ZombiU Hands-on impressions: Escape from Buckingham

ZombiU debuted at E3 as a mature-themed shooter that will launch with the Nintendo Wii U later this year. While the likes of Mario have excited the fanbase, this gritty title captured just as many hearts. We got some hands-on time with it during a recent Ubisoft event, and it points to a game that could fare much better on this new system than Ubi's last Nintendo console-launching shooter…

We dove into Zombi U's special single player mode, which allows you to take on the role of several survivors who are trying to stave off zombie-infested London. The particular section of the demo takes place inside the ravaged Buckingham Palace. The gameplay twist is that if you die -- one bite kills you, by the way -- you'll switch over to someone else, but that previous survivor's gear becomes useless. So it behooves you to focus in on picking up dropped weapons conservatively. After all, it does you no good to stockpile all of the armaments, then turn undead and leave nothing for your next life.

As we detailed in our E3 first impressions, you occasionally use the Wii U game pad to look around the environment and scan for items and clues. What we didn't notice before is that if you look up at the TV, your survivor is surveying the room using a Wii U controller. It's oddly amusing and shows a game that's grim, but also has a slight sense of humor about itself.

The emphasis on survival is tight. The mode seems even more tightly dependent on resource management than most mainstream zombie games, especially because unlike Left 4 Dead -- in which you may have some AI teammates, or human partners to pitch in with health or battle assistance -- in ZombiU's mode, it's really up to you to focus on resource management.

We don't doubt that it's a deliberate design choice, but this rendition of Buckingham Palace really evokes the feel of 28 Days Later. It's wide-open, but the places you'll need to go feel confining and claustrophobic. And even in the more vast spaces, there's enough undead around to keep you on your toes. It's a tense environment in all of the right ways, and we'll be excited to see how scary the locale is in the final, fleshed-out game.

There are still some issues that we hope Ubisoft will address before launch. The game's targeting doesn’t feel completely precise yet, as some shots just seemed to ring past the heads of zombified Beefeaters and groundskeepers. We wonder if this is something that'll get fine-tuned more before launch. And while it's not a slight on the game itself, we sense that we won't be the only ones that will have an adjustment period to using such spread-out analog sticks on the Wii U game pad. It's something the game reminded us. The happy accident of the imprecision is that we discovered that zombies can take a skull-popping shot and still come back for more. You will absolutely need to kill the brain, even if it takes a cricket bat.

Additionally, use of the game pad screen for inventory management is curious and interesting. As you dig through your backpack, swap around ammo, and chow down on rations, you're left to your own devices onscreen, and look rather exposed amidst a room full of human flesh-eaters. We're curious to see how vulnerable it will leave you to attacks in the latter stages and how Ubi will up the ante on that kind of feature in gameplay.

Overall, despite our ergonomic concerns and some fidgety targeting, ZombiU looks like it should be a fun, tense, and engaging shooter. Its unique approach to survival management, a familiar art style, and some cool combat have gotten our attention. We're looking forward to playing it again very soon.

Sterling McGarvey