Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Released: November 2012
Played: story complete in 12h:37min
During the zombie apocalypse in London, the Prepper pulls survivors off the street, instructing and preparing them for the difficult days ahead. As you scavenge supplies, the Prepper and a few other factions compete for your attention as they advance their agendas. To have any hope you'll have to make sure you're prepared and avoid getting cornered... but if you die, the next survivor will push forward.
ZombiU earned average review scores of 77%. Reviewers stated that it's a fun twist on the genre, good at rewarding patience and punishing inattentiveness, and a strong example of what the Wii U's unique hardware can do. It received some criticism for a clunky feel and not quite mastering its design.
Two patches (I believe) were released to fix bugs, including some game-breaking ones that forced a campaign restart.
I picked up ZombiU because it has one main idea that sounds really cool: if you die, your survivor becomes a zombie, and your new survivor can hunt down the zombie to reclaim the lost supplies. Cool, right? Well, it turns out that it isn't as cool as I'd hoped. The area you cleared before dying remains clear, so it's fairly effortless to kill zombie you (see what I did there) and get your supplies back. Also, except for the Prepper, NPCs don't tend to recognize the change in survivors.
Unfortunately, that slight letdown is somewhat representative of the game as a whole - the entire thing is a slight letdown.
The main issue is that the mission-based structure and scavenging for supplies make ZombiU feel like should be an open-world game, but it isn't. The game is composed of relatively small linear maps that you pick your way through, occasionally (and briefly) coming back to some of them to unlock new areas. You can check the cameras you've unlocked and revisit areas for supplies, but not much spawns at a time - it feels kind of pointless to have to fight through a half dozen zombies to get two bullets and a chocolate bar. It'd be better to explore new places, but there isn't enough game for that. Actually, while I'm talking about open worlds, the new spawns would be a lot more effective if you started in different safehouses each time, and it wasn't quite so easy to pick up where you left off.
I found it quite discouraging to die early in the game, since you lose all your supplies that you hadn't stashed and respawn with six bullets and a bat. But as the game goes on, death becomes more of an inconvenience than a setback.
Visuals and sound were in that range of acceptable enough that I don't particularly notice anything either way. The one thing that did stick out was the dusty-camera-lens filter that's applied when you're looking into the light. It's kind of neat, but it mostly just obscured my vision and made me think my glasses were dirty.
I did like the use of the Wii U gamepad, though. There are six equip slots within reach of your thumbs to quickly change or use weapons. Most of the display is used for the map, which lets you ping for zombies, scan and mark items and objects of interest, and obviously navigate. It's used for some contextual stuff like keypads and lockpicking, as well as functioning as the scope for certain weapons. What it's best at, though, is inventory management. You can swipe to open your backpack and bring up your inventory on the touchscreen, but this doesn't pause the game - on the TV screen your character kneels down and roots through the backpack for as long as you have it open. This leaves you vulnerable to zombies, and creates some nasty tension if you burned all your consumables and need to grab something before you get eaten.
There isn't much to the story, and what's there is mostly fairly standard. There's a centuries-old apocalyptic 2012 prophecy, a researcher looking for a cure, a group that wants to escape the city, a crazy guy who demands a trade for the supplies you need, blah blah blah. The only interesting character is the Prepper, the voice on the radio who rescues you and walks you through survival and scavenging. The further you progress, the crazier he seems, making you doubt his motives but never his advice. He kind of turns into one of those crackpot conspiracy theorists, and has some pretty harsh backstory if you find the documentation. I don't know how to feel about what happens with the Prepper at the ending, but I will say it's an interesting take on the archetype.
ZombiU is a respectable game, and it often builds tension quite well, but I feel like it could have been a lot better had it been bigger and open-world, as opposed to small and cramped. A lot of its features felt just underwhelming enough that I don't really want to recommend it, but at the same time, it has some good ideas and is far from a bad game. So with that in mind, here's the verdict: