ZombiU is a first-person survival horror game developed by Ubisoft Montpellier (along with Ubisoft Bucharest) and published by Ubisoft as a launch title for the Wii U in North America (on November 18, 2012), Europe (on November 30, 2012), and Japan (on December 8, 2012). It was later ported (as Zombi) by Straight Right to the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC on August 18, 2015, with the North American release as digital-exclusive.
Set in London during a 2012 zombie apocalypse, players control a random silent survivor as they are guided by another mysterious survivor (known as "The Prepper") through radio chatter in searching out provisions and weapons to survive the apocalypse. Along the way, the plot thickens as the survivor aids a Royal physician (Dr. Knight) in searching for a cure and encounters remnants of a secret society known as the "Ravens of Dee" (named after 16th century occult philosopher John Dee, who predicted the outbreak).
As a survival horror game, ZombiU features a unique variation of the "permanent death" mechanic: once the player's survivor dies, that character becomes a roaming zombie and players take control of a new random survivor in the game's starting location. By going back to the location where the other survivor died, players can eliminate that zombie to reclaim some of that survivor's inventory. Additionally, players can enable a "hardcore" mode, where death results in the game progress being reset.
The original Wii U version makes heavy use of the system's GamePad touchscreen, which is used for managing the player's inventory, viewing the minimap, and performing context-sensitive actions (such as lockpicking). It is also used for the game's asymmetrical two-screen multiplayer mode, where one player uses it for deploying zombies. The original version also makes use of the GamePad's gyroscope (for scanning areas), the GamePad's camera (for face mapping), and the Miiverse (both for leaving player messages, similar to Demon's Souls, and for having player roaming zombies appear in friends' games).
The game was originally known during its development cycle as a faster-paced first-person shooter, first as a mature Rabbids-themed game (Attack of the Killer Rabbids from Outer Space) and then as a game involving alien invasion (Killer Freaks from Outer Space). Along with its new zombie theme, the game featues a story written by comic book writer Antony Johnston (who also wrote several games in the Dead Space series).
The Wii U GamePad with its touch screen is going to function as the player's "Bug-Out-Bag" as it contains all of the player's survival tools like weapons, med kits and a map. Players have only one life and lose all the equipment and skills they've built up in their previous run, effectively combining elements of Rogue, The Binding of Isaac and DayZ, the ArmA II mod. Once the player's character dies, they will wake up as another survivor of the ongoing zombie apocalypse and can kill the their previous character that now roams the area as a zombie to reclaim their items. Collecting weapons and items is essential to survive since a zombie horde can appear at any time and the player needs to find shelter that can be defended.
The main goal of the game is to survive as long as possible and eventually escape Zombie-infested London. Character progression is a key element and the longer a player survives, the more skilled the character becomes at handling weapons: accuracy, kickback, reload-times are among the upgradeable skills--all these benefits will have to be relearned if the character dies and players start back at the camp with a fresh survivor. Upgraded weapons and items can only be retrieved by killing the previous survivor who now roams the area in zombie-form.
The world state is permanent. Zombies that have been "killed" will not return. While some moments are scripted, enemy spawns are also dynamic to avoid predictable "jump-scare" scripting.
Players progress through the world by fulfilling tasks give to them by one of the four main characters (in the form of radio voices). Looking for important items, turning a power generator back on or finding new supplies is what drives the randomly generated character into the streets of London via the sewer system which acts as a kind of fast-travel from the main hub in the safe house. The game world is not wide open but will be re-populated with enemies and items as time goes by since backtracking and completing objectives in previously visited areas is a big part of the game.
From time to time, the safe house will get attacked by zombies where the player will have to fend off the hordes and use the items found previously to defend themselves, or to barricade the entry ways.
Online Features in Single Player
In a way reminiscent of the system first found in Demon's Souls, ZombiU incorporates a system called "Blacklight" which lets players leave messages via graffiti in the game world which can be scanned and read by other players. These messages are comprised of symbols instead of written text and can be tagged as distrustworthy.
There is also an always-online feature called "Mercy Kill" that, once a player dies, notifies their friends of the player's death and other players can then look for their friend's now zombified body to end its misery and steal their loot in the process.
Once players finish the game, a new option becomes available that lets players play in Survival Mode. In this mode, the player has to finish the game with only one single survivor.
The premise of the multiplayer portion of ZombiU puts one player in the shoes of the Boris, the King of Zombies. The King of Zombies has created his own set of challenges and arenas to entertain his undead people.
The asymmetric one-on-one local multiplayer mode from the "Killer Freaks" version of the game that was demoed at E3 2011 has been adapted into ZombiU version, letting the person using the Wii U GamePad--the Zombie King--strategically control the Zombie hordes from a top down view to attack the second player who is using a Wii U Pro Controller or the Wii Remote & Nunchuck combo with regular FPS controls. The Zombie King has a limited pool of points to spend on zombie units. Basic grunts cost one point, but armored hunter units cost four. Resource management is key in this case. During the course of a match, both players can also level up and gain skills/zombie types to select.
The multiplayer portion of the game is comprised of three modes:
Assault Mode was revealed along with the game at E3 2012. It is a blend of Control Point Capture and Capture the Flag modes form other games. The GamePad-player (or the Zombie King) and the First Person-player (Survivor) both compete to capture three flags spread across a map. The Zombie King controls the spawn points for the zombies but has to split his attention between attacking the Survivor while also having zombies go for the flag points. The Survivor has to focus on surviving while capturing the flag posts.
In Killing Box, the Survivor has to hold out against the zombie hordes dropped onto the map by the Zombie King. This mode is high score-based and scores the player for how many zombies he can kill before the Zombie King eventually takes them out.
Survival Mode rank players depending on how long they hold out against the Zombie King's horde.
Multiplayer supports local play only, due to the focus on asymmetric gameplay.
ZombiU was originally unveiled as a Wii U exclusive first person shooter named Killer Freaks from Outer Space at E3 2011. Even before that, the game started as a multiplatform project that featured regular, non-alien Rabbids and was called Attack of the Killer Rabbids From Outer Space because the developers at Ubisoft Montpellier had been working on Rabbids games for years and grew tired of them so they wanted to make a game about shooting them in the face. The game dropped off the map until the following year, when Ubisoft re-revealed it in its current format during their E3 2012 Press Conference. After they premiered the ZombiU trailer, it was explained that the developers retooled the game from a first person shooter with unique Rabbid/Gremlin-hybrid looking aliens into a more realistic survival-horror game with Zombies.
During a developer roundtable at E3 2011, Nintendo and Ubisoft showed off the Killer Freaks version of the game in alpha stage. What they showed was very basic and featured just a short alley section where the player shot some alien Rabbids. The player controlled the game with a Wii U GamePad by using the gyro sensor in the controller and looking at the touch screen to aim and move, disregarding the TV almost completely. They also showed a multiplayer mode in which one player controlled the game with a Classic Controller Pro connected to a Wii Remote in standard FPS-mode and the second player used the Wii U GamePad to manage enemy spawn locations, a design foundation that was actually kept for ZombiU's final multiplayer mode.
The story centers around an alien invasion. A giant blob of pus has travelled through space and landed on earth unleashing all the aliens. The player steps in the shoes of Darren Boyle, who continually warned the the media about the incoming alien invasion, but of course nobody listened. As one of the last remaining survivors (or as the developers stated "the best of what is considered the rest") the player must kill as many freaks as possible.