ZombiU Preview – Eurogamer Expo 2012
For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past several months, there’s a new console coming out next month from Nintendo, it’s called Wii U. To launch the console and to herald in the next generation of consoles the Wii U has decided to do something a bit daring and not cater purely to kids and those who like a gimmick. ZombiU is going to be a launch title for the Wii U and it certainly wasn’t what I was expecting to see at a Nintendo booth.
I had a couple of questions in my head when I was in the line to have a go at ZombiU; 1. How would I find using the Wii U gamepad? 2. Is it really going to be a gritty, bloody game? And 3. Does it look any good? This is the next generation after all. I did get the answers to these questions, although I didn’t get long enough hands on time with it, about five minutes, if that. So over the next few paragraphs you will get my opinions on ZombiU but just a reminder, it’s based on about five minutes of actual hands on time.
When we talk about new generations we automatically think about an improvement in graphical quality and while ZombiU certainly is an improvement over current Wii games it reminded me of the game Condemned: Criminal Origins, which was an early title for the Xbox 360 where it is ok to look at without being spectacular. Lots of chiaroscuro lighting was used to try and play up the suspense as I made my way through a sewer and out to the bank of the River Thames to look across at a slightly grainy London Skyline. Of course putting a filter on the game is one way to make it look grittier and help create a sense of unease but I’m pretty sure it’s to cover up the fact it doesn’t look that great.
But… it’s not all about graphics is it dear reader? No, it’s not. Wii U is coming at us with technical innovation in the form of its gamepad. When you are wandering around in the game’s first-person view the second screen on the game pad acts as a map and also as your inventory. You can tap items in your inventory to equip them, which sounds pretty awesome but when you’re in the middle of a zombie attack it becomes pretty fiddly. Maybe it’s just the fact that we need to get used to managing two screens. A good use of the second screen though was the UV scanning. By holding down the left bumper you could check out your environment and add objects to your map. This helped to identify zombies as well as crates and what they contained.
I’m about three minutes into the demo at this point and I come across my first zombie. I had already scanned it as it was lying motionless on the floor and my scanner said it was dead. Stupid me thought that it was just for show. As I moved on past it to scan a boat ten meters ahead I suddenly had the familiar red splatters at the bottom of my screen. As I spun around I was being attacked by the zombie woman who was obviously just taking a break from ripping flesh off the bones of the living. Luckily my shotgun was in my right hand and I shot her head right off with a satisfying squelch. It took a couple of shots due to the pretty awful sensitivity that the analogue sticks were set at but I survived my first zombie.
Two minutes later I was dead. Another zombie came out of nowhere, and I mean nowhere… I scanned the whole place, and I was swiftly kicked out of the booth to let someone else have a go. It would have been nice to see how the Dark Souls-like mechanic of starting from the original starting point with a new survivor would have worked out but hopefully I will get some more time with it in the future.
Even though I had a (very) short amount of time with ZombiU I came away with a couple of positives and a couple of negatives. Firstly it’s great to see Nintendo taking a risk. ZombiU has tension, blood and gore, something that has never truly graced the Wii and will help sell the system to those who may have skipped the Wii console altogether. Little touches like when walking through water carrying your backpack above it leaves you feeling helpless if a zombie suddenly appeared, I dig that. On the other hand, I don’t think I can ever see myself playing a game other than the cutesy gimmicky ones with the Wii U Gamepad. It just doesn’t feel right when trying to aim a gun or looking down to your lap to check the map and then looking back up only to find your face being sucked off by a hungry zombie. Maybe it is something I am going to have to get used to, when more than two buttons were introduced to a controller I’m sure I struggled but are people going to be willing to put in the time and effort to adapt? Or will they stick with what they know? I’m not sure. One thing I do know, ZombiU has the potential to be a very good game.