ZombiU's London setting may be old hat to our UK readers, but for us ill-travelled westerners it's an opportunity to slaughter hordes of the undead in a city we rarely get to see outside of BBC docs and episodes of Sherlock. Truly, from a tourist perspective, Ubisoft's overseas destination is a breath of fresh (infected) air as it combines the allure of a history-rich city with the universal joy of becoming an ass-kicking zombie slayer.
So what do we want to see on our post-apocalyptic romp through London? Funny you should ask. From graveyards to galleries, and chambers of terror to the The Beatles old stomping grounds, we've stitched together a wish-list of ZombiU locations, beginning with a few we've already confirmed...
ZombiU's debut trailer favored artsy slo-mo over actual substance, but it and Ubisoft's E3 gameplay demo managed to drop a few clues as to which parts of London will be hostile to the living. For instance, London's vast Underground network looks like it will play a critical role in getting around the survival-horror shooter. Comprised of over 400 kilometers of tracks, the London Underground represents the second largest below-ground transportation system of its kind in the world (the first being China's Shanghai Metro). This makes it perfect for dimly lit chases, claustrophobic subway car fights, and as we glimpsed in the E3 gameplay demo plenty of those tense, door hacking sequences.
Still, while it's good to see the London Underground get its due, it would be a letdown to spend all of our trip below street level. That's why we were also happy to see other, more recognizable London landmarks making the cut final cut...
ZombiU's CGI trailer also stars an unfortunate schmuck driving headlong off the Tower Bridge with a zombie as his hood ornament. Using our own Sherlockian powers of deduction, this suggests the iconic bridge will at least play a supporting role. Whether it's a frantic dash across the river, or a precarious climb to the peak of its supports, we envision the Tower Bridge serving as a memorable detour on the road between zombie point A and apocalypse point B.
The most noticeable London setting in ZombiU's trailers was the one and only Buckingham Palace; the headquarters for UK's royal family and, apparently, a trendy hangout for London's zombie scene. The snippets of gameplay footage we saw took place outside of Buckingham Palace's gates, so we're hoping the home of the British monarch appears as more than a fancy backdrop.
These are the places we know so far, but we're sure ZombiU has much greater ambitions. At least, we hope it does. So where else will Ubisoft's overseas zombie game take us? We're not entirely sure, but we have a few suggestions...
Short of a Zombie factory or a Jolly Ole Zombie Farm, we can't think of any location better suited for ZombiU than one of the city's most notorious graveyards. Home to over 170,000 former residents (aka potential targets), Highgate Cemetery spans 37 acres of land and is bursting at the seams with gravesites, tombs, and gothic vaults. Upping the creepiness factor is the fact that mother nature has been left to run amok throughout much of the grounds, transforming large chunks of the cemetery into something out of a Victorian horror novel.
The opportunities for exploration and crap-your-pants encounters are ripe in Highgate Cemetery. So too are the opportunities for famous cameos from deceased residents including communist leader Karl Marx, author Douglas Adams, and famed physicist Michael Faraday. And if those historic personas don't whet your chainsaw-gun, Highgate Cemetery is also rumored to be plagued by the Highgate Vampire. Thankfully, we're told he doesn't sparkle.
Tower of London
Ok, we lied. We can think of one more London location perfectly suited for zombie antics. In fact, we're pretty sure Ubisoft's ancestors built the Tower of London with ZombiU in mind. Lets rundown a checklist of horror-friendly features, shall we? A history of brutal violence and torture? Check. A former life as one of the UK's most oppressive and horrific prisons? Check. Reported haunting grounds for Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey, Margaret Pole? Check, check, and sorry about that last name.
As one of the city's most historic landmarks, the Tower of London is a no-brainer for ZombiU. Its current incarnation as a modern military facility would also give Ubisoft the wherewithall to jam in all the security camera wrangling and door decoding it wants while taking advantage of its foreboding atmosphere and gothic architecture to create some truly unsettling moments.
Measuring 443 feet in height and 394 feet in diameter, the London Eye aka the Millennium Wheel is one of the most popular paid tourist attraction in the UK. It was also once named the tallest of its kind in the world, before some jerks had to go build a bigger one called the Singapore Flyer in you guessed it Singapore. Frankly, we could care less about the stats; we just want to roundhouse kick zombies off some of the tallest structures London has to offer, and the London Eye is custom made for such kick-foolery.
We imagine Ubisoft could have some fun with this particular tourist trap, scripting an entire sequence around a ride that would see players balancing themselves on a capsule with the Gamepad while laying a beatdown on rotting hitchhikers. We also wouldn't mind a chance to take a virtual spin on the London Eye for a brief respite from the action, and as a chance to map out our escape route from a whole new perspective.
Abbey Road / The Cavern Club
The Fab four. The Mop Tops. Those groovy white dudes that had their own Rock Band game. Whatever you call them, the Beatles are the UK's most valuable musical exports and rightly deserving of a cameo in ZombiU. Considering Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are still members of the living it would a touch inaccurate to zombify them for a reunion with John Lennon and George Harrison (not to mention a touch tasteless). In lieu of this, we want to see Ubisoft give us a backstage pass to some of The Beatles' most famous UK hotspots, including the iconic Abbey Road, outside of the Abbey Road Studios; or The Cavern Club, the legendary Liverpool dive where The Beatles played their first gig. Yes, we know this is technically outside of London, but we'd allow for some creative geography. We'd also be willing to grit our teeth through a Rock Band sequence using the Wii U Gamepad as our instruments if that meant exposing ourselves to a little Beatlemania. And lest copyright lawyers get in the way, we'd also settle for an appearance by The Monkees or The Sex Pistols. Maybe the Monkey Sex Pistols?
Oh, and speaking of Monkeys...
Modern zombie lore tells us animals aren't immune to whatever turns humans into ravenous, flesh-eating monsters, so there's no reason why ZombiU should break with tradition. In fact, a detour to the London Zoo might be welcome change of venue, offering an undead buffet of mutant penguins, zombie gorillas, or naked zombie mole rats. The London Zoo also has the distinction of hosting the world's first public aquarium, creating the possibility for aquatic zombie variants.
Home to nearly 800 animal species, the London Zoo poses an opportunity for Ubisoft to get creative with its enemy designs, while giving players something else to swing at besides the run-of-the-mill homo sapiens. Even better, PETA's inevitable outrage would amount to oodles of free publicity.
We get it: A giant clock ranks with Petting Zoos and Bingo Halls on the list of scary places. That being said, we know ole Ben will worm its way into ZombiU in one form or another, just as it does in every piece of media related to London. Knowing this, we have a few ideas how Ubisoft can extract the most fun from this otherwise unintimidating landmark.
For one: Sniping. Big Ben looms over the Palace of Westminster and a good chunk of London's touristy zone. There are few better vantage points that would be ideal for putting that Gamepad sniper scope feature to good use. We see ourselves climbing Big Ben's peak, finding a nice perch, and picking off London's shambling masses from afar. It could even be included as a bonus game (Big Ben's Brain Blowout?).
On a smaller scale, ascending Big Ben would make for a fun platforming challenge especially if Ubisoft were to place a rare weapon or Bug Out Bag augmentation at its peak. At the very least, players should have the option of taking a picture of it with the Gampad's camera, thus allowing them to feel like a true London tourist.
Natural History Museum
Everyone have their monocles? Good, let's continue...
London hosts a number of world-class museums and art galleries, so it would be a cultural faux pas for Ubisoft to ignore these on its post-apocalyptic tour. We're not advocating a virtual recreation of the National Gallery or an audio tour of the Tate Modern, but it would be cool to pilfer old-timey weapons from the Imperial War Museum and fend off walkers from atop the Blue Whale in the Natural History Museum. We'd even be content with cutting loose in the Science Museum and putting centuries of human progress and innovation to good use (finally!).
Sure, museums aren't the first place thing we think of in terms of fun, but they can be a breeding ground for inventive sequences and challenges that would otherwise feel out of place anywhere else. Moreover, museums offer a chance to solve trivia questions over the GamePad and earn extra ammo and supplies with every correct answer. On second thought, that's a terrible idea.
The mother of all wax museums, Madame Tussauds has been making normal people look like lifeless zombies since 1836. It's founder, Marie Tussaud, was even known for making death masks from decapitated heads during the French Revolution. This obsession with death and the macabre lives on in the museum's most famous sections, the Chamber of Horrors.
Littered with creepy tableaus and a permeating sense that anything can come alive at the last moment, this cult London attraction not only has the right ambiance for a survival horror game, it comes preloaded with a morbid real-life backstory to boot. We can see Ubisoft using Madame Tussauds as a linear action sequence, forcing players to tip-toe through its many themed rooms while scanning the wax scenes for danger or survivors.
Westfield Stratford City / Hamleys
Shopping Malls are a staple of zombie storytelling. We're told they represent something about mass consumerism and the zombification of western culture, but for practical purposes they're an arsenal of zombie killing implements. And where Dead Rising popularized the art of crafting weapons from common household items, we want to see ZombiU adapt that concept to one of the largest mall in Europe, aka the Westfield Stratford City.
Spanning nearly 2 million square feet and home to over 300 shops, Westfield Stratford City is a Shangri-La for apocalypse survivors. And while it would be ambitious for Ubisoft to recreate this shopping mecca in full, a run through its main hall, connected theaters, and adjoining hotel could stir up some creative zombie mayhem.
Barring Westfield Stratford City, we'd also take Hamleys, one of the oldest and largest toy shops in the world. Offering seven floors and 54,000 square feet of killing space, we're sure we could find something to defend ourselves with. And if not, at least we'd have a few toys to distract us from our grisly fate.
Saint Paul's Cathedral
Because no zombie tale is complete without religious overtones, we anxiously await the moment when our mad dash to safety brings us to the gothic halls of Saint Paul's Cathedral. If its awe-inspiring interior isn't enough of an inspiration for designers, Saint Paul's Cathedral is also equipped with a Crypt containing over 200 tombs. There's some definite potential here for Ubisoft to show off the Wii U's graphical prowess and the studio's ability to extract some truly terrifying moments from one of London's most historic (and downright creepy) landmarks.
Now, Ubisoft has to be careful. Nintendo isn't one to court controversy, and inviting blood-thirsty hordes to the home of London's Anglican Bishop won't squeak by without tripping a few alarms. Remember, Resistance: Fall of Man took a flogging when it brought the Chimera war to Manchester Cathedral. There could be similar backlash from tying Saint Paul's Cathedral to scenes of decapitation and chainsaw massacres. On the other hand, London is renowned for its places of worship, so ignoring this and other churches altogether would be a noticeable omission on Ubisoft's part. It'll be interesting to see how much controversy Ubisoft and Nintendo are willing to court to appease the hardcore demo.
Oh the places we'll go...
Will ZombiU replace be the European trip we couldn't afford after highschool? Probably not. But for those who don't already call it home, it could prove a welcome diversion from the largely westernized genre.
We've tackled ZombiU from a tourist perspective, and now we're turning it to you. Whether you're an occasional traveller or lifelong resident, let us know what London environments you'd like to see in Wii U's undead IP.
If you want to learn more about British zombies, take a look at this ZombiU preview our first hands-on with Wii Us most M-rated FPS and watch the entrancing debut trailer.