ZombiU Hands-on (WiiU)

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rAge 2012 was jam-packed with great new titles to play. The most intriguing of those has to be the launch title for the new Nintendo Wii U console, ZombiU. I was privileged to attend a presentation by two of the developers all the way from France. What I expected to be yet another zombie game turned out to be something rather special.

At first the long queue of people waiting to see the demonstration put me off and I nearly did not attend. Then I saw Miklos, another KZN freelance reporter, close to the front. I whipped out my media pass and started a conversation. Pretty soon I made my way to the front row seats of the small demonstration room. I was not prepared for what was to come next.

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ZombiU is set in London after the zombie apocalypse. In the demonstration you are right outside Buckingham Palace in search of some medical supplies. The lighting and shading has not been optimised but already looks extremely good and atmospheric.

The game controls very similarly to other first person shooters. Zombies that lurk in the dark can be shot and attacked with melee weapons. Nothing too special yet. But then we were introduced to the new Wii U Gamepad controller. Featuring a touch screen and motion sensors, the controller is a little piece of wonder. How it is used adds a whole new dimension to the game.

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First up your controller acts as an interactive map. If you want to see where detected enemies are you will have to divert your eyes from the screen and look at the Gamepad controller.

You can use the controller to scan objects by lifting it up to the screen and hovering over objects on screen. This comes in very handy when you need to make a decision about whether or not you want to venture into a particularly dark corner of the map. Knowing some of the reward makes it easier to weigh it against the risk involved.

When using weapons with scopes on you also lift up the controller while holding the left shoulder button and look through the scope on the tablet controller’s screen. Getting an accurate headshot is still hard, but now more intuitive.

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When searching through containers or rearranging your inventory, your character on screen will stop what he is doing and start his search. You can now control the camera around the player, looking around nervously for zombies sneaking up on you. That’s right, the inventory menu does not pause the game. All inventory actions are handled on the Gamepad controller – drag and drop items between areas and equip them with a simple click.

I was then given the chance to play the game, while a room full of people looked on. I was set up to fail though, as the controller was not set up as inverted and I failed to correct it. I died very soon as I was swarmed by a horde of zombies. The controller was handed on to a fellow gamer in the room to see if they could outlive me.

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While I was watching to see the next player fail as soon as possible, the developers continued to talk about the online leaderboard type integrations. When your character dies he is dead. All his skills and kit are lost. His body is also now one of the infected, walking around the area where you were killed. The stronger your character was, the stronger this zombie will be. Kill your old self to get access to the kit you lost. Your dead zombie-self can also invade your friends’ games and might even end up as a boss character depending on what level you were.

Along the way to find the rest of the medicine, we also encountered a special infected. Not a lot of detail exists about the nurse zombie, other than she blocks your radar and loves the dark. She is very hard to kill and with limited ammunition the player still managed to bash her head in with a cricket bat.

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ZombiU is far from yet another zombie action game. It adds just enough zombie lore to make it appealing to existing zombie fans, but the new features of the Wii U adds a whole new direction that cannot be ignored. The developers made it clear that they are trying to make a zombie game as realistic as a game about the walking dead can be. As far as I can tell this is the reason I am going to get a Wii U. Lets hope future Wii U releases can make such creative use of the new controller.