ZombiU Sprinkles Dead Island With A Liberal Dose Of Dark Souls. In Other Words, It's Rad

Well, colour me surprised. When Ubisoft debuted ZombiU as a WiiU-exclusive zombie game at their press conference yesterday, I wasn't sold. The trailer was exceptionally slick, of course, but who can even tell when it comes to zombie games anymore, you know?

As it turns out, ZombiU doesn't just use the WiiU's unique touchscreen controller to great survival horror effect, it's also got some really smart ideas independent of the WiiU's distinctive control scheme. For starters, it's basically a roguelike? Wait, let me back up.

ZombiU is a first-person survival horror game, more or less. Limited inventory, first-person melee, and deadly zombies. It's chunky and good-looking, but not all that remarkable in its graphical or artistic presentation.

Let's bullet-point this mother, because I wanna get the facts to you guys in the easiest way possible. Let's start with the interesting, roguelike way the game deals with player death:

  • When you make a character, one is randomly generated for you — there is no main character. You give it your playertag, but it gets a name of its own — I say "it," because it can be a man or a woman.
  • If you die (and you will die), you respawn as a new character.
  • Each game begins in a central hub, but the world is largely open. You can go anywhere, and objectives that you complete with past characters are still completed.
  • Best of all, when you die, your past character becomes a zombie, so you can go find them in your next game and kill them and reclaim the gear you got on your last playthrough.
  • It saves your stats, so you can always tell how long you've lived, for example. There will be an achievement for finishing the game entirely in one life, since of course there will be people who pull that off.
  • There can only be one of your past-life zombies in the game at a time, but as you play online, your online friends' zombies will also enter your game. You'll see their playertag over their zombies. Ha!
  • When I played, I had to go get some medicine for a character named Vikram — I almost made it out, but right at the door I finally got killed. My next life, a female character, then hopped right in the door, killed the zombie and the zombified version of my past character, picked up the medicine and was able to finish the mission. That? Is cool as hell.

Now let's talk a bit about the touch-screen, which does a remarkable job of immersing you in the game and making things scarier.

  • The screen serves as your inventory, as well as your interface for lockpicking, keypad hacking, etc.
  • The reason this is cool is that when you go into your backpack or loot a body or container, the camera pops out of first-person, and the game keeps going. Therefore you can see if a zombie is coming up behind you as you hack/loot/rummage.
  • As you play, the screen is a minimap and a motion detector, which lets you pick up zombies relative to your location. Don't think that makes things easier — between the time required to look down and the general unreliability of the minimap (it doesn't give away the great jump-scares), you're still very much in survival-horror mode.
  • It's remarkable how intense it feels to look down into your inventory and then have to look back up to check your surroundings — it makes rooting around in your backpack during the zombie apocalypse feel like… well, rooting around in your backpack during a zombie apocalypse.
  • Lockpicking is similar to other games' lockpicking mechanics, and uses the touch-screen and vibration to lock tumblers into place.
  • There is also a scanner, which lets you scan things in the environment. When you pull out your scanner (using the left shoulder button) the camera goes to third person again and the controller's screen becomes first-person.
  • You can use the touch-screen to scan bodies, containers, and other things in the environment to tell more about them.

And last, some general things I noticed:

  • It would appear that every character is guided by the same voice on the other end of the radio — it sounds like there was some sort of outbreak, but that it was planned for. That's why supplies are placed all around.
  • At one point, things went totally batshit — the power went out, and my scanner and minimap stopped working.
  • I literally yelled twice from jump-scares. In fairness, I have had a TON of coffee today. But it was a whole lot of fun.
  • When things went haywire, I was forced to fight a special zombie called "Nurse" in an enclosed area. She could teleport, and would vanish as I shot her before reappearing behind me. It was unnerving, particularly because she wouldn't stop screaming.
  • Once I killed the nurse, I had to scan her with the controller screen… but she JUMPED THE EFF OUT AT ME THROUGH THE SCREEN and scared the bejesus out of me.
  • Sorry for the unprofessional all-caps. It was really cool, is all.

I was very impressed with ZombiU. Despite its silly name and possibly gimmicky WiiU integration, it's actually a seriously smart game with some cool non-WiiU-specific gameplay ideas, made by people who are clearly having a lot of fun with it. Put another way: It's the game that made me finally see the potential of the WiiU's special second screen.


Comments

    Great article. I usually wouldn't approve when a good scare is spoilt in advance, but your antics made me laugh out loud. I must say I'm really excited for this game now. I bet Capcom are taking notice, what with that little resident evil franchise they pull out from time to time. Top stuff Ubisoft. Could they get any game of the show votes for this?

    I'm really looking forward to it. I think a bunch of games this e3 have been inspired by Dark Souls, though mostly by it's integrated multiplayer, and the way that other players online can affect your game. This one obviously is also inspired by how death works in Dark Souls too, except it's been very cleverly tweaked to stay relevant in a zombie apocalypse setting.

    I'm not a "Horror-anything" kinda guy, but this sounds so genius I might just get into it...

    Sounds VERY interesting! When I saw the name of the game I thought it'd be some cheap rubbishy game (seriously ZombiU??). But the game itself sounds and looks fantastic

    This actually looks quite good. Might be one of the main reasons to buy the console, however other things like batman and mass effect 3 prove that this console can actually hold the potential of even more BADASS so I feel this one will be a win for nintendo...for once, in like over 12 years!

      Pretty sure the Wii happened less than 12 years ago. Also that little thing called the DS.

    The whole disposable character thing sounds interesting.

    "That? Is cool as hell."

    This sounds freaking fun as all hell!! I could spend hours wasting time in this with Co-op!! Bring it on.

    Wait, after dying the new character showed up straight away to kill your dead previous self? So gameplay wise it's like being down for a few seconds and then getting back into action in a different player model, right?

      Sort of, but I think it's more like Minecraft - unless you died at your respawn point, you'll have to go back and find your last character's zombified corpse.

      Wonder how persistent they'll be, and whether they might even travel from where they were.

      I think the original character died close enough from the start of the "level" so that the new character was able to quickly make their way to the same spot. Makes sense since the previous character would have already cleared the obstacles and enemies between the two points.

    Wtf this look so fucking cool I am going to buy Wii u just for this game

    I only watched the video and I gotta say it looks so fake, not like a hoax fake, but as in none of what is shown is how gameplay will actually feel.

    eg. the original Red Steel trailer.

    This really sounds like the best thing to come out of E3 this year. The Last Of Us and Watch Dogs being the runners up. More new IPs please, developers! And less of the same old tired ideas.

    I hate to be a buzzkill in all of this, since I have to admit the game look absolutely awesome. But what chances is there of a game like this making it completely unscathed through our classification board?

    What are the chances the game may end up having to be neutered to make it through with an MA15+ rating like Left 4 Dead 2 or Refused Classification all together?

    Also does anyone know if the Wii U will be region locked in case the last 2 scenarios come to pass?

      Actual those are very good questions although i have dead island and that game is pretty darn gruesome. I hope things stay the same for it

        One thing that needs to be mentioned is the ACB's renowned lack of consistency when it comes to rating games of similar genres. Situations have arose where titles such as Left 4 Dead have been forced to make changes or face being RC'ed, while title's such as Aliens vs Predator, Dead Island amongst others have managed to slip through generally unaltered. Just because a game might look the same as something similar already on the market doesn't matter when no-one has been able to find any distinguishable pattern to the ACB's reasoning.

        Another thing is even if it was to make it through the classification process unaltered, the game would still be at the mercy of the general public. . . a general public that, alongside the mainstream media, and despite the efforts of both gamers and Nintendo themselves, will continue to see Nintendo as a product geared at children. When a game like ZombiU appears on a console you know the general public are going to believe is for children, the moral panic brigade will spring into gear and the game's days on Australian shelves will no doubt be numbered.

        A prime example of this happening would be Dead or Alive Dimensions, sure enough for different reasons than I'm insinuating with ZombiU but the point still stands . The reason it was targetted was for a feature that didn't even do what the moral panic brigade claimed it did, featuring characters they assumed were underage. While Dead or Alive Paradise was ignored while having the same characters prancing around in swimsuits. the reason is becuase the former was on a Nintendo console while the latter wasn't.

    This actually makes me want to get a Wii U. Me being an anti-Nintendo kindof guy. What has happened to me

    This game, Assassins creed 3 and Pikmin 3 are already on my to buy list at launch. The WiiU Gamepad integration is really good example of how much gameplay elements can be thanks to the touch screen. Microsoft was wise (and cheap) for copying Nintendo on this.

      "Microsoft was wise (and cheap) for copying Nintendo on this."

      Or both of them were for copying Apple, depending on how you look at it. (http://www.apple.com/appletv/airplay/)

        I Dont agree. Nintendo Released the DS way before apples airplay and that is practically what the Wii U is. A Dual Screen Home console. Granted its not tethered to your TV like the two screens are tethered on a DS but obviously that would be impractical. Thus the Wireless nature of the Wii U gamepad. I guess Nintendo had to wait till technology for touch screen got to a reasonable price and wireless tech was fast enough to keep up with the data and video being transmitted.

        Secondly the touch screen is a complimentary addition to the gameplay, with your primary control still done through standard controls, apples devices are purely touch screen only, which as i said before touch screen only control still suck (passable yes) IMO

          Even before the DS, Nintendo was experimenting with dual screens with the Gamecube and Gameboy Advance, with games like Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicals and Legend of Zelda Wind Waker (remember the tingle tuner?).

    oh the Rayman Wii U games us of the Wii U gamepad is crap. Swiping all you do? pfff pass. Thank goodness you have Zombie U and Assassins Creed 3 for Wii U so all is forgiven

    I hope people aren't put off by the name. And this it some cheap knock off on Resident Evil or some third party shovelware.

    This is sounding more and more like the real deal. I wonder if they'll make it available at Connection Tours. That could help it. My only concern is the kids there they might boycott it.

    People need to buy this game. It is sounding sweeter by the minute. If this is a launch game i might just et a Wii U at launch.

    From what i've seen and what i've heard this is probably just behind the Last of Us and Scribblenauts Unlimited for most wanted game.

    Aww, so ZombiU isn't a romantic adventure through a zombie's university days as he/she struggles to pass their exams, hold down a part time job, find love, resist the temptation to eat other student's brains and most of all, hide the fact that they are a zombie for as long as they can? I am disappoint. Sometimes zombies just want to get ahead (with a juicy brain) in un-life.

    Then again, that tablet tech sounds like it's being used in some pretty awesome ways and I am hoping that it won't suffer the same fate as the DS' lower screen seemed to and just be relegated to minimaps and inventory screens.

    Red Steel anyone? Ubisoft are up to their old tricks again!

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