ZombiU Hands-on (WiiU)

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Prepare to be freaked out by this Wii U exclusive from Ubisoft that is setting the bar for other developers to beat with intense, immersive gameplay and excellent use of the GamePad controller. I was playing ZombiU in a brightly lit E3 booth surrounded by hundreds of people and this first-person survival horror shooter had me on edge from the get go. I’m not kidding people, you’ve been warned, it’s going to earn a mature rating for a reason.

I’m going to get into the controls and features, but know that you are getting a rock solid experience right up there with what you would expect from Ubisoft. The visuals are engaging and, combined with the sound, the developers have stopped at nothing to engage all your senses. You’re checking on the TV screen and then the GamePad controller, listening for moans and groans, gripping the GamePad in anticipation and it’s only a matter of time before you get caught out. The London setting provides the perfect eerie location to test your survival skills as you navigate the fog shrouded labyrinth of streets and underground environments.

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Two screens, Twice the Fear

The fear becomes palpable during ZombiU as you keep your eyes on the TV and the GamePad controller screen. It’s easy to become distracted whilst fiddling in your inventory on the GamePad and neglect to see the zombie right in front of you on the TV. I equate it to driving when you need to keep your eyes on the road, but sometimes you need to look down at the dashboard to check the speedometer, but make damn sure you get your eyes back on the road asap. In ZombiU you’ll be punished for neglecting your predicament. There is no pausing whilst you fiddle on the GamePad and you need to keep this in mind.

Right, so what are the gadgets in your survival kit to help you through this? First up there is the Sonar ability, which you engage with the GamePad by facing it in the direction you want to scan. It can then show you radar type blips of zombies ahead that could be obscured by walls and such in the immediate vicinity.

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Inventory management is going to be key in ZombiU given that supplies are limited and zombies are plentiful. You need to be resourceful and collect ammo, weapons, first aid kits and food as often as possible. The GamePad makes it very easy to see what is in your inventory and arrange it. Just touch the screen to assign items, but remember to keep an eye on the TV screen while you are checking to avoid being zombified.

To stock your inventory you are going to want to use the Scanner in the environment on our favourite game item…crates of course. Once again hold up the GamePad and align it with an object, then touch the scanner button whilst it ‘scans’ to reveal the contents.

My favourite past-time in a shooter is sniping, and ZombiU achieves this flawlessly using the GamePad to allow for zooming. The TV screen keeps the bigger picture whilst the GamePad has the zoomed-in scope so you can maintain some perspective on the action. It’s a survival horror game with limited ammo, so use your ammo wisely and keep an eye on the TV whilst in zoom mode to avoid nasty bites. I failed epically at this multi-tasking aspect and will take some time to adapt my gameplay strategy from being so focused on the TV and adjust to scanning the GamePad when it is relevant.

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It just feels right

Inevitably you are going to get overwhelmed, surprised or cornered by a zombie at some point, and what do you do when this happens? Well you make sure your GamePad is strapped to your arm for one thing and then your shake it like your life depends on it! It’s one of those immersive aspects that is just plain common sense and I didn’t need anyone to teach me. I was sniping and a zombie grabbed me and got up in my face on the GamePad screen. My natural reaction was to move the GamePad and thankfully this allowed me to break free and melee the aforementioned zombie. Shew, I’m alive for a few more seconds!

This concept of natural reaction controller play is not only for defense but attack too. Using weapons like a cricket bat or pick you can swing them at zombies with a swish of the GamePad controller. It’s effective and rather satisfying at the same time, but I didn’t do it for hours in a row, so I’m not sure if this may get a bit tiring.

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Getting around London you’ll encounter locked doors and other puzzles that you’ll need to use the GamePad to overcome. To unlock some doors you’ll hack them using the GamePad screen, whilst being under considerable pressure from zombies that are approaching you in the background on the TV. I cracked under the pressure and didn’t make it through the door on my first attempt but I hope you’ll do better.

Horde at our door

Zombies, whilst know to roam individually, also have the tendency to rally to the common cause of flesh eating and come after you in mass. Prepare yourself well by stocking up on guns, ammo, supplies and make your stand in your Safe House from the horde. Good luck!

There are different modes in ZombiU that are going to be revealed in more detail in the coming months. For now we know there will be a survivors versus zombies multiplayer mode where one player takes the awesome role of Zombie Master in a top-down view on the GamePad. This player spawns enemies and springs traps through the touch interface, whilst the second player in first-person view fights for survival on the TV using the classic controller. I didn’t get to play it, but it sounds awesome!

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Mercy Killer

Should your character become infected your online friends will be notified of your untimely death so they can come and hunt down your zombified character. Why would they want to do this you ask? Well you carry all your collected items in your Bug-Out Bag, or BOB as you’ll come to call it. Given the short supply of stuff you’ll want to salvage BOB’s whenever you can and at the same time why not put your zombified friend out of their misery.

Check out the ZombiU trailer for an excellent overview of the GamePad in action and take note of the different visuals on the TV and GamePad screen.

ZombiU will be launching this year and for me at least makes the Wii U purchase a no brainer. Start saving and find your pre-order sites to avoid disappointment. I was caught out waiting for Wii stock last time Nintendo launched a console and I’m not going down the eBay route in desperation again.