REVIEW: ZombiU (Wii U)

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Riding the wave of zombie-media that shows no sign of stopping, “ZombiU” shambles above the typical zombies-attack storyline on the back of one unique hook: the Wii U’s signature GamePad.

This time, the Zombie Apocalypse is set in London (nothing new), and you play an average plague survivor who begins the game with almost no means to defend yourself (nothing new.) And by the end, science gets the stick for letting zombies happen in the first place (lesson!) But as far as a way to explore the GamePad’s gaming potential, there’s nothing else that does it quite as well as “ZombiU.” That alone makes the game a must-get.

The GamePad’s touchscreen lets you organize your inventory. You fiddle with it every time you have to pick a lock or enter a door’s security lock code. Tap the screen to send out a quick radar ping to locate nearby enemies. Hold it in the air and move it around in front of you to scan the room for hidden secrets. The touchscreen becomes the zoomed-in view of your sniper rifle scope. In every case, the action on your TV does not stop while you’re consumed with the GamePad, making for very tense moments as you fumble through lockpicking 101 while zombies lurch towards you. The GamePad is a vital, necessary tool for survival, and “ZombiU” manages to integrate it without the experience feeling like a bunch of loosely connected touchscreen-based minigames.

Naturally, the GamePad’s traditional game sticks and buttons work for moving around, picking up items and whacking zombies with a cricket bat (yup, England), making “ZombiU” a great example of the kind of thing the Wii U can do. The touchscreen enhances without overshadowing.

While plenty of modern videogames give you nearly limitless ammo in a quest for fast action among the undead, “ZombiU” recalls the survival horror genre’s best-in-class examples – “Fatal Frame,” “Siren” and the original “Resident Evil” games – by relying on suspense. This is not a game where you have 58 zombies rushing you and your trusty chaingun, this is a game where you have to get past three of them on one street without suffering a single bite. In a brilliant combination of compelling gameplay and storytelling flourish, one attack will kill your character… making you “wake up” as an entirely new survivor character back in the Safehouse. This new person starts from zero, and you are generally encouraged to go hunt down your most recent failed character, now zombiefied, to get all of your stuff back. If you can have a character survive for a couple of hours, you will become uncommonly attached to that persona, and feel real disappointment if you let him or her fall.

The team behind “ZombiU” got so much just exactly right, from the atmosphere to the tech, that makes this a great way to show off that brand new Wii U. In fact, while plenty of other Wii U games currently on sale are perfectly fine, none of them are quite as good at demonstrating what a “second screen” can bring to the new generation of gaming.

Image courtesy Nintendo of America.