Rather than follow the traditional review path of detailing the mechanics and features of Ubisoft’s ZombiU before delivering a verdict, I’m going to label this game as dire, and back up my assertion with solid arguments. It’s a real shame, because one cannot help but get the feeling that Ubisoft really tried with this one, there is a sense that the developers were aiming to have ZombiU be the killer app of the WiiU launch window, but sadly it falls well short of the mark in almost every way.
ZombiU has a ton of potential – the premise of being a lone survivor in a zombie devastated London is sound, there are some cool ideas for making use of the gamepad features and a permanent death mechanic that sees you take control of another ordinary survivor each time you become lunch for the undead hordes. Sadly, the cumbersome execution of these ideas fail to make ZombiU a compelling experience. The ‘permadeath’ mechanic simply caused me to lose interest in the individual characters, and as there is no development of each individual they are nothing more than lifeless avatars with the raw emotion of a peanut. Mechanics using the WiiU gamepad start out as a mildly interesting novelty, but soon become a tiresome chore.
I am not normally one to judge a game on it’s visuals, but in the case of ZombiU the sub Playstation 2 graphics hinder the gameplay and potential for immersion. Everything feels muddy and low resolution, poor lighting effects over saturate key areas and atrocious animation makes you feel detached from the gameworld. None of this is helped by the use of a ‘dirty lens’ type filter that only serves to make everything look grimier and more distasteful. In short, this is not a game to show to your PS3/X360 owning friends when extolling the virtue of Nintendo in HD.
The sound design fails to deliver thrills or tension also. When the zombies stop staring at a wall long enough to notice you, they let loose a generic shriek that is less terrifying than a flatulent goldfish. Weapon sounds are comparably wimpy and apologetic and add nothing to the impact of combat. It all feels more than a touch lackluster and feeble.
While on the subject of combat, this is the element that could make or break the entire game. Guess what? It breaks. Scarce ammunition in a survival horror game can often be a good thing, building tension and forcing you to manage your resources thoughtfully. In the case of ZombiU it merely pushes you towards stale melee combat. Armed with a cricket bat, it will often take several painfully slow whacks to down a Zombie, more than enough time to become swamped by the undead horde or simply lose interest altogether. This is the most heartbreaking of the games failings, as this element could have made up for the mediocrity of the rest of the game.
Then there is the actual level design. Though touted as ‘open world’, ZombiU does its best to corral you through a fairly linear path to get from objective to safe house and so forth. Again, this overall design choice has potential, but is marred by poor execution and silly object placement. For example, early on in the game you will come to a door that is unopenable, hence stifling your progress. You are informed that you need a certain item to open this door. That certain item is sitting on the floor, about four feet away. It just feels tacky and pointless – as if the level designer was sick that day and they got the work experience kid to fill in. Not to mention the regular occurences of ‘lone zombie in locked room’ syndrome.
In conclusion, ZombiU is a broken mess of a game, one with no stand out features or redemptions. It can be accurately described in metaphor as the child prodigy with unlimited potential who squanders their life and ends up in jail. I encourage WiiU gamers to vote with their wallets and avoid this game at all costs in hopes that Ubisoft can learn from their mistakes.