The Wii U could probably make it through another generation as the console of choice for family gaming. But clearly, Nintendo has more ambitious plans to make it a console for core gamers, not just those looking for a minigame fix. One of the first steps in that direction, the Nintendo-published Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, proved the point that the Wii U can handle bloodshed, but as a game, it was lackluster. Ubisoft’s ZombiU on the other hand, is a much more complete game built for the Wii U that definitely shows you can make an inventive, challenging, and mature game on a Nintendo platform.
ZombiU is a post-apocalypse tale set in a London, England ravaged by a zombie plague. Following the instructions of the mysterious Prepper, you have to improvise and survive your way through and beneath the city, collecting supplies and weapons, completing the tasks set out for you, and of course, avoiding the ever-present zombies. The cool catch is that whenever you do get killed by the zombies, instead of your character respawning at a checkpoint, they become a zombie instead and you are reborn as a brand new character. Unfortunately, all of your collected equipment (that isn’t stored in your safe house) is in the backpack on that new zombie, and you’ll have to track them down and kill them get it back. That gimmick really makes the game feel fresh and strangely realistic, though since each character is essentially just a name and a one-word description, you’ll end up more attached to your possessions than to the humans carrying them.
Clearly, ZombiU is not a game for kids, and it’s really only for adults with a strong constitution as it’s bloody, brutal, and at times, impressively tense. Most zombies are the “shambling about aimlessly” variety, but once they discover you, they become fast, relentless killers. To fight them off, you’ll acquire and upgrade a variety of weapons, though you’ll also be spending a lot of time cracking zombie skulls with your trusty cricket bat, an upclose and violent action that definitely earns the game its Mature rating. But at times, you won’t see the zombies coming, and hopefully you’ll end up jumping off the couch every now and then. Especially if you play with lights out after the kids go to sleep, and your wife sneaks up on you.
The game’s pacing is also designed to maximize the suspense and surprise, as this is definitely a deliberate survival game. Stealth, patience, and smart usage of your limited resources are the key to keeping your hero from becoming zombie chow. If you even think of going “run and gun” through a crowd of zombies, you’ll quickly find yourself waking up with a new character in the safe house.
ZombiU’s use of the GamePad also points the way to how first person shooters will typically work on the Wii U. For the most part, it serves as a standard controller, with the small screen functioning as either your map or your inventory. But, you can also hold it up and use it to scan and interact with the environment. It also means that you’ll have to take your eye off the TV while you are focusing on anything with the GamePad. All told, the GamePad controls support the game in an effective way, and makes the zombie killing easy on the hands.
But maybe not quite so easy on the eyes. While you wouldn’t expect a zombie apocolypse game to be pretty, ZombiU is not a very good-looking game, not exactly pushing whatever the Wii U’s graphics envelope might end up being. Unless the Wii U’s peak is a dark and muddy mess of greys and browns.
Zombies as enemies are also pretty monotonous, though the game does try to wrap an ages-old conspiracy theory around their appearance in London. I’m not really sure it does enough to make me really care about zombies in general, but they do serve a purpose in creating a suspense-filled game.
There are also three offline-only multiplayer modes that feature cooperative and competitive play. They add some value to the overall package, but don’t match up to the single player experience.
The GamerPops Recommendation
ZombiU shows that not only can you make M-rated games on the Wii U, but you can make M-rated games FOR the Wii U. This is a game for grown ups to pop into the Wii U once the kids are safely in bed, as long as you don’t mind slow-paced tension over white knuckle action. If this is just the beginning of what the Wii U can offer exclusively to mature gamers, that’s great news for grown-ups.
A review copy was provided to GamerPops.
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ESRB Rating Summary
Rating: M for Mature
Content descriptors: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language
Rating summary: In this survival horror game, players assume the role of London inhabitants in the wake of a zombie invasion. From a first-person perspective, players scavenge the city and use realistic firearms, explosives, and melee attacks to kill waves of zombies; battles are highlighted by loud shrieks, impact sounds, and large splashes of blood. Players can also perform finishing moves to dispatch downed zombies: stomping on/bashing in their heads in with a cricket bat. Attacks often result in decapitated/dismembered bodies, and dead enemies continue to incur damage when shot. The words “f**k” and “sh*t” can be heard in the dialogue.