GameGrin loves new technology, so when we were given the chance to go hands-on with Ubisoft's ZombiU on the Wii U at gamescom 2012 we leapt at it; even if we did have to share with five other journalists and only got a couple of minutes play! Despite this, what we experienced and what we saw gave us a good impression of what to expect from this Wii U exclusive title.
The level demonstrated in this showing was 'Escape from Buckingham Palace', in which the player had to..... well, it's pretty obvious what the player had to do really. So basically, in this level you fight your way through hordes of brain-suckers as you try to find the exit.
Now, we'll come right out here and say it - ZombiU was not the game we were expecting from what we have seen so far. With a tagline like "how long will you survive" we were expecting a fairly hardcore horror survival game, but what we were greeted with was a far more generic and arcadey experience. Graphics were not particularly impressive either, with muddy colours and bland textures making this seem somewhat less than a next-gen game.
In our escape attempt we came awake in an enclosed room with a crate containing a pistol and some ammunition, which we grabbed. We then used the manhole exit to leave our secure bunker and found ourselves in the grounds of Buckingham Palace proper.
We moved from room-to-room and after killing a couple of rather stereotypical beefeater-style zombies along the way we found ourselves in a central room with a stairway, where we were attacked by a 'spitter' zombie and his cohorts.
This is where we first experienced death with ZombiU, the spitter's goop damaged us and obstructed our vision and we were grabbed by a nearby zombie and killed before we could shake him off.
As we discovered, death in ZombiU has little consequence. After dying you 'respawn' as as another survivor in the initial starting point armed only with a melee weapon, a cricket bat in our case. The level stays as you left it, so the ammo in the crate is gone, but so are all the zombies killed so far. Your first task is then to make your way to where you died and kill your old self, who has now become a zombie, to collect your gear back.
It took a few attempts to take down the spitter zombie. Thankfully he would wander back to his starting position at the top of the stairs between each play attempt so that would give us time to bludgeon our old self to death before he got the drop on us, but eventually we managed to finish him off.
Melee combat wasn't particularly fun with the cricket bat and we appeared to have only two basic moves; we could push the zombies back or whack them over the head. You can't kill the zombies with regular melee attacks, instead you have to repeatedly hit them over and over again until they stagger or fall over, at which point you can execute a finishing move to smash their head open. The spitter in particular took some serious whaling on before we could get him to stagger.
Play continued in much the same vein from here on in, trudging down a linear path from room to room, killing zombies and trying to find the way out. We killed another spitter along the way, along with a zombie in riot gear whose helmet we had to smash before we could brain him. However, through the course of our journey we did get the chance to experiment with some of the functions of the Wii U tablet controller.
The default mode of the tablet screen is to display a map, but the screen is also used for inventory management. This creates a level of risk, as searching crates/bodies and managing your own inventory is all done on the fly and there is no pausing, so stopping to to do these things leaves you open to potential zombie attack.
The tablet can also be used as a scanner and by moving it around the screen it will highlight areas of interest. A primary use appears to be revealing whether a container has anything of use in it, but at one point we also found arrows pointing to a secret area containing a crossbow.
The crossbow was an interesting weapons as unlike the pistol, which is aimed using the main screen in the usual fashion, the crossbow has a zoom mode whereby the tablet contains the crosshair and is moved around to aim. In practice, this was quite difficult to do, particularly under pressure, and a lot of shots were misses or non-fatal (i.e non-headshot) wounds. On the plus side, we could recover our crossbow bolts when the fighting was done.
The final use of the Wii U tablet controller came at the end stage of proceedings, when we had found the exit and were hoping to make our escape. Unfortunately the door was locked by an electronic keypad and a horde of zombies was rapidly descending on us. We could tell the first three digits of the four digit code from the bloodstains on the pad, but the finding the fourth was a matter of trial and error. What followed was a race against time to enter the correct four-digit code on the touchpad tablet before the zombies reached us, which we managed in the nick of time.
ZombiU was something of a disappointment to us simply because it was not the mature themed survival horror FPS we were led to believe it would be from earlier coverage. Instead, what we saw and played was fairly uninspired, linear, arcade-style affair where the only goal appears to be to complete the level in the shortest time possible with the fewest amount of deaths. Indeed, if the demo we saw was the whole level, then we would also comment that it was particularly short as well.
ZombiU currently has no official release date, but is expected to release for the Wii U at some time in Q4 of 2012.