ZombiU is the Wii U's extremely difficult survival horror first-person shooter. You're not supposed to be able to make it through it in one life, though the game's Survival mode challenges you to do that.
A few brave souls have cleared Survival mode. About 13 of them so far, it seems. Most of them have been praised by the developers -- in the game. One of those ZombiU daredevils is schoolteacher Eric Beasley, known as DeDeDe on the Wii U's MiiVerse and on the ZombiU leaderboard.
I've played ZombiU. I like the game. But I'm never going to make it through Survival. So I asked Eric how he pulled it off and if he has any tips for the rest of us. We did this interview over e-mail. (There will be SPOILERS that identify a few locations in the game and how far they are from the end as well as some late-game plot points)
Kotaku: Set this up for me. Where do you live? How old are you? How'd you make time for this?
Beasley: I live in South Florida. Plantation to be exact. I'm a teacher (much like the beloved Ben Bertolli), 23 years old, and Thanksgiving break makes for a whole lot of free time.
Kotaku: How long did it take you to clear survival mode?
Beasley: My actual run clocked in at 6 hours 59 minutes. All in all, my attempts added together constituted 23 hours and 36 minutes.
Kotaku: How many tries?
Beasley: 4 failed attempts were made, finally snagging that gold star on the 5th. I never played Normal mode. I went straight to survivor, and have never tried normal mode.
Kotaku: I assumed you failed a few times. What was the most painful failed run?
Beasley: It's a draw between two: The first (my second attempt) [involved] the first zombie encountered after exiting the nursery. [Note from Stephen: This is about halfway into the game.] I didn't notice him, and went to collect some items. I hear the groan to my left and turn to see him standing up. Instinctively, I swing the bat in order to keep him on the ground and set him up for a quick finish. Turns out, he was an exploding zombie. Boom. Dead. This was especially depressing, because I was having a pretty flawless run and had killed a few player zombies that really beefed up my stash.
The second heartbreaker (fourth attempt) came in the arena, during the second wave (while the arena is still at it's smallest.) I tried to be slick by letting zombies get close, shooting a gas can, and bolting before it exploded, taking out the zeds. Turns out I'm not as fast as I thought I was, and didn't clear the blast radius. So I killed myself trying to be a hero. This became even more depressing when I found out that the arena is the last great difficult hurdle in the game, and the last 25% is quite manageable. So on my next run, after seeing how close I was to being "free and clear," I was really kicking myself.
Kotaku: What was your narrowest escape?
Beasley: Again, a draw between two. As this was run five, I was starting to get cocky about early game moments, and actually used two medpacks fleeing the supermarket. I was trying to use the ol' crawl and bash (more on that later) and got cornered. Then, in my attempt to escape to the manhole, the door got stuck loading, so it was myself staring five angry zombies in the face in a narrow hallway with no way out. The door popped, I got out, thoroughly frazzled and with renewed conviction for early game areas.
The second was when I was moving through Buckingham Palace, chasing down the cure in the later moments of the game. A quick hop over some one-way rubble and I was staring two armour zombies and the dead doctor (now a turbo-charged red infected) through the door. Shotgun out, I blasted away . The bullets ricocheted off the armour while red sprinted up from the rear. Frantically, pulling the trigger and just hoping, I managed to down the red, and smack a helmet off of one of the armours. I was shaking when the encounter was over, knowing that dumb luck in aiming got me through.
Kotaku: Did Survival mode make you a less pleasant person to be around while you were playing? I can imagine thrown controllers (not that you should throw the GamePad!), lots of tension and whatnot.
Beasley: Not at all. I'm very patient, and dying just mad me say, "Oh well, here we go again!" Certainly, there were some very sad eyes on my face when two of my deaths were my own fault (the ones described above), but I love a challenge, and it encouraged me to play more. That, and I was driven by the notion that I may get put on the wall if I was first to beat the game. The open taunt from Ubisoft [in the game] was so grating to me as a gamer, I had to rise to their challenge. I never really considered giving up, and was always hoping to be fast and efficient enough to be first. I got fifth, but my name was still on the wall :)
Kotaku: Who was your character? What was their story?
Beasley: David Fischer, Scientist. I suppose he was in his lab working on how to make even more flavours for Doritos Tacos, and was working so intently that he never noticed that the whole world had gone south until he went outside.
Kotaku: What did you usually keep in your character's backpack?
Beasley: I tend to keep two or three medpacks (two on standard bag, three once upgraded), two sets of flare/molotov (one set on hot keys, one set in pack), standard handgun and one stack of ammo at start, then bring in the scoped carbine and one stack of ammo once the bag gets upgraded. I do not use any other weapons than the initial handgun, scoped carbine, and the M7 shotgun (located very near to the scoped carbine location at Tower of London).
The cricket bat is my weapon of choice for 98% of all encounters (including both boss encounters). I use the guns when things go south, or it is just safer (like taking enemies out from a distance with the scoped rifle, or blasting apart a red with the shotgun).
I never, EVER pick up planks. They are useless. I have never barricaded a door. I will never barricade a door.
Kotaku: What do you recommend people keep in their backpack?
Beasley: At the very least, always have a medpack and a flare in the hot boxes. They can be used in a pinch, and having a medpack usable while being swarmed keeps you alive for valuable seconds that might save your life. Also, making sure that you save room in your pack for items to be picked up. Many times, some of the best items are at the end of sections, and leaving them behind can be extremely undesirable. Give yourself options to be flexible with your inventory. Don't be afraid to go out in the wild feeling a little bare, because there may be items out there to nab. Also, and again, never bring planks. Useless.
Kotaku: What other tips do you have for people who want to make it through survival mode?
- The cricket bat can kill any zombie in the game, and without hassle. You can swing the bat faster than zombies can attack. Hitting a zombie against a wall or into a corner can leave you free to keep an eye on your radar as you bludgeon him to death.
- Early in the game, ping your radar between every swing of the bat. You have time to do a quick check and make sure you aren't being surrounded.
- Crawl N' Bash. If you can get to an area you have to crawl under during a fight, do so. Zombies on the ground are one-hit kills. Forcing them to follow you can turn a horde of 10+ into child's play. This is key to saving ammo in tight situations, and minimising risk (useful in initial safehouse defense! many people have problems with that big fight)
- Never assume an exit is guaranteed. Some doors in the game are game-loading gates and they take an exceptionally long time to load in certain scenarios. Never try to have one of these doors as a planned escape route if you have not yet opened it. It will need to load, you will wait there, and become a snack.
- Playing Survival, never ever, ever stand anywhere close to something that goes boom. Ever. (Suppose this goes for Normal, but Survivor mode has a lot more riding on death)
- Assume the worst approaching any door that takes time to open.
- Don't turn off the music.
- Saving the game in a bed heals you. Do not use medpacks or food items if there is a safe path to a bed nearby, but instead save and heal.
- Only keep one of any type of weapon. Weapons level up in categories, and keeping all of them will take up a lot of space in the home stash. Free it up for more useful things.
- When healing, use the food items first. You get many medpacks across the campaign, and things do get tougher. You don't want to be relying on candy bars while running through the tougher moments.
- With crowds, use your flashlight and distance to try and pull one at a time. You can turn a horde into bat fodder with some clever trickery. [Note from Stephen: I wasn't sure what Eric meant and asked him to flesh it out. He did: "Zombies are attracted to noise and light. With a crowd nearby, it is sometimes advantageous to turn off the flashlight in an attempt to sneak by. However, I like to turn on the light and approach the closest zombie until I enter his range of noticing me, and then turn off the light in order to make sure the others don't spot me. I draw one or two at a time from the crowd, and whittle the horde down to nothing."]
- Running is always an option. You can effectively dance around and between a zombie horde because it takes them time to swing at you. Don't stand still in a corner, panicked. Be mobile, and use your sprint to keep putting distance and obstacles between you and a group. If you can make it to a crawl space, you win.
- With skill, you can single one zombie out from a group by closing him in a room with you during combat. You can execute door close commands while a zombie is attacking you. Get one inside the room you're in, close the door between swings, and put a barrier between you and whatever other zombies might be lurking.
- Ranged zombies take priority. If you must ever make a choice who to kill first, they are the only ones who don't need to catch you to kill you. Destroy them.
- Your radar does not pick up zombie playing dead. Enter all areas expecting an encounter.
- Seriously. Never take planks. They're totally useless.
Kotaku: Finally, when a zombie is on you... melee first? Shoot? Or shove?
Beasley: If there is one zombie, melee (unless he's red or explodey). Two, melee, trying to separate them or hit a crawlspace. Any more, flare/molotov combo. I only shoot reds and sploders, when I'm in the most dire of straights, or in the final moments of the game to ensure my survival and have lots of ammo stockpiled. I don't know if I ever shoved a zombie. Not even once, I think.
And a closing comment...
Beasley: A lot of the notes I've given apply strictly to surviving. The instruction manual has details about the score system, and going for a high score means doing a few things against what I've said here. That's fine, but my tips are meant for making out alive, not being the next Billy Mitchell.
One more thing: Make friends. The more dead friends you have to loot, the better. My Handle is DeDeDe.