From Resident Evil to Left 4 Dead, zombie survivalist shooters are a dime a dozen. But ZombiU is an original twist on the genre that’s worth getting excited about — and not just because it’s a Wii U exclusive.
Nintendo’s new console didn’t go out of its way to introduce new franchises to players at E3. The Wii U’s biggest headlines came from new entries of Nintendo’s existing franchises (Pikmin, Super Mario) and ports of third-party titles everyone’s played already (Mass Effect, Batman). But Ubisoft brought something to the party that raised eyebrows because it’s an entirely new IP that’s built from the ground-up for the Wii U’s GamePad controller.
Survival is always the main thrust of any zombie game, but there’s usually some end goal that you’re working towards. Maybe you’re trying to escape from a quarantine zone, for example, or you could be searching for a cure to the zombie plague.
ZombiU is different. Instead of working toward safety or victory, you’re simply trying to survive the zombie horde for as long as you can. It’s not a matter of if you’ll die or be infected, but when. Success is measured in how long you’re able to dodge, kill, and escape the undead. You won’t be able to hold out forever, but the longer you last, the better you score.
ZombiU is set in London, where its endless streets, alleys, and sewers form a maze for you to traverse in your attempts to outlast the zombies that dog you at every turn. If it sounds like an intense, nail-biting experience, it definitely is. You’ll live a life of fear as you scavenge for desperately needed supplies while trying to steer clear of the horde. You start out in your own “Safe House,” which you’ll want to fortify and defend so you can hold out there as long as you can. But once your Safe House is overrun, you have to escape — or you’re dead.
Ubisoft built the game so that it treats the WiiPad controller as a survival kit called your “Bug-Out Bag,” or BOB, holding every supply, every weapon, every medicine you’ve found and collected. Your BOB is your lifeline, and having it well-stocked is sure to keep you alive longer. The WiiPad will also hold maps that could show you an avenue of escape at a crucial moment. Ubisoft has a few other tricks up its sleeve as well, like using the WiiPad as sonar, allowing you to see enemies or supplies through walls.
But there’s another twist: death is not the end. When your on-screen character is infected, you lose, but the game isn’t over. ZombiU simply respawns you so that you “wake up” as a new human character in London. So you’re forced to start over from scratch with finding your needed supplies. But get this. The last character you played as is still out there — in zombie form. If you know where you were when that character was infected, you can immediately head back to that location, kill your former, zombified self, and retrieve your BOB and its precious supplies.
This won’t be as easy as it sounds, though. ZombiU is set in a persistent online world, so when you’re infected, any friends who are playing the game will be sent an alert. In essence, the game lets your pals know that you’ve been turned, and more importantly, your BOB is now up for grabs! The first player to get there and kill the zombie gets all those supplies.
There’s also a more traditional PvP multiplayer mode, which takes advantage of the “asymmetrical gameplay” that Nintendo talked about so much at E3. Player 1 becomes the “Zombie Master”; using the WiiPad, this player sets traps and spawns zombies on the controller’s touchscreen. Player 2, meanwhile, uses the Wii U’s optional “classic controller” to fight for survival.
ZombiU is expected to be a launch title for the Wii U when it arrives later this year. And you can bet the farm that it’ll be rated M for Mature.