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 namesonkel

We need a Patrick review graphic.

Posted by Boopie

so all the things that sound bad are really good

Posted by Dan_CiTi
@MonkeyKing1969 said:

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".

Man this is always a bummer. 
Posted by JasonR86

@niftymcnift said:

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

Vinny has played through Demon Souls and at least most of Dark Souls. But all of them played Dark Souls to some degree (at least a few hours each) and at least Jeff played a few hours of Demon Souls as well.

Posted by MoonwalkSA

@niftymcnift said:

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

I believe Vinny has beaten it, but I don't think any of the others have put that much time into it even though they are familiar with some of the more unique mechanics (like bloodstain stuff).

Posted by me3639

I understand completely why Patrick likes the game, but after watching other quick looks and reviews from other sites i also understand the negatives being attached. All i know is watching the ql's all i can remember is "Look at your WII U gamepad" over and over....and over....and over.....AND OVER......
 
Fresh ideas, but even if they are used again will it be fresh or will it already be tired?

Posted by WeAreNotQualified

I gave you your due props in the ZombiU Miiverse community. Also, spend some serious time in Miiverse, especially the Funky Barn community. That place has turned into Meme Central.

Posted by Shaanyboi

@namesonkel said:

We need a Patrick review graphic.

they're doing away with those graphics entirely

Posted by FoxMulder

Seems cool, but the fact that it only has one melee weapon is kind of dumb...despite it pretty much being a refrence to Shaun of the Dead! Maybe if the Dead Island devs meet up with the devs of this game they can make a truly amazing and deep zombie game!

Posted by Hailinel

@Dan_CiTi said:

@MonkeyKing1969 said:

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".

Man this is always a bummer.

I'm guessing no. Ubisoft could port it if they wanted to, but they could have ported Red Steel 1 & 2 and those remained exclusive to the Wii (Red Steel, from what I recall, sold rather well based on the hype).

Not to mention that a great deal of the interactivity and novelty of the game, which is so focused on the touch screen, would be completely lost if it were ported to the PS3/360.

Online
Posted by iAmJohn

@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.

Dude, Red Steel 2 was pretty good. It still had problems but their weird western aesthetic and swordplay was kind of rad.

Posted by bigevil1987

Great review, planning on getting a Wii U in a couple of weeks and this will likely be my first game, aside from Nintendoland.

Posted by Godlyawesomeguy

@Shaanyboi said:

@namesonkel said:

We need a Patrick review graphic.

they're doing away with those graphics entirely

That's a shame.

Posted by Leeroi

@Godlyawesomeguy said:

@Shaanyboi said:

@namesonkel said:

We need a Patrick review graphic.

they're doing away with those graphics entirely

That's a shame.

Agreed. Bummer.

Posted by golguin

Glad to hear it turned out great. We need more horror type games.

Posted by kevjjsc

Totally agree! great HONEST review, this is survival horror!! (RE1 & RE2)..the bad reviews came from amateurs expecting Left for Dead 3. GIANT BOMB rocks!!

Posted by JamrockZX7R

@kevjjsc: Please don't assume that if someone doesn't like ZombiU they are some kind of amateur. Yes, Giant Bomb does rock but Patrick loved it, had it been Jeff or any of the other guys they might not have liked it so much. Don't dismiss peoples opinions because they are not in line with yours.

Posted by Yummylee

This all sounds fucking incredible, and I sorely wish this was a multiplatform game as I'm not willing to buy a WiiU for what is just one game I'm currently interested in =(

Online
Posted by MrMiyagi

Excellent review. I'm glad I bit the bullet and grabbed this one with my spur of the moment Wii U purchase.

Posted by Fitzgerald

Flashlights that have arbitrarily short battery life = dumb.

Posted by ZZoMBiE13

@Yummylee said:

This all sounds fucking incredible, and I sorely wish this was a multiplatform game as I'm not willing to buy a WiiU for what is just one game I'm currently interested in =(

I completely agree.

I'm eagerly waiting for the Wii U to provide something, anything to justify picking one up. I like the tech involved and can't wait for the right combination of games to entice me into a purchase. Sadly though, as it stands this is the only game pinging my radar, so to speak. And as much as I love zombie fiction of all kinds, one game isn't enough.

Also, for what it's worth, this is not my way of railing against the Wii U. I rarely pick up consoles at launch. And the times I have taken that plunge have left me feeling regretful (VITA).

Posted by jamesisaacs

Must admit, the name is a blemish. You'd think the developers would have given it a better title related to the story.

Posted by VanishedDecoy

Excellent review, IMHO. Looks quite fantastic. However, it seems like I could be slightly let down by the fact that zombies appear to spawn out of nowhere which kind of hinders upon that feeling of a deliberate gameplay environment. Not really a fan of those scripted events either.

Posted by dropabombonit

Can we look forward to a spookin with scoops with this game?

Posted by Quantical

I'm not going to buy a Wii U as I do not see the point of it at all. This review makes the game sound interesting though. I already have Dark Souls so I don't need a crappy version of it really. Just keep down the middle of the road Nintendo. Yeah, you are doing great. Need a walking stick?

Posted by muralbat

Delicious hater tears.

This game does look fantastic and I can not WAIT until the 30th so I can get my filthy European hands on that shiny black beauty and play me some Zombiu!

Edited by ProfessorEss

@iAmJohn said:

@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.

Dude, Red Steel 2 was pretty good. It still had problems but their weird western aesthetic and swordplay was kind of rad.

Pretty sure he edited this to say Red Steel 2 after my post. I wouldn't have reacted so strongly to Red Steel 2.

I still didn't think Red Steel 2 was very good either but it certainly wasn't the mess that was Red Steel 1.

Posted by Nekroskop

Still not enough to make me buy one. Marking this one off for later though.

Posted by SharkEthic

Really wanna play this, really don't wanna buy a Wii U.

Posted by Lucidlife

Was it really necessary to pick at the name? Nope. But expected.

Posted by Gordo789

welp, I guess I should start squirreling money away for a wii U.

damn it.

Posted by CrossTheAtlantic

Adding a U to the end of the games just doesn't have the same ring as "Super" or "64" did I guess.

Posted by wardcleaver

I am not a fan of the whole zombie thing. This review and the QL did not change that.

Posted by Solh0und

To me survival horror has been dead for years but good to hear ZombiU is neat!

Posted by SathingtonWaltz

This reminds me a bit of Far Cry 2. I personally loved the shit out of that game, but it's one of those "acquired taste" games. But yeah, ZombiU definitely seems up my alley and this only further confirms my purchase.

Posted by Anwar

All of you guys who respect GB more than Gamespot reviews realize that GB respects those guys and that Gamespot isn't worse at reviewing games, right?

Posted by Krisgebis

Giving this game to Patrick for review is the kindest treatment giant bomb could give this game.

Scoring games high for trying new things and having an interesting premise, and at the same time not faulting the games too much if they lack cohesive mechanics or otherwise mess up the execution. That is why you see the discrepancies between his review scores and other sites. Not really a critic of his reviews, but more of a note to keep in mind.

Posted by The_Moose

Great review!

Posted by ApolloAxis

Good to see it turned out alright. :)

Posted by minor_incident

The more I play of ZombiU, the more I'm convinced it's actually goddamn brilliant. One of my favorite launch games ever.

Posted by Knights

I'll be the proud owner of a Wii U soon... And yes, I'll be playing this game because a lot of other zombie games are missing this survival horror factor to it... I just hope I don't brick it updating it! :P

Edited by mdnthrvst

AM I THE ONLY PERSON ON EARTH WHO PLAYED THROUGH THE FIRST RED STEEL AND THOUGHT IT HAD A COOL AND INTERESTING YAKUZA STORYLINE AND SOME PRETTY NEAT LEVEL DESIGNS AND FUN MECHANICS

I FEEL LIKE I PLAYED A GAME THAT DIDN'T ACTUALLY EXIST AND EVERYONE ELSE GOT SOME UNSPEAKABLE PIECE OF SHIT FROM THE WAY IT'S TALKED ABOUT

Edited by QuistisTrepe

I feel like my head is going to explode. So there IS a Wii version of the game? I'm looking online and I'm not seeing that anywhere.

Platform: Wii U

"This review is for the Wii release"

Posted by Fistoh

The only complaint I have with this review is mentioning that there's a jump in the nursery. Whenever I do play this game, I will now know that there is a jump in the nursery, and It takes most of the anticipation out of the picture. Otherwise, fantastic job, Mr. Klepek. 

Posted by Shaanyboi

@ProfessorEss said:

@iAmJohn said:

@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.

Dude, Red Steel 2 was pretty good. It still had problems but their weird western aesthetic and swordplay was kind of rad.

Pretty sure he edited this to say Red Steel 2 after my post. I wouldn't have reacted so strongly to Red Steel 2.

I still didn't think Red Steel 2 was very good either but it certainly wasn't the mess that was Red Steel 1.

Unless he edited after like.... 3 comments which is when I read the review, it's always said Red Steel 2

Posted by ProfessorEss

@Shaanyboi said:

@ProfessorEss said:

@iAmJohn said:

@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.

Dude, Red Steel 2 was pretty good. It still had problems but their weird western aesthetic and swordplay was kind of rad.

Pretty sure he edited this to say Red Steel 2 after my post. I wouldn't have reacted so strongly to Red Steel 2.

I still didn't think Red Steel 2 was very good either but it certainly wasn't the mess that was Red Steel 1.

Unless he edited after like.... 3 comments which is when I read the review, it's always said Red Steel 2

Okay. My mistake.

Posted by JasonR86

@QuistisTrepe said:

I feel like my head is going to explode. So there IS a Wii version of the game? I'm looking online and I'm not seeing that anywhere.

Platform: Wii U

"This review is for the Wii release"

It's only for the Wii U.

Posted by laserbolts

My roomate has this and it's junk. The combat is horrible and doesn't feel at all satisfying. The presentation looks like a 360 launch game and the frame rate was unstable at times. I never paid attention to the story bits so I'm not sure if that's what redeems this game. Either way you shouldn't spend $60 on this under any circumstance.

Posted by PompousDawson

Just bought this on the e-shop. This review causes me to sway, plus the DDP as well.

Online
Edited by snowflame

(ironically, Red Steel 2 was actually pretty good).

No, no it wasn't actually.

It is funny when enemies shoot other enemies in the back, though.

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