The lights are on
My biggest critique of Wii U exclusive ZombiU has nothing to do with the game necessarily. My biggest critique is the current game industry environment. In an industry where great horror franchises dissolve into generic third-person shooters such as Resident Evil 6, it's too easy for critics and gamers to dismiss a game like ZombiU as another zombie shooter.
That assertion is far from the truth; ZombiU is a brilliant, unique survival horror game that truly feels like a survival horror game. The game starts with the player as a survivor needing to escape from a group of zombies. Upon escape, it is your mission to simply outlast the zombies and complete objectives for the "Prepper," a man who saw the zombie apocalypse coming and made sure he prepared for it.
Unlike today's cut-and-paste survival games, you don't respawn as your current character when you've been killed. Instead, you respawn as an entirely different character... and when you resume as another, you must seek out the zombified version of the now ex-survivor, kill him/her and take your inventory back. The premise seems simple enough--no confusing story lines or threads to jump in and out of, just straight-forward survival. However, the execution of this premise is where I believe a lot of critics have this game misunderstood.
See, when you start playing your character only has a cricket bat. Eventually you find more weapons, survival tools such as planks and flares, and ammo. However, the difficulty rises when you gotta seek out your previous character. Only having a cricket bat can be frustrating because you can't simply bash a zombie and keep going, no. In order to be sure, you gotta give it a good four or five whacks. That's fine if you're only taking on one zombie, but try this with a group of 'em and you're done for.
The game's saving grace are the over-abundance of Wii U GamePad features and the visuals. First, let me discuss the visuals. When the game was first released, a lot of critics called the visuals ugly and unappealing. Now that I have the game I can call these claims unfounded. First and foremost, a survival horror game typically isn't a "field of roses" kind of experience. The game looks gritty, bloody, jarring and, well, ugly. But not a bad ugly, just the right kind of ugly that puts you on the edge.
The GamePad features deserve a lot of praise. While it does put you at risk for being attacked, there's nothing quite like being able to manage your inventory and scan for things to loot on the run. ZombiU takes this idea and expands it, giving the player a full map, radar and the ability to create markers for item locations. Though it takes your eyes off the TV for a second, it's never too obtrusive as long as you avoid containers that are empty.
The campaign is good fun, but if you've got friends over the multiplayer is extremely impressive. In King of the Zombies mode, whomever uses the GamePad is charged with placing zombies on the map in strategic areas to assault any survivors, whom are controlled by players that use the Pro Controller or Wii Remote/Nunchuck combination (by the way, I strongly recommend the former in this case). My friends and I spent a good couple of hours in this mode alone, it's that fun to pass the GamePad around while the others are surviving!
It is in my opinion that out of the five Wii U titles I currently own, ZombiU is the one game experience that most boldly shows off what the GamePad can do. This game has all sorts of mixed opinions in both the critic and user review circles, but I personally feel like the uniqueness of this title significantly outweighs the campaign issues.
ZombiU is a terrific game, but only if you know to expect a survival horror game rather than a shooter.
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