So there has been no secret that I've been looking forward to this game for some time now and it was at the top of my list for games to get when the Wii-U released. I've spent a few hours rolling around the mean streets of London and I'm here to give you my initial thoughts on the game plus I'll be updating this thread tomorrow after I've had some more play time and explored the gameplay mechanics further.
This is survival horror. The ZombiU dev team is quick to point this out as I spawned in and found red text spray painted on the ground telling me this is a survival horror game. Capcom please take note because you've been screwing it up with your last few console releases and this is survival horror done right. You're never going to be a zombie killing badass like you became in Dead Island (for those of you who stuck with it until the end), you're never going to be waist deep in supplies, you're never going to feel safe outside of your safe house, oh and you're going to die. Took me only 30 minutes to lose my first survivor on the first mission. This game is punishingly difficult and it doesn't take the time to hold your hand through a tutorial outside of a brief explanation of a few things when you first get into the game.
Yes you read that right I died within the first half an hour of play. Tried to open a door that activated an alarm pulling every undead baddie within a three block radius right to me and I didn't act fast enough. There was a zombie on the other side of the door which he managed to knock open for me and while trying to deal with him, get inside, and get some distance between me and the incoming horde I was overrun. It didn't take long either for me to go down, three hits was all it took and now that body is shambling around London (or was rather) with my supplies on his back. This was after I slowly made my way up the streets, carefully picking when to fight and when to work my way around the undead, and taking the time to fill my bag with as much loot as I could find.
ZombiU is all about atmosphere and while the graphics might not be the most impressive at all times the game does a great job at making you feel alone and worried about what is around the corner or even in that dark corner you can't see. This game is dark, where Dead Island gave us sunny beaches and plenty of room to roam ZombiU thrusts you into the night with a flashlight (which attracts the undead by the way and the batteries run down as you use it though it does recharge when off) and you're left to find your way through what is left of London. Streets are cluttered with cars, makeshift barrier, trash, and other junk abandoned by those fleeing for their lives. This also make for some very intimate encounters with the zombies.
Fighting is intense and rather nerve racking as your health is extremely precious and shouldn't be taken for granted. One scratch or bite can easily take away a third of your health and screwing up when you swing or how close you get can easily lead to disaster. I tried to blow past the zombie waiting for me on the other side of that door but he wasn't having any of it, much like Gandalf he said I wouldn't pass and I didn't.
You can build barricades but you'll need to find boards and a hammer to do so. Want to pick your way through that locked door? Better find a lock pick. See that weak wall over there? Gonna need some explosives to break through but that's going to attract the undead so you better hope it is worth the use. Supplies are always running low and your backpack doesn't have much room in it. After finding a few sodas, a med kit or two, some ammo, couple of flares, and some planks my inventory was completely full and I was having to manage what was worth it going forward and what wasn't. Do I need this many flares to distract zombies or will I be able to take them out? Sure the soda or energy bar doesn't heal much health but I don't want to use a full health pack for a minor scratch but the next time I get hit it could be be a bad one and that extra health might keep me on my feet long enough to get away.
The radar feature is very nice and also builds tension as well. You manually tap the screen to send out a pulse which scans for any movement, if it gets anything you'll hear a quick ping from the Gamepad and a red dot appears on your screen briefly before fading out. Often I'd tap and watch the pulse go out seeing nothing and thinking I was safe I'd pull my eyes back up to the screen only to hear a ping as it reached the furthest it could. Instantly I'd stop dead and send out another pulse, nervously glancing back at the TV hoping this thing isn't moving towards me only to find it is still a ways away but I'm not sure how to get there.
Why? Because you don't always have a map of the area you're in which means you've got a black screen with your dot in the middle, anything you've marked via your scanner (you can highlight important stuff you can interact with so it is marked on your mini map), and that brief red dot when your motion sensor detects movement. This isn't your motion tracker from Aliens people, which constantly scans on its own, this is something you're in control of and it works very well. Finding your way through the dark streets with no map is very unnerving when you send out that pulse and your screen lights up like a Christmas tree.
One time I freaked out because I sent out a pulse only to find a red dot rushing towards me. Instantly I turned and headed back the way I came sending out another pulse and it is still after me! Reaching a door I opened it and swung around to meet my attacker only to find no where there. It was just a rat. You don't always know what your radar is tracking so this adds to the tension as you might be sneaking up on something that isn't a threat only to miss the zombie (or zombies) standing around not setting off your tracker. If you get too focused in on something it's going to literally bite you in ass because you need to be constantly aware of your surroundings.
Not everything works well though. I don't like how I have to slide my inventory screen upwards to close out of it, feels far slower than just tapping a close button or hitting a button on the controller. A few times I panicked when a zombie came creeping up, swiping at my screen missing the spot because I was too busy looking at my approaching doom. This is needlessly frustrating but something I'm already managing to work past. The whole tapping on stuff to break it or open a manhole (these are shortcuts back to your safe house) feels kind of stupid in my opinion. I've opened a few manholes before and tapping, striking, hitting, or anything like that doesn't get your anywhere. I get what they were trying to do but it feels a little dumb downed from a normal control option just to make use of the screen more.
While scanning you can either pan the Gamepad around the room you're sitting in working as sort of an Augmented Reality experience but you can also use the right stick to look around too. Only problem here is the damn thing is locked into the normal control scheme of up is up and down is down. I play inverted so this is constantly screwing me up and then when I adjust to that I'm thrown off when I go back to aiming because that can be inverted. A minor complaint yes but good lord is it annoying for someone like me who can't get my brain around the concept of up is up and down is down.
So far it has been a few little things like that which have stood out to me as being bad elements but not something which ruins the experience. It's an imperfect system but I'm finding a lot to love here which makes it easier to forgive this minor issues.
This is my kind of game, one that forces you to slow down and think. If you panic or get easily rattled you're one step closer to death. If I hadn't been in such an "Oh crap!" mode when that alarm went off I would have popped a flare, threw it down the street to distract the incoming horde, knocked the zombie back into the room I wanted to go into, then went inside (closing the door behind me) to deal with him. That man would still be alive instead of a corpse in a pile of other corpses I had to dispatch to get my bag back. These are elements I truly love and this makes for a great experience which I haven't had in some time.
Noise attracts zombies, light attracts zombies, you attract zombies just by being alive and moving about. Even when there's nothing around you can still hear the moans and screams of the recently deceased, it's nerve racking as you move through a dark alley and it is slowly getting louder and that bunch of red dots your motion tracker is picking up keeps getting closer as well.
I'll be back tomorrow for more on ZombiU.