I was lucky enough this week to get some time hands-on with ZombiU, the game that I was most excited about after the E3 dust settled. There was no messing about, I just got straight into the game. Having watched the person in front of me maim zombies with a cricket bat until he was mobbed and eaten, I opted for a less visceral approach. After stopping to revel in a videogame first (I had never beaten a member of the Queen’s Guard to death with a cricket bat before), I set off. Cocking my pistol and making sure I knew which buttons would punch zombies out of my way if things started to go awry, I prepared myself for my first foray into Ubisoft’s post-zombie-apocalypse version of London.
The first thing that struck me about the game world was the stark contrasts in colour; everything is very dark and blood-stained, yes, but when you find an ambulance the yellows stand out like a beacon. Maybe I got this impression because the demo takes you into a nursery where the combination of colours and tiny, bloody handprints serve to create a tense, sinister atmosphere. The objective was simple: get in, find medicine, and get out. Of course, if we’ve learned nothing else from the horror genre, it’s that nothing is ever as easy as it sounds.
I can honestly say I was not expecting any set scares to affect me, stood as I was in a room full of people talking and laughing, but once the game drew me in, I found my pulse starting to race. The stakes are high (one bite and you’re dead!), and nothing you do stops time in the game, which can result in death if you try to loot a body at the wrong moment or pick a lock without first checking what’s lurking around the corner. Add to these less immediate concerns things like creepy noises, a shortage of ammo and a fall through the floorboards into a dark, zombie-infested cellar and the tension really picks up.
I crept forward, glancing down at the gamepad to get my bearings and switch on my torch, only to discover a zombie about to sink its teeth into my neck… I’ll confess, I jumped. Having taken care of that zombie I moved on to find myself stuck in a room with a zombie called a “Nurse” that, between trying to bite me, teleported around the place like one of Bioshock’s most annoying Houdini Splicers. I can’t say the fight was particularly tense, but then I had been guided to the location of a shotgun by the guy in charge of the demo. What happened next, however, was enough to make me jump enough that people stood around me had a good laugh.
After taking the nurse zombie down, I had to scan it. Presumably this is because I wanted some of whatever was causing it to teleport about the place. Anyway, I held the gamepad up to the screen, pressed L and held my finger over the scan button. Thinking myself in the clear, I was properly shocked when the twice-dead body leapt towards the screen, shrieking as it came. Terrifying.
After that, the intensity climbed and climbed as I started to make my way towards the exit. I had no shotgun ammo left and only a handful of pistol rounds, so I knew I had to be careful. Nothing could have prepared me for the sheer quantity of undead meat between me and my goal. Once the bullets were gone (too quickly), I was forced to start dispatching zombies one by grisly one with my cricket bat, spraying brains and all sorts across the walls whilst trying to constantly retreat from the hungry horde. In the small space provided this was tough, but I managed it. My attitude of “oh, I’ve played Dead Island and killing a ton of zombies with a bat is easy” was gone, this was a battle of attrition that I would win only with tactical thinking, not with a brazen gung-ho approach. I picked a lock, a slow, rushed ordeal, my eyes never resting on the gamepad for more than seconds at a time as I constantly checked behind my character for something previously unseen lumbering out of the shadows.
Once through the door I was faced with a corridor of zombies and the distant vision of a doorway to the outside world. This was so close, but too far. The corridor, filled with zombies, soon became a ravenous rush of undead killers. I did my best to dispatch the zombies, but eventually and inevitably I was bitten. As my character died, and the virus began to work its way through her neural pathways, a time appeared on screen: 11:56. I stayed just long enough to see a new counter start from zero as the next person started to play the level. They left the starting area, walked around the corner, killed a couple of zombies, my character amongst them, loot my body and complete the objective. It turns out the medicine was still in my character’s backpack, and so the next player had merely to pick it up and carry on with the game.
Knowing I had come so close did nothing to soothe my battered, chewed ego. However, I walked away with the impression that time and death are going to be main concerns of ZombiU players. Will I be able to finish the game without being bitten? Who knows! But what I saw genuinely impressed me. The controls are a little on the heavy side, which adds to the tension, and the way the game forces you to look at the screen in your hands when you know full well that at any moment a zombie could attack is almost cruel. When you are looking at the TV screen, you’ll see something that looks rather impressive, especially for a Nintendo console. ZombiU is going to be a fantastic game for the Wii U, and is going to be a day one purchase for me based on what I saw here.
Video games were a part of Chris's life from the Mega Drive onwards. He has many happy gaming memories, including the first time he collected all the chaos emeralds in Sonic 2, collecting all SSBM's trophies (yes, all of them) and, more recently, collecting far too many platinum trophies on his PlayStation 3. In the real world, he has a degree in French and is currently living in Frankfurt, Germany. Follow him on Twitter @DPrime_Chris
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