ZombiU Hands-On Preview

Like its predecessor, the Nintendo Wii U promises to offer us experiences that are both noteworthy and different. As a result of that mission statement, certain developers have signed on to create new interactive adventures specifically for the console, while others have been looking at ways to add new options into powerhouse genres by using the console’s unique GamePad controller. Enter ZombiU, a new take on the flesh-eating apocalypse that pop culture has become incredibly familiar with over the last few decades or so. Promising to not only be a different type of first-person shooter meets survival horror romp, but also one that uses the aforementioned touchscreen controller in exciting ways in order to enhance the on-screen survival experience, it has become one of the console’s most talked-about launch titles.

At Nintendo‘s recent post-E3 preview event in Toronto, I was given a chance to see how well I could survive within ZombiU and its creative approach to the zombie apocalypse. Not to toot my own horn, but I think that I did quite well, with my only death coming at the end of a lengthy run that mixed a lack of ammo with an onslaught of reanimated corpses. But that isn’t important here. What I’m more interested in talking about is the game itself, and the reasons why it remains as one of my most-anticipated Wii U games now that I’ve actually had a chance to try it out.

If you’re trying to get an idea of what this game plays like, think of it as being part Left 4 Dead, part survival horror romp and part detective game. You see, thoughts of it being a fast-paced shooter like Valve‘s incredibly popular genre offerings are incorrect. While bullet, melee weapon and physical attacks are tricks of the title’s interactive trade, it is in no way a twitch shooter, or one that creates its tension through sending an ungodly amount of shambling brain-eaters at players’ avatars. My demo time consisted of more sleuthing and tension-fuelled shoulder watching than combat, but you can rest assured that I encountered a satisfying amount of the latter element. During those times, bullets were understandably scarce and melee weapons weren’t always available, meaning that last second physical attacks ended up becoming the key to my survival.

After spending quite a bit of time in lengthy line-ups while others played the game in front of me, I got a chance to play as a male survivor, and took control of him while he was searching for a key card in a visceral, creepy and seemingly deserted nursery. That young man, whose cricket bat combat skills were impressive, was not the game’s main character. Then again, it doesn’t seem to have a hero who meets that description. That’s because players will be given a chance to play as multiple survivors within post-apocalyptic London, England. The idea is that one must see how long he or she can survive as each individual, with deaths being punishable by a loss of items, introducing the need for both backtracking and raid trips. Even if you’re a new digital human, you’ll still need to progress within the core storyline, and will have to make sure to pick up those previously discovered keycards, items and miscellaneous weapons.

During the entirety of my ten minute-long hands-on demonstration, I was locked in survival mode, removing my eyes from the on-screen action only at times when the GamePad’s touchscreen became a required tool. That dual-screen mixture ended up delivering a rather unique experience that no other console title had previously offered, creating comparisons to the Nintendo DS and its three-dimensional son. What resulted was believable tension because television-based menus needed to be forgotten about, and picking inventory items through the swipe of a finger had to become second nature. Those new mechanics took a bit of time to get used to, but ended up working quite well, allowing me to get what I wanted without having to slug through joystick controlled menus. Though, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there were a couple of occurrences where the screen’s top (close) icon failed to register, causing a bit of frustration.

On top of its described inventory management, which includes health pack usage, the GamePad controller became useful for its environment scanning capabilities. Yes, you read that right – for some reason, the game’s characters have technological devices that can scan their whereabouts. As a result, in-game locations can be digitally analyzed, allowing for item boxes’ contents to be discovered from several feet away, if not more. It’s a neat function, but takes time to get used to. Thankfully the controller’s gyro sensors are up to the task, because thorough in-game inspections require 360-degree spins in the real world.

The fact is that ZombiU isn’t your father’s survival horror game, and that’s mainly due to Nintendo‘s interesting new controller. Although it may look like a zombie-filled first-person shooter at first glance, it’s more than that, and deserves recognition for its creativity and intrigue. That’s why fans of both genres should have Ubisoft‘s visually impressive, atmospheric and apocalyptic tale on their brains’ radar screens.