ZombiU multiplayer: twice the screens, twice the genres

By Patrick Garratt, Friday, 16 November 2012 12:52 GMT

“Asynchronous multiplayer” is a stupid way to describe people playing a game together in varying ways. Fortunately, WiiU launch title ZombiU makes the whole concept simple with its innovative RTS-FPS combination.

“For the first time, a classical FPS player could be defeated by his own mother playing the tactical game on the tablet. It’s good. A new sensation. It’s funny.”

The idea of the double-screen set-up is one every console platform manufacturer latched onto in the last year, and WiiU will be the first native implementation of it when it releases in the US later this week. For the first time in mainstream console gaming, this will allow “asynchronous multiplayer”. You’re going to be hearing those words a lot in 2013. The first time I ever got to try it was with ZombiU at Ubisoft Montpelier last month.

“Asynchronous multiplayer” sits alongside “platform agnostic” as being a supremely stupid way to describe a simple concept. In ZombiU’s case, it means one person using the Pro controller – or “the rubbish 360 pad,” as most seem to call it – and WiiU’s touch-screened GamePad. In the mode we played, the person with the GamePad is zombie-lord King Boris. He’s trying to kill the other person, who’s playing on the TV in a traditional FPS style. The aim is to capture a required number of flags.

As the pad player, you’re given a suite of zombies with which to attack the FPS player. You drop them into the game by touching the screen, and you’re unable to place them too closely to the FPS player. You have blockers, which are useful at choke-points and only attack when the opponent approaches; you have normal zombie chaps, who just attack the player wherever he is on the map; and you have red zombies, who never attack and are solely focused on capturing the flags. The number of zombies you can place in the world is restricted, and there’s a cool-down so you can’t just spam enemies at the FPS guy. Based on your successes, you level up, each upgrade bringing options to add new zombie types. There are explodo-zombies, dashing zombies, and all the rest of it.

As the FPS player, you have to run around an arena, capturing flags, shooting zombies with a variety of guns, setting things on fire and generally shitting yourself as Boris becomes more powerful. Thanks to the survival horror bent of ZombiU, killing things is a slow process. You get powerful guns, but they’re not much good to you unless you’re headshot-capable. It gets hectic.

Think of it like being a sole player in Left 4 Dead. FPS guy is the traditional player. The pad guy is the AI Director.

“It’s a new way of playing, this asymmetrical gameplay,” said co-creative director Jean-Phillipe Caro. “For the first time, a classical FPS player could be defeated by his own mother playing the tactical game on the tablet. It’s good. A new sensation. It’s funny.”

Which is all great – it really is great, and it really is new – but there’s one pretty major catch: it’s offline-only. While WiiU may be the dawn of gaming’s fresh dual-screen era, quite whether or not it’s going to make a real impact in terms of the online side of play is still muddy.

This is sort of what it’s like. Try to imagine this, but “in real”.

ZombiU’s multiplayer was originally created as a base concept in the game’s previous incarnation, Killer Freaks from Outer Space. Offline isn’t a problem, JP said: a lot of its fun is playing in the same room and swapping roles when rounds end.

“It became clear that it’s just going to be a funny mode to discover, that’s cool to play,” said Caro. “It’s cool to discover the new capabilities of the GamePad. It’s a cool way to play fast and exchange roles. Everyone can play with the controller.”

We were told, however, that online play would be a target for a sequel, should it come to that.

As with ZombiU’s single-player, WiiU’s GamePad adds something absolutely new to core console multiplayer. The experience of being the pad guy is one of omnipotence, of maniacal diabolism as you pump specials into the arena. FPS guy is Ash in Evil Dead II: the seriousness of ZombiU’s campaign is replaced by a frenzied horror comedy, of popping heads and screaming laughter in the face of overwhelming odds.

“Laughing” is a key element to ZombiU’s multiplayer, actually. There appeared to be a great deal of it going on during our session.

For the record, JP claimed FPS players tend to get the continual upper-hand against pad players if they’re accomplished. I played as the pad player and beat one of the devs as the FPS guy. Just saying.

Read our impressions of ZombiU’s single-player experience here. ZombiU releases as a WiiU launch title in the US on Sunday. Both WiiU and ZombiU release in Europe on November 30.


VG247 saw ZombiU at Ubisoft’s Montpelier Studio in the South of France. Sam and Pat attended. Ubisoft paid for Sam’s return flight from the UK, two nights in a hotel for both Sam and Pat, one lunch and two evening meals. Pat paid for his own train ticket to and from Montpelier. The trip took place before the publication of new VG247 transparency guidelines.

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