ZombiU Hands-on Preview from E3 2012 -- Next-Gen Deadites Ahoy!By Stephen Johnson - Posted Jun 08, 2012
Like just about everyone in gaming, I walked into E3 2012 with questions about the Wii U, specifically, how will the added-screen controller make gameplay better? Why should I even care? About five minutes into my (too brief) demo of Ubisoft’s ZombiU, all my questions were answered. The game uses all the innovations of Nintendo’s new controller to create a very creepy survival-horror game, and in so doing functions as the best tech demo I’ve seen, proof-positive that the Nintendo Wii U can be a viable platform for ‘core gamers. I’ll be buying a Wii U at launch, but not for Nintendo Land. I just want to play ZombiU.
The game itself is a zombie killing title with some hardcore gaming twists. You’ll kill brain-eaters by the dozens with shotguns and baseball bats--standard fare--but this game won’t give you easy carnage. ZombiU is meant to be hard. There are no checkpoints, and if you die in the game, you’re dead. No replay. Well, “dead” isn’t exactly the right word. Killed characters turn up again, as named zombies, deadly testaments to your past failure. This, by itself, is enough to make me take notice, but there are a ton of other innovations that are equally, if not more, impressive.
The setting is exotic. You’ll be running around merry (?) olde England, offing ghouls in London. The level on display at E3 2012 took place at Buckingham palace, meaning lots of Beefeater style undead palace guards, and I can only hope a zombiefied Queen Mum. The palace is a perfect setting for a zombie game. Its air of antique grandeur and history combined with the fact that it’s heavily armed and fortified and full of unlooted supplies makes it a perfect place for a haunted house.
Zombies in an exotic setting would be cool enough by itself, but when you add in the unique gameplay elements added by the Wii U GamePad, you’re looking at something truly amazing.
The main use of the extra screen is as a backpack. This means you’ll have to look down, away from the action on the main screen to perform inventory tasks… and that tiny little change to playing a survival horror game is enough to make every encounter more terrifying as you try to desperately switch the right weapon while deadites are coming right for you. The word “immersive” is overused by everyone in the game industry in describing games, but eff it; it makes the game more immersive.
You’ll also use the GamePad as a scanner, holding it up to towards your TV screen to identify certain objects. Pretty cool, and another way to deliver scares. There’s nothing worse than checking out an innocent box, and having a zombie pop into your field of vision. It gives me nightmares. Glorious nightmares.
You’ll also be able to use the screen to aim, which, for long shots with scoped weapons is pretty awesome. Whether you’ll want to depends on how much you really want to lift your arms when playing games. The “standard” aiming methods from FPS remain, should you choose to use them.
You’ll also use the Gamepad as a surrogate for melee weapons, slashing it up and down to wield axes and other close-range weapons. Again, how much of a taste you have for swinging your arms around is a personal matter, of course. But it’s in ZombiU, and it works.
The extra screen is useful for more than just weapon control. It will be put to use when you meet a terminal or similar puzzle, allowing you to solve a puzzle on one screen while glancing up desperately at the approaching zombie hordes behind you. Better remember that keycode, man… they’re right behind you.
ZombiU will also offer innovation on the online world. While playing the single-player campaign, you’ll eventually receive a scanner upgrade that will allow you to read ultaviolet notes left places by other players. So your friends can leave you helpful tips like, “There’s ammo up ahead” or else try to totally freak you out with messages like, “You’re gonna die in here.”
I’m now an unashamed convert to the Wii U, and I have a feeling a lot of survival-horror fans will feel the same way when ZombiU launches with the Nintendo Wii U.