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ZombiU hands-on: the Dark Souls of zombie games

Tuesday, 18th September 2012 16:37 GMT By Patrick Garratt

Wii U was always going to get unwarranted flack among gamers for being a casual console. VG247′s Dave Cook plays the punishing ZombiU to find out why they’re dead wrong.

If you’re still not convinced that ZombiU is a ‘hardcore’ game for ‘hardcore’ people, then you should at least check the game out through a friend’s purchase. To all Dark Souls fans, you absolutely need to play this game. It’s that simple.

‘ZombiU is the Dark Souls of zombie games’. You’re going to hear a lot of people say that after the Wii U launches in November. It’s absolutely true, as the game is brutally difficult, and makes no attempt to coddle players as they wade miserably through post apocalyptic London.

One of the magic ingredients that makes a good survival horror game even better is making the player feel dangerously under-resourced, pathetically weak, and continually on the backfoot at all times. If this stresses you out, then ZombiU is not the game for you.

It has been absolutely engineered with hardcore gamers in mind, mixing the continuous dread of games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent with unforgiving trial and error format of Dark Souls. You will die a lot, but with each death you will learn what not to do next time.

Best of all, when you die, it’s entirely your fault and – sorry to put this bluntly readers – down to your own foolish haste and stupidity. It’s not that you’ aren’t smart enough to overcome Ubisoft Montpellier’s sadistic challenge, it just takes a lot of practice.

That’s part of the problem. Wii U does have casual players who may take a punt on ZombiU – because, zombies – and that could lead to a lot of copies being traded in shortly after launch.

Our hands-on session starts with a dreary slog through London’s sewer network, and up into the Tower of London’s hidden catacombs. We’ve got a cricket bat – the game’s default, unbreakable melee weapon – and a shotgun with only 30 bullets.

There’s also a flashlight that runs down mercilessly fast, and it takes ages to recharge. Once it’s off, the sewers are seriously pitch black, which is why the Wii U GamePad’s radar screen is helpful for spotting movement in the dark.

Slow movement is the key, as your cricket bat will only down a zombie in about six heavy hits. That’s a lot of attacking needed for just one enemy, so you have to avoid confronting packs of the buggers if you hope to survive long.

You could of course hit them with your firearms – but wouldn’t you know it – gunfire attracts the horde to your location with every single shot, so that’s not a dependable tactic either.

Drawing out zombies one by one using flares does help thin out groups if you have to kill a few of them, or you could lay mines in a tight bottleneck, fire a few shots, and stand back as they rush towards the sound and blow up in meaty, bloody chunks.

There are many ways to play ZombiU, but several truths remain throughout: never ignore your radar and make sure you’re alone before using your inventory. Opening your backpack is activated by simply swiping down on the touch screen, but it renders you immobilised.

You can then drag your favourite items to the hot bar and organise loot gathered from corpses. You only have so many slots, so resource management is yet another problem facing your survivor.

This is where both the respawn and safehouse mechanics come into play. Safehouses do exactly what they suggest – they are respawn zones that play home to crafting benches and lockers that can be used to stash precious loot.

Lockers are crucial, because when you die and respawn as a different survivor, you lose everything – save for your cricket bat, flashlight and a pistol with just six rounds. Back at your point of death, your previous survivor reanimates as a zombie carrying all of your gear.

ZombiU’s gamescom trailer.

They aren’t painted on the map either, so say they’re holding that super-upgraded firearm that you spent ages crafting, chances are you will never find them again and the weapon is lost.

This poses a tough choice when faced with an area swarming with the undead. Do you avoid potentially dying and losing your favourite gun – by trudging all the way back to your last safehouse in order to stash it away – or do you rush in hoping that you’ll make it through alive?

You have to constantly make these difficult decisions every step of the way. You’ll ask yourself, ‘Do I walk blindly through the dark undetected, or use my flashlight to see threats even if it leaves me exposed?’

There are times when you may even think, ‘Do I take the long, dangerous, but silent melee route, or do I risk detection by shooting those zombies to create an easy path?’ Everything must be considered. Even travelling through water is a risk.

When wading through water, your survivor lifts their backpack overhead to keep it dry, leaving you utterly defenceless and unable to attack. Rushing through the ravaged streets of London is a recipe for disaster and should be avoided at all cost.

Every inch of the game smacks of Dark Souls, and this comparison is highlighted further by ZombiU’s messaging system, which lets you walk up to walls and leave graffiti tag messages for other players online.

These aren’t actual words, but symbols. So you could select the ‘stairs’ icon and a ‘thumbs down’ – to basically say ‘don’t go downstairs’. There are many symbol combinations geared towards highlighting hazards or killer loot, so it will be interesting to see how these are used – or abused – once servers go live.

Finally – and this is a stroke of genius on Ubisoft Montpellier’s part – once one of your survivors dies and then reanimates as a zombie, there’s a chance they will also spawn into your friends’ game too.

So you can hop on Miiverse and say, ‘hey I died at this location holding a brilliant weapon. Go find me to claim it’, and vice-versa. It’s a neat way of sharing weapons and collaborating with other players to beat the game.

It’s hard to step back from comparing ZombiU to Dark Souls, but the parallels are blatant. This isn’t a bad thing however, because survival horror games are supposed to make surviving a struggle, and this is one of those rare games that actually delivers that feeling.

If you’re still not convinced that ZombiU is a ‘hardcore’ game for ‘hardcore’ people, then you should at least check the game out through a friend’s purchase. To all Dark Souls fans, you absolutely need to play this game. It’s that simple.

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19 Comments

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  1. ManuOtaku

    To tell you the truth i wasnt sold on this game, but reading this will force me to increase the already long wiiU list of games to get at launch, although i wasnt good with dark souls or demons souls, i do love good zombie games with this description, i hope i can handle this game, better than i did with dark and demon souls.

    And i like the Miiverse interaction too, thanks for the hands on guys, keep the good work, while having fun of course.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Deacon

    I’ve read nothing about the overall aim of the game. Not sure if I’ve missed this somewhere. Wandering around trying to survive is cool and all, but there must be an overarching purpose to all this?

    It sounds fun, sure. But I take the Dark Souls stuff with a pinch of salt.

    And I wish they’d change the damn name.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. OlderGamer

    That sounds fantastic. Just wondering if I still have the gamer skills to get thru it. Guess I will find out.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. DrDamn

    I wasn’t particularly interested in this at first. I’m a bit Zombied out. Kept catching snippets of info which intrigued me though. Now I’m near sold on the idea and it’s included in one of my pre-orders. Roll on November!

    #4 2 years ago
  5. OlderGamer

    One of your preorders? Doc, you buying more then one?

    #5 2 years ago
  6. DrDamn

    @5
    Nah not exactly. I’ve got one banker early on with ShopTo – Premium with ZombiU for ~£320 once reward credit is taken into account. Then Expansys had the Premium by itself for £260 so I pre-ordered there too. I fully expect the Expansys one to be re-priced or cancelled. They stopped taking pre-orders pretty soon after I placed mine. Will only go through with one purchase – and Expansys will re-confirm once they have stock, so I can cancel or go with that closer to the date.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. quadfather

    After sinking tons of hours into Demon and Dark souls and generally love survival horror and zombies to death, I think I may like this a tad :-)

    #7 2 years ago
  8. YoungZer0

    Hm, i’ll wait until it hits the PS4/X720.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. kevinw729

    Sounds interesting.

    For me however, this could be the make-of-break game for the game media – if this title fails to deliver, and the underground rumors of serious hardware slowdown when testing the game are true, then the medias inability to report these issues could alienate a swath of the game community that will add a extra nail into the games media coffin.

    All that said, I wish the developers well with the game as on paper it sounds like it is the best example of the ethos of the Wii-U development environment.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. OlderGamer

    Was there any slow down when playing it Dave?

    #10 2 years ago
  11. manamana

    Sounds like a “real” survival game. Thank’s to Ubisoft they aren’t extinct. I look at you, RE6!

    #11 2 years ago
  12. monkeygourmet

    Sounds absolutely great!

    Def a launch title for me. I love Dark Souls and Zombie style games, so this sounds like a match made in hell! ;)

    #12 2 years ago
  13. Dave Cook

    @10 nope, none at all :)

    #13 2 years ago
  14. Dave Cook

    And yeah guys it really is brilliant. Really captures the essence of survival horror :D day one for me.

    Thanks for the kind words too. Been a long day, but thoroughly rewarding.

    #14 2 years ago
  15. MontpelGame

    #15 2 years ago
  16. Zao

    NOT Ubisoft Montreal,
    => Production from Ubisoft Montpellier/Bucarest

    #16 2 years ago
  17. Telepathic.Geometry

    Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiit! It’s looking more and more lke I have to get a Wii U. :/ Fuck it, my bank balance and my stubborn pride won’t be happy about this… Girlfriend may raise an eyebrow too.

    #17 2 years ago
  18. Hamster34

    http://uk.ign.com/articles/2012/11/18/zombiu-review

    Not everybody thinks it’s great… IGN are just one of a few I’ve read

    #18 2 years ago
  19. robertweise

    This game looks very intense, and I admit this is cool but not good for kids, that is why I only refer to http://www.izombiegames.com/zombie for my kids to play.

    #19 1 year ago