Last week I wrote about why I’m loving the Wii U so far, and before I start with my next topic I would like to say that I’m still enjoying it. This week, however, I’m going to talk about one game in particular. This game is ZombiU. When I first saw the trailer for the game at E3 I was completely hyped, it honestly sold the console for me. The rest of the presentation was pretty weak. From then on I followed every piece of news I could find about the game. To top it off I discovered that it would be bundled in a special addition bundle; I put my preorder in as soon as I found out. Then the reviews came out. A lot of them were very harsh on the game. They criticised the gameplay, the lack of ammo, the graphical quality and the longevity of the game; I was slightly disheartened. But I shouldn’t have been.
When I first turned ZombiU on I noticed that the game instantly creates an air of tension just with the menu screen. Slow piano music plays as you scroll across the menu. Each time you move to a new option the games makes a loud click noise, which is in contrast to the background music. But the tension created by the menu screen is nothing but a taster for what the game has in store. From the very start, and I mean very start, you are thrown into a world where you are very much outnumbered with your back against the wall. You start the game running for your life as you are chased by a horde of zombies. You have no weapons, no way to defend yourself and death is literally one bite away. You do eventually find a weapon, which is a cricket bat. The bat, as useful as it can be when faced with just a few zombies, becomes almost useless when faced with a group. This makes you always feel on edge and makes you always plan your route out; Turn off your torch to avoid attention, use flares to distract zombies, or simply run away. The bottom line is combat is a last resort. Fire arms are present in the game, but ammo is very much a luxury. If you don’t get a head shot you will pay for it, with your life.
ZombiU is quite an atmospheric game. There is no sound track. The only time you hear music is when you find radios still playing or when confronted by a zombie and the soundtrack kicks in to create added suspense. The streets of London are as we expect to see them, except deserted. Cars are parked in the streets; shop lights flicker and houses still laid out as if somebody lives there. Every step you take is heard back through the speakers. I’ve lost count of the amount if times I’ve been on tender hooks only to realise that the sound was me stepping on a bottle. Even the radar function creates atmosphere. When using the sonar, movement in the local area shows up on your gamepad. But not just movement of zombies; rats, crows and other animal life show up too. I’ve crept slowly into a room expecting to be welcomed by a horde of zombies only for a few mice to run at me. The game plays on our basic, primal urge to live. You truly feel like a survivor. You feel scared and panicked. The game truly helps you assimilate yourself with the character. And when you do die (which happens often, trust me) you feel for the character you just lost, you’ve been through a lot together. This is because the character you’ve been playing as does not respawn, you stake on the role of a new survivor and have to find your old gear on the corpse of your previous character who may now be one of the undead. You remember the time you were faced with 4 zombies and only had one bullet left. You survived though because you shot the canister and blew the lot up. But Owen Hunt is dead now, and it’s your job to make sure Liz Hughes survives. Yeah I get a bit attached to my characters.
The game totally comes into its own when you play survival mode. In survival mode if you die, you die. Game over back to the start. This mode is truly unforgiving, if you take your attention off the game for even the tiniest amount of time, you’re dead. The tension in this mode is far increased from normal mode. If you die in normal mode you just get a new character, but as I said before in this mode you just die. Before the game was released the developers almost removed this mode. They thought that it was far too difficult. That was until somebody at Ubisoft, the games publisher, finished it just in time. At this point quite a few people have now finished it. I know this because the dev team inform you with in game messages left on walls of the safe house. I take my hat off to those brave souls. The best I can manage is about an hour in. I seriously doubt I’ll be able to ever do it. It will join the list of games that I can’t finish, but that’s a blog for another day.
There is one way that you can increase the tension in ZombiU, if you so dare. Plug headphones into the gamepad and change the sound settings to headphone. This way you get a truly frightful and immersive experience. Every sound is heard perfectly clearly. You get a true sense of your surroundings. Or you could use surround sound for the same, if not slightly better experience.
Don’t get me wrong this game isn’t without it’s faults. Graphically it’s nothing ground breaking, many bugs have been found in the game, once and if you finish survival mode I’m sure that there will be little replay value and to top it off the game is as hard as hell. While this may not seem like an issue sometimes it becomes incredibly frustrating. When you get bitten and lose all your equipment, finding and killing your old player can become a bit of a chore. On the most part though ZombiU is a truly immersive and atmospheric game. So in my humble opinion I feel that the reviewers may have been a little harsh on this one. It may not go down in history as one of the greatest games ever made, but it is survival horror as survival horror is meant to be. Now if you don’t mind I’ve got to go find my cricket bat, its surviving time!
By Matt Husselbury
Nintendo Network ID: Messiah_MPH