ZombiU review

  • Genuinely frightening without jump scares
  • Brilliant use of the GamePad
  • Interesting asymmetrical multiplayer
  • Needing to backtrack after losing a survivor
  • Long load times, sometimes mid-level
  • Lackluster (but needlessly complicated) story

The survival horror genre has seen better days. Resident Evil has all but abandoned the genre, Silent Hill's quality has been in steady decline, and the last few “scary" games have come from small, indie studios as opposed to big, AAA blockbusters. ZombiU ignores what the genre has become, and focuses instead on how it began, honing in on the “survival” part of the “survival horror” genre better than any release in recent memory.

You play as a generic survivor, brought into zombie-infested London by the mysterious (and surprisingly complex) “Prepper.” Contacting you through radio, the Prepper attempts to guide you through the new world, giving you tips and helping you plot from point A to point Z. Plot is extremely light, and yet somehow ends up overly complicated by the end, with very few characters or moments of interest. Even your character is left as a mostly blank slate, with only light identity gifted to their digital souls in the form of a name, a former career, and the frightened grunts they utter when fending off ravenous undead.

While you might think this is a negative, it’s actually important to ZombiU’s fabric and helps make it unique in the genre. A bitten, blown up, or eaten survivor doesn’t respawn, and there’s no way to revert to an earlier save--once you’re dead you’re dead, losing any skills or items you’ve gained as that particular survivor. You’re forced into the body of a new survivor, tasked with picking up where the other left off and killing your former self to loot supplies. It’s an interesting twist, ramping the tension up significantly because death is an actual risk. Usually it works well, but it can be problematic to the story (when characters randomly act as though you haven’t been swapped out for a new survivor) or when it actually sets back your progress, which is bound to happen a few times during the ten-hour trek through the story.

Those ten hours aren’t spent running and gunning, either--survival really is paramount, and a majority of your time in ZombiU will be in foraging for supplies or desperately beating back the undead horde. Weapons are inaccurate, supplies are limited, and ammo is painfully scarce. More often you’ll need to bash in enemies’ heads with your readily-accessible cricket bat. While it’s definitely fulfilling at first, bashing undead brains gets extremely monotonous, as it can take six or seven swings until the undead stays dead. For some reason it’s the only weapon in the game that isn’t upgradeable, though, meaning you’ll spend most of ZombiU staring at the same blood-covered bat as you scrape through every lootable object for items.

The problem with this emphasis on rummaging through rooms is that the found supplies are almost too scarce, and you’ll end up spending most of your time tossing through mostly empty rooms with little to show for it. It’s desperate, dire, and hopeless--likely intentionally so--but that doesn’t make it fulfilling. What’s more, ZombiU seems to place a huge amount of value on weapon upgrades that never feel like they make much of a difference, likely because of the limited ammo keeping you from ever truly seeing how much more powerful your souped-up shotgun is.

But while the limited supplies makes the game less fun, it definitely makes for a more tactical experience. The same can be said about the ways in which Ubisoft opted to use the GamePad. Anything that can be tied to the controller's screen is, from scanning the environment to sniping enemies. Even looting and inventory management, which leaves your survivor vulnerable, is accomplished with taps and swipes on the GamePad's screen, forcing you to temporarily take your eyes off the action. It's cumbersome and sometimes difficult to get used to, but it feels like it’s supposed to be, ramping up the anxiety every time you need to take your eyes off the screen. Ubisoft used the GamePad's weaknesses to its advantage, creating incredibly tense moments. Sadly, some of the tenser segments are unintentionally caused by long load times, including doors that simply won’t open until the next area is loaded, even when you’re attempting to escape a horde of undead.

See ZombiU's multiplayer in action

The multiplayer mode also takes advantage of the GamePad to create an interesting asymmetrical competitive game, mixing Capture the Flag with a typical wave-based survival mode. One player spawns zombies while another fights them, providing a unique game experience. It’s fun in short bursts, but the lack of online multiplayer limits its long term appeal.. There are other features that take advantage of the online connection, like being able to kill infected friends or follow stats of your old infected characters, but we weren’t able to test these features out.

ZombiU’s complete and utter dedication to creating a tense, realistic zombie survival game can be problematic, and its often at odds with itself. Despite this, the game successfully proves that horror games can be enhanced by the Wii U’s GamePad, and does a great job at showing how the new controller can create an incredibly immersive experience.

More Info

Release date: Nov 18 2012 - Wii U (US)
Available Platforms: Wii U
Genre: Shooter
Published by: Ubisoft
Developed by: Ubisoft Montpelier
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language

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  • talleyXIV - December 28, 2012 4 p.m.

    Only thing I don't like is the balance of the game. I go 10 minutes at a time without seeing anything, and then out of nowhere like 8 zombies attack at once... I'd rather run into a couple of zombies every 5 minutes rather than a bunch at one time. Especially when killing a group is so difficult because the attack speed is so slow.
  • sguiggles3074 - November 21, 2012 7:06 a.m.

    Hey guys go to eurogamer and read there review, theres also a link to watch a 48 minute video for you to make up your own mind instead of listening to someone elses opinion of a game. That is the sole reason why i read multiple reviews to get an idea on whats being said, lets face it if most of you like myself are into survival horror and a post apocalyptic themed games which i have bought practically all of and have not been disappointed once with either of them come to think of it i've enjoyed more than any other game COD and BATTLEFIELD included coz it's just my preferred experience. There is one thing i can say...sure it's gunna have a few problems glitches or whatever most of them do but also survival horror is about the solo experience and that is always on the backfoot compared to blockbuster titles but from what i've seen (not played yet guys) this looks better than any of the other games (dead island , left 4 dead etc etc) and just think how good they were!...summary...i'm frigging getting it on launch...but thats just my opinion.
  • ObliqueZombie - November 19, 2012 7:58 a.m.

    Ouch, I thought it'd do much better. But, it's shortcomings could possibly be fixed with a patch in the future, so who knows. Upgrade the bat a little bit in damage, put a few more bullets here and there in the rooms, and bam! Twice as good game.
  • Rhymenocerous - November 19, 2012 7:23 a.m.

    I do sort of want this. I'm not going to actually buy it, but it's one of those that I'd be happy if someone just gave it me.
  • Sjoeki - November 19, 2012 11:17 a.m.

    Then it's a good thing that Christmas is around the corner, start working on that list!
  • patbateman17 - November 19, 2012 6:06 a.m.

    Oh made the British zombies have bad teeth...for shame.
  • AuthorityFigure - November 19, 2012 12:56 a.m.

    Ubisoft are terrible offenders of releasing uncooked software at every console launch. There's something wrong with a developer that relies on there being no competition to sell games. I've been boycotting them since the Wii's launch.
  • alex-kramer - November 24, 2012 3:23 a.m.

    Cool story. You sound like such a tough guy. Look at that gangster profile pic and faggot name of yours. Keep on boycotting, bigshot. Ubisoft couldn't care less.
  • ultimatepunchrod - November 18, 2012 8:55 p.m.

    So it looks like this will be the Red Steel of the Wii U. Can't wait for the sequel!
  • GR HollanderCooper - November 18, 2012 9:56 p.m.

    No! It's not that bad.
  • Net_Bastard - November 18, 2012 10:57 p.m.

    Finally, a reviewer that understands what a 6/10 means!
  • winner2 - November 18, 2012 8:15 p.m.

    Hmm, I've never been a big survival hooror game person but I was kind of interested in this. Not anymore I guess, oh well.
  • avantguardian - November 18, 2012 4:10 p.m.

    man, talk about shooter fatigue? i've had zombie fatigue for at least five years. new bad guys, please.
  • AuthorityFigure - November 19, 2012 12:52 a.m.

    Ditto. It's the last refuge of the unimaginative developer.
  • RedHarlow - November 18, 2012 1:23 p.m.

    No screenshots or anything from the game?
  • KnowYourPokemon - November 18, 2012 12:19 p.m.

    The reviews for this game are a prime example for why the number system just needs to die off already. I actually like the things you said about this game as down points. Too many "horror" games these days give you way too much ammo, you should have to conserve what you have instead of running around head shotting every zombie in site. Backtracking to get the stuff your prior character possesses is also a nice touch. It puts more emphasis on getting yourself killed. Though, those load times are pretty unacceptable. Probably pick it up when it goes down in price. Glad I didn't give in and buy it right away, enjoying the games I actually did pick up for it way too much.
  • A000 - November 18, 2012 10:15 a.m.

    This game's reviews are all over the place. 9/10s, 4.5/10s. Do buys. Don't buys. And everything in between. I've got this preordered along with NSMBU and Nintendo Land, but I have two weeks until the UK launch to change my mind. If Scribblenauts was making the UK launch, I'd switch to that. There isn't really anything else I'd want. I'll wait for some actual user reviews before I decide.