stored in your backpack. The lack of an iPad-level touch screen with multitouch means you have to be very careful and deliberate with your finger presses on the GamePad, but in a funny way, that falls perfectly in line with the rest of the game. When you do something, don't do it half-assed. Opening the backpack does not pause the game, leaving you extremely vulnerable, and unable to attack enemies. If you're mucking around in your backpack in the middle of a fight, though, you fucked up, and blaming the touch screen's finickiness is just placing the blame somewhere other than yourself.

When not moving items around, the center of the screen is home to an invaluable radar system that's upgraded throughout the game. At first, when a button is pressed on the screen, it cans the area and blips red (think Aliens) if zombies are nearby and moving. An upgrade makes that pinging automatic. This radar is both your friend and enemy, as it is not always telling the truth. Crows and rats will show up, too, making a room appear to have somewhere in the range of 10 to 15 zombies…when there's really only one. Not funny, game! Pressing a trigger, however, prompts the survivor to hold up the device in the world, and it becomes a scanner on the GamePad's screen. The scanner can identify if zombies are carrying items, differentiate between a crow and a zombie, and save you the headache of scavenging through every part of the world for equipment. It'd easy to imagine how the radar could have just become a mini-map in the corner of the TV screen, but there is something to the idea of actually diverting your eyes from the TV to gain additional information from the radar. Doing so in the middle of a fight with several zombies is terrifying but important, especially if you're trying to survive with only the cricket bat, but the moments where I looked away and screwed up my swing are burned into my mind. The radar becomes an X factor, and how often you invite the risks of looking at it will largely depend on the play style you establish.

There's multiplayer in ZombiU, as well, but it's more interesting than it is enjoyable. The main mode finds the GamePad user becoming Left 4 Dead's AI Director, dropping zombies into the world for the survivors controlled by other players to fight. In single-player, the shaky shooting controls and slow melee combat work just fine, but it doesn't translate to multiplayer very well. It's also one-on-one, and would benefit from supporting more players. It's just not much fun with just two players.

All of these words later, and I've somehow said nothing about how damn scary ZombiU is. I played Amnesia: The Dark Descent this year, and ZombiU gave that one a run for its money. You feel alone in ZombiU, often fighting and scavenging in total darkness. Your flashlight provides little useful illumination, and the moments where it runs out, forcing you to recharge while a zombie shuffles towards you, are paralyzing. The 30 minutes I spent in a nursery are some of the most memorable time I've spent with a horror game or movie, punctuated by a jump scare that literally took my breath away. Survival horror fans disenchanted with the direction Capcom's taken the Resident Evil series will find much to love in ZombiU, and anybody looking for a quality launch title with deep, rewarding mechanics are encouraged to see what Ubisoft--yes, Ubisoft-has created.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
106 Comments
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Posted by Vinchenzo

lame

Posted by RYNO9881

Cool surprise

Edited by evanbower

@RYNO9881 said:

Cool surprise

@Vinchenzo said:

lame

Thanks guys.

Glad to hear that the game is actually scary though. This is something a lot of people didn't get around to mentioning just because there was so much else to explain about the title. I'm really, really sensitive to scary games.. but.. I'm gonna do it. If things get too rough, I'll just play the Nintendo Land menu music to take me to a better place.

Posted by patrickklepek

COMMENTS!

Posted by jayjonesjunior

great game.

Posted by Ravelle

I'm missing the cartoony Patrick being impressed. :(

Posted by Rihanna

Nice review. I enjoyed the QL too.

Posted by Mister_V

Sounds neat. If I had a Wii U and liked Zombie games I would totally maybe rent this.

Posted by Xeirus

@patrickklepek said:

COMMENTS!

I DON'T GET IT, did you try to steal the quest from people and you failed? You're better than that sir... You should delete their comments so no one ever knows.

Posted by altairre

@patrickklepek said:

COMMENTS!

WORDS! (Am I doing it right?)

Posted by MooseyMcMan

If/when I get a Wii U, I will probably play this game.

Moderator
Posted by MormonWarrior

I'm surprised Patrick liked it so much. It's been getting lukewarm to bad reviews almost everywhere else. Huh.

Posted by algertman

Great game. There's some real consequences for death and it's a lot of tension to a game with great atmosphere.

Posted by TheVideoHustler

Patrick. It's like you want me to buy a Wii U just to play this game.

Posted by MattyD

"This review is for the WII release of ZombiU."

That'll explain the sub PS3/360 level graphics. ;-)

Posted by Hailinel
@Vinchenzo

lame

Yes you are.
Great review, Patrick. I look forward to this game frustrating the hell out of me while testing my nerves!
Posted by evanbower

@patrickklepek: Thanks for the review Patrick. I like to think you wrote it while enjoying a tiny packet of in-flight peanuts.

Posted by Legend

Good review here. Bad review on GameSpot. I don't know who to believe anymore!!! :P

Posted by SirOptimusPrime

I'm remotely interested in this. I don't have any interest in the WiiU at all, nor any of the other titles in the near future besides maybe Bayonetta 2 but this + the QL just make me kind of want a WiiU.

Then I remembered the launch day live stream, and all is well. Though I do like concepts like unreliable technology in that auto-ping thing.

Edited by Goldanas

Is there any variance to the enemy types? The QL made it seem like they're all just shambling zombies, and sometimes one of them will have some armor.

It also doesn't actually seem that difficult. It seems like they aped the Souls games note for note, but tuned it back a bit. The variance in the types of enemies you face in those games is so vast and diverse, that you could be facing a shambling piece of meat that has strength in numbers (similar to the zombies in this game) and the next moment you could be facing a knight with intense speed and prowess with a blade. The Souls games also respawned all the enemies in an area if you died or rested somewhere to heal. It seems like ZombiU might be a better game for not aping that, because if I had to fight the same shambling zombies even more than it seems I already would have to, I'd shut the game off immediately.

The Souls games also have lots of interesting characters to meet and places to see. Does this game have any of that?

I may be asking a lot, and I can't fault it as it is a different game, but with so many direct comparisons to those Souls games I don't think it's asking too much for it to at least have more of the things that make those games so good. This just seems lackluster in comparison (though I guess I don't really care for inventory management in games, whereas you seem to just fucking love it, dude. More power to ya', but it ain't my bag).

Posted by TeflonBilly

Good review. Made me rather interested in a game I'd more or less written off.

The little allusions to Amnesia and the Souls games this game seems to posses makes it sound a lot more intriguing than something like Dead Island was.

Posted by spexeh

Great write up, Patrick. I have yet to play the game and probably never will, but as an avid Dark Souls fan, I've been puzzled by other reviewers critiquing similar game elements that I enjoy. Don't people want a punishing and lonely zombie game?

Posted by TheSouthernDandy

Really glad this game turned out interesting, launch games seem like a dicey proposition at the best of times and a lot of the stuff coming out about this system have seemed kinda meh. I almost wanna pick one up to play this game. Almost.

Oh and ps. "At first, when a button is pressed on the screen, it cans the area and blips red"

Just a heads up :)

Posted by loyalroyal1989

@MormonWarrior said:

I'm surprised Patrick liked it so much. It's been getting lukewarm to bad reviews almost everywhere else. Huh.

I have also seen some very good reviews so I am not too surprised. and I normally trust a giantbomb review over others say a gamespot review

Posted by ashton

great review. someone get patrick a review avatar!

Posted by joeshabadoo

PK, just a heads up for context on the naming choice for this game: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/4/4b/Zombi_box.jpg

Spiritual successor to ^that^. Doesn't exactly redeem the name, but some Ubisoft history/context

Posted by Carousel

"It's a smart, scary, incredibly difficult action game with an unfortunate name, an experience that rewards patience and punishes arrogance."

And everyone hates Dark Souls.

Posted by jillsandwich

This game sounds pretty awesome. The Wii U doesn't sound half bad either.

Posted by sirdesmond

I got a chance to try this out on a friend's Wii U last night and I was really pretty impressed with what I played. When I inevitably get a Wii U (because I'm just the kind of person that eventually has to have all the consoles), I'm really excited to play it. It's not so crazy mind-blowing that I feel the need to play it right this very second though.

Posted by Colourful_Hippie

Damn, reviews are all over the place on this.

Posted by George_Hukas

"The lack of an iPad-level touch screen with multitouch means you have to be very careful and deliberate with your finger presses on the GamePad, but in a funny way, that falls perfectly in line with the rest of the game."

This is by far, the dumbest thing have ever read.

Posted by Bobtoad1

@MormonWarrior: Well not every reviewer is the same. This game has a lot of features that Patrick enjoys, so he rates it better than others who's tastes are more mainstream. The trick to knowing if you'll enjoy a game based on the review is to know the reviewer. I feel I have a handle on Patrick's tastes, and where they converge and diverge from mine, so when he writes a review or talks about something on the bombcast i use his opinion as a lens to view the game through. Patrick and I have very different tastes, but his opinions are still useful to me because i know some things that he dislikes i don't mind or even enjoy, and vice versa. For instance, I know Jeff and I have very similar senses of humor, and I'll almost always enjoy any story he does, but i prefer games with more measured pacing and controls than his usual fare.

Edited by adamgaudry

@George_Hukas: dude, you need to read a little more... or cut down on the hyperbole. On another note, the game seems interesting, especially given the really divisive reviews out there. The last time I remember a divide this deep was Deadly Premonition.

Posted by MovieFlask

Great review. I think this convinced me to make the plunge.

Posted by DeF

Great review, Patrick! Reads as exciting as it was watching the Quick Look (somehow I find these Dark Souls-y games very interesting to just watch)

Been sold on the game from day one, still looking forward to grabbing it on EU launch (even more so now, actually)!

@ashton said:

great review. someone get patrick a review avatar!

I asked Dave last Christmas to get him one as a gift :)

They're probably going away with the new site anyway^^

Posted by Video_Game_King

I know the site's getting a redesign in a couple of months, but somebody put a cartoon Patrick on these things. That void next to the quote creates a void in my heart :.(.

Edited by blurienh

I refreshed this page loads of times before finally accepting that a cartoon of Patrick wasn't going to pop up.

ZombieU sounds interesting and would have been enough to make me become an early adopter of the hardware, like Condemned did for the 360, but I'm so unconvinced about the WiiU's lasting appeal that I just cant justify the money, maybe a few more interesting exclusives and I'll change my mind.

Edit: BTW Patrick the bit under the score "This review is for....." has it linked as a Wii game not a WiiU one.

Posted by jasonefmonk

It sounds like an interesting way to experience the console. Something I won't do for some time while the WiiU proves it's worth.

Really what we all want is The Last of Us anyways.

Posted by Tarsier

i dont believe you patrick.

Edited by GaspoweR

@joeshabadoo said:

PK, just a heads up for context on the naming choice for this game: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/4/4b/Zombi_box.jpg

Spiritual successor to ^that^. Doesn't exactly redeem the name, but some Ubisoft history/context

So it is essentially because they own the "Zombi" brand that they decided to attach it to this game. Man, this is a pretty old game.

Posted by ManU_Fan10ne

@altairre said:

@patrickklepek said:

COMMENTS!

WORDS! (Am I doing it right?)

YES U ARE! (I hope)

Posted by graboids

This is the one game I am sad to miss out on by not having a WiiU... despite the name. For now i will just have to live by Quick Look Osmosis though Patrick.

Posted by KlUMZeE

I don't know man, 1 melee weapon in the entire game, one swing animation to go with it, and requiring 3-5 hits just to kill normal zombies seems incredibly tedious and uninteresting. Not to mention how buggy the game seemed in the Quick Look and that there seems to be no real story or characters to get invested in. The multiplayer mode seemed like it would be cool with friends, but everything else I've seen (including the Quick Look and most other reviews) make me think that this game is no where near as good as Patrick is giving it credit for.

Posted by nail1080

@blurienh said:

I refreshed this page loads of times before finally accepting that a cartoon of Patrick wasn't going to pop up.

haha lol I did wait staring at the empty space expecting a picture to pop up! oh well lol

Edited by MonkeyKing1969

So, if this game sell well in the next month on Wii U does that start the count down clock for XB360 and PS3 ports? From what I can see Ubisoft developed and published the game, so Nintendo does not own the IP. Therefore, it is not out of the question that if this sells well-enough, Ubi would want to port it.

Truthfully, this is the only game I have seen on Wii or Wii U that I wished other system had now. I won't buy a Wii U just for this game, but if they were to port it, I'd buy it for my current system even if it lost the second screen inventory and used Kinect or Move for the "scanner".

Posted by TyCobb

@Colourful_Hippie said:

Damn, reviews are all over the place on this.

Opinions! This seems like a game not for everyone and especially one that won't just get an automatic rating. **cough** GameSpot **cough**

Personally, I would just watch the Quick Look and if it seems like you will have fun with it, buy it. Reviews can be too nit-picky if the reviewer didn't have some sort of fun.

Edited by ProfessorEss

Good review, and I must say the quick look made the game look much more interesting than I thought it would be.

...but ugh, Red Steel? Pretty good? I dunno man, Red Steel kind of defined everything that I felt was wrong about the Wii.

Posted by niftymcnift

I find it very interesting that the Dark Souls comparison has been used, has anyone at GB played DS any significant amount?

Posted by MattyD

@ProfessorEss said:

Good review, and I must say the quick look made the game look much more interesting than I thought it would be.

...but ugh, Red Steel? Pretty good? I dunno man, Red Steel kind of defined everything that I felt was wrong about the Wii.

He was referring to Red Steel 2.

I'm definitely getting this game when it arrives in the UK, I'm just gutted I have to pay crazy launch day prices for it.

Posted by Goldanas

@KlUMZeE said:

I don't know man, 1 melee weapon in the entire game, one swing animation to go with it, and requiring 3-5 hits just to kill normal zombies seems incredibly tedious and uninteresting. Not to mention how buggy the game seemed in the Quick Look and that there seems to be no real story or characters to get invested in. The multiplayer mode seemed like it would be cool with friends, but everything else I've seen (including the Quick Look and most other reviews) make me think that this game is no where near as good as Patrick is giving it credit for.

I agree with you, dude. I feel like there are a lot of things about this game, like the limited weapon selection, that Patrick doesn't outright address. That's fine, because that's probably not that important to him, but it is to me.

Ultimately, the way he describes the game in the review--which uses the design of going from anecdote to anecdote--seems to evoke the notion to me that it's kind of a "D. Souls lite". It's missing core elements like an interesting and profound world, diverse enemies, and fascinating characters. It tries to take a few core elements like messages and difficulty, but falls flat by not properly implementing precanned messages and having enemies mostly not respawn and limit their challenge to mere tedium of clunky design.

I think Jeff is right: Reviews are on their way out. I got all I needed to see from the Quick Look because I actually saw the game in play and got to see several of the scenarios Patrick refers to with reverence in this review, and I could make my own judgements as to whether or not they were compelling (to me they were not).

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