I know, Zombies, they’re everywhere right? Movies, games, books, I’m surprised that there hasn’t been a stageshow musical featuring them yet but zombies are pretty important to the video game culture. You don’t need to question where they came from, what their motives are or why they are trying to eat your flesh. There are an easy enemy to place in any game and they’re still popular enough to be readily accepted as an enemy in a video game.

This is probably why Ubisoft have chosen this particular enemy as the main adversary in (one of) their WiiU’s launch titles – ZombiU.
It’s all about safety and familiarity and this is especially true when it comes to new technology, consoles, hardware, anything really. It would be extremely risky for Ubisoft to revisit their Animaniacs video game series or create a new version of Greys Anatomy: The Video Game as a launch titles for a new console. No, they need something safe – hence the filthy foot draggers litteringLondon in ZombiU

Interestingly, there is an actual storyline behind ZombiU and it’s as retrospectively wacky as the plot of a Saturday morning cartoon which would play after the Animaniacs. 400 years ago, Welsh astronomer John Dee creates an apocalyptic prophecy known as The Black Prophecy which will be fulfilled in the year of 2012. A man called “The Prepper” sees this apocalypse coming and ‘prepares’, meanwhile a secret society known as the Ravens of Dee researches his predictions to find a way to stop them from being realized.

In November 2012, the Black Prophecy begins to be realized in the form of a zombie outbreak in London,England. Survivors hide in the Prepper’s bunker, with one (the player) being chosen to confront the zombies, supported by Raven leader Sandra. Meanwhile, one of the Queen’s doctors, Dr. Knight, searches for the fabled cure under Buckingham Palace.  Like I said, the story is borderline House of The Dead with it’s level of insanity but I suppose ZombieU treads that thin line between semi-serious zombie survival game and arcade zombie-blast-em-up.

I started my playthrough by wading through a sewer section, the grimy and dark walls around me barely being touched by my meagre flashlight. I was told how to move and how to defend myself, pulling the left trigger on the WiiU gamepad would ready my melee weapon of choice, in this case a quintessentially English cricket bat or ready my firearm. I was forewarned by the PR person with me to “Save your ammo, you really don’t get a lot” I move forward through the different sewer tunnels, crawl out of a grate opening and ascended a set of stairs to a wooden platform surrounding a building. It was here I encountered my first actual zombie.

Two bodies lay on the wooden platform and after using my gamepad to scan both for loot I moved forwards, near me was a sniper rifle and my picking this up seemed to anger two zombies nearby who then decided to climb a ladder I was due to descend. I was advised to wait and take the zombies out with my cricket bat to conserve ammo, which I did. The satisfying thuds from the zombies as I pummelled them gave me an amazing sense of gaming satisfaction, akin to wielding the cricket bat in Left 4 Dead 2.

One thing I did notice about ZombiU was that if you don’t aim for a zombies head, they won’t go down easily! After swinging madly for a few minutes I decided to aim carefully and eventually took both zombies heads off. I noticed a couple of other zombies nearby a tunnel entrance further in the level so chose this opportunity to check out my sniper rifle, upon opening my backpack I was presented with my inventory on the GamePad, I used my finger to trace my sniper rifle from my backpack to my ‘current weapons’ section and closed by back pack. Upon equipping my sniper rifle I was furthermore presented with a sniper scope on my GamePad. I now had to move my GamePad to aim at the zombies in the distance. Fortunately one appeared to be wearing a fuel tank on his back (I never found out why, I’m holding out hope of Pyro Zombies…) so shooting that took out all three zombies in the nearby area.

Pressing on I found my way through a blockade using some C4 explosives and was subsequently ambushed by a zombie around a corner, I didn’t get a ‘press A to not die’ prompt, I did however automatically protect myself with a syringe of some kind of zombie poison – one which I could refill from another zombie (not the one I’ve just killed) if they carried this poison inside of them. I’m bluntly informed that without this syringe “If you get jumped again, you’re dead” I thought this was fair enough, at this stage I had noticed that I had a shotgun with two rounds and a pistol with nine round in my backpack which I had completely missed previously, plus with my trusty cricket bat I felt unstoppable.

There are many Cricket bats like it, but this one is mine!

Unstoppable that is, until I reached a further sewer section where I noticed a zombie a little bit too late and ended up getting my face chewed off for my troubles. I figured that I would respawn and get to try again but a strange ‘hospital’ scene played out and I started the level again as a different survivor. Presumably a different member of The Preppers group perhaps?

“A different survivor!?” I blurted at the PR rep “Yep, your other character’s dead now I’m afraid, his backpack should still be where he died though if you make it there” determined to avenge my fallen character and retrieve my precious cricket bat I marched forwards, past the fallen zombies that my trail-blazing predecessor had dispatched. Marching into the watery sewer section I dispatched the zombie which killed my previous character only to come face to face with my previous character, now transformed into a zombie lurching towards me, a huge health bar glowing above his head. This mini-boss encounter took me completely by surprise and the zombie adventurer quickly overwhelmed me. Ending my time with ZombiU – leaving me with a strange sense of pride that my previous character was going to become some sort of zombie leader and strengthen his brain munching companions. (Editors Note: Mike, you sometimes get too attached to video game characters)

Now, I’m left with this niggling feeling that all the things I’ve seen in ZombieU that could be put in the ‘That’s not very good’ pile like the slightly clunky controls, the poor texture graphics and the slightly obscure inventory system are all things that aren’t going to change prior to release.  There’s also the optimistic side of my brain which argues that this is a brand new console with new technology.  If we look at the first games on the Xbox 360 (Perfect Dark Zero for example) they suffered from the same issues.  What I know for certain is that ZombieU will most likely spawn a new franchise of ‘realistic’ zombie survival games where you control one of a series of survivors instead of simply one. It’s a good enough game with some different and interesting ideas…but it’s no Rayman Legends!