ZombiU was a Wii U launch game, and as such it’s the game that’s been on my backlog the longest. I bought it the same day I bought the console, and began playing almost immediately. It’s a fantastic game, one of the most underrated I can think of in recent years… and most importantly, it’s probably the scariest video game experience I’ve had since playing the Resident Evil 1 remake back in college.
The key to a survival horror game’s scariness, aside from creepy imagery, is adding real stakes to dying. That’s why limited inventories and sparse save-points have become such a staple of the genre – if dying sets your progress back to a frustrating degree, then you will fear zombies and monsters as much as is possible from the safety of your own living room. ZombiU utilizes all these tricks, and also adds a big one of its own…
The game casts the player as a survivor during a zombie outbreak in London. The gimmick is that if your character gets killed, they stay dead and you continue the quest as a new survivor. If you want to get back the items and weapons you were carrying when you died, you have to go find the zombie of your old character and kill it. It’s a really interesting and unique mechanic, and it ensures that every enemy encounter has huge stakes.
Since I am a craven coward, this degree of intensity means that I pretty much played the game in 20-minute bursts, and then had to take a break to ease my nerves. For example, just imagine my paralyzing fear when I opened up an apartment door and encountered a motherfucking zombie rave:
Unfortunately I grabbed a shitty screenshot of the situation, but believe you me there were at least 12 zombies in there, shuffle-dancing to the beats from a zombie DJ, all under pulsing strobe lights. Trust me when I say I had to stop and have about three cigarettes before I could bring myself to even enter that fucking room.
But it wasn’t just fear that halted my progress in ZombiU. About halfway through the campaign, my mission took me to one of the game’s creepiest setpieces, a zombie-infested preschool:
Just looking at those goddamn screenshots is sending chills down my spine. As if this location wasn’t horrifying enough, I eventually wound up in the basement where I had to fight a powerful boss. After defeating this monstrosity… I found myself stuck, unable to leave the basement. As it turns out, I’d happened to stumble across a game-breaking glitch. If you follow that link, you can read a detailed description of the situation by the awesomely named RadiatorGator – the same exact thing happened to me. At this point I was truly fucked – I could either start from scratch with a brand new playthrough (during which I might very easily encounter this same glitch again), or I could wait for a patch. I chose the latter option, and I was waiting for months.
It wasn’t until late March of 2013 that a patch was released, and I was finally able to leave that godforsaken basement. By this point it had been so long since I’d played last that I was really struggling to remember the controls, the game’s geography, and the things I was supposed to be doing. Still, I managed to stumble through a couple more chapters until I encountered another big problem. Unfortunately, I had no one to blame but myself for this one.
You see, your default weapon in ZombiU is this awesome cricket bat:
The cricket bat is the perfect weapon – it’s quiet, it never runs out of ammo, and it’s powerful enough to take down almost any enemy with just two or three well-timed smacks. The game provides a plethora of guns, explosives and projectile weapons, but because the cricket bat is so damn effective, there were only a handful of times when I used anything else. Then I reached the Arena.
In this chapter of the game, you are captured by a madman and placed in a makeshift gladiator pit with about a million zombies. All of your weapons are taken away, including your precious cricket bat, and you are forced to make do with a handgun and a small smattering of ammo scattered around the area. As you might imagine, this section requires precise shooting skills, which I simply did not have. After a few miserable attempts, I shamefully put the game aside.
When I picked it up again this year, I was obviously still stuck in the Arena with no hope of success. So I made the reluctant decision to start the game over from the beginning, this time making sure to hone my firearm skills at least a little bit. Since I’d gotten through most of the game already, I set my new playthough to the easiest difficulty level (which the game calls “Chicken Mode” just in case I’d momentarily forgotten that I am a huge wuss), and dove in.
Because of the Chicken Mode, as well as my experience from playing before, making it back to where I’d left off was shockingly easy this time around. Along the way, I even managed to beat my own record for keeping a character alive. Bella Wilson, a 28-year-old plumber with crazy Princess Leia pigtails, managed to survive the zombie apocalypse for an impressive 3 hours and 55 minutes before finally dying a hero’s death. And by “hero’s death,” I mean I accidentally cricket-batted a zombie who was carrying an explosive fuel tank on its back, and got blown up. I love you, Bella. Rest in peace.
Along the way, I made it a point to practice my handgun skills whenever reasonable possible. And while that didn’t make the Arena easy by any means, I still managed to finish that chapter after about 15 goddamn tries. I’ve never been so happy to see a bed as I was when I reached my save-point cot after escaping from that horrible fucking arena!
After everything I’d been through up to this point, the rest of the game was a relative breeze. Before too long I was watching the credits scroll on by:
But to my surprise, ZombiU has an after-credits sequence to determine which ending you get! This is a breakneck rush across a zombie-infested pier to reach a waiting helicopter, and you only get one chance. This took me by surprise, and you probably won’t be shocked to hear that I got murdered by the very first zombie who I came across. The End, Game Over. But oh well, I still beat the goddamn thing, so who cares? Here are my final stats:
Some final thoughts:
-With its interactive maps, radar and scanning mechanics, and quick-touch inventory management, ZombiU makes the best use of the Wii U gamepad of any game that I’ve seen. Even two and a half years later, nothing has matched it, not even any first-party titles from Nintendo themselves. Perhaps if more developers put this much effort into utilizing the unique hardware, the Wii U would be a bigger success. Just sayin’.
-I love the game’s London setting! Sneaking around landmarks like Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London was thrilling. So much so that after I beat it, I spent a few days watching dumb documentaries like this on Netflix. I’d be really interested in hearing a native Londoner’s opinion of the game!
-Because Ubisoft have pretty much abandoned the Wii U (not that I can really blame them), all plans for a ZombiU sequel seem to have been scrapped. This is heartbreaking for me, as it was one of the best horror experiences I’ve had in a video game in years. Hopefully a follow-up will eventually emerge in one form or another, because it would be a shame for such an ambitious franchise to end after just one entry.
-If you own a Wii U and haven’t played this game, rectify that immediately. The one upside of the game’s failure is that it’s now available for as cheap as garbage. Get that shit, and thank me later.
-Aside from all the technical issues, I only really have one major complaint about ZombiU:
WHY ARE THERE ZOMBIES CLIMBING LADDERS?? ZOMBIES CAN’T CLIMB LADDERS!!!!
Code Name S.T.E.A.M.