Zombie games have become the expected trope in the first-person shooter genre, rivaled only by modern warfare shooters. Despite being known as the casual gamer's system, the Wii had its share of undead titles like The House of the Dead and the Treyarch Call of Duty games. The upcoming WiiU system is expected to have more titles like this, especially considering the power behind the console. What one didn't expect, though, was an original zombie shooter that takes advantage of some of the unique features of the hardware and presents some original ideas. That's exactly what players are going to get with ZombiU, a launch title for the new console.
The single-player demo at Comic-Con 2012 was split into two parts. The first part of the game acts like a tutorial, and while you'll immediately get the concepts if you've played other shooters in the past, you'll notice that the game does a few new things. There's a pretty big emphasis on resource conservation, and while that naturally means not wasting all of your bullets on one zombie, it also means trying to recover as many bolts as you can from your targets when using the crossbow.
Basic corpse looting can be done effortlessly, but thorough examination requires you to use your WiiU Control Pad to scan the body and find items or points of interest using the controller's screen. The screen is also used to look through chests and drawers, and it acts as your backpack and inventory system when needed. The process of using the Control Pad's screen as a more robust menu system might seem like an excuse to use the screen, period, but it does serve a higher purpose: It frees the game from having to switch away from the action. It's a good thing since the act of rummaging for clues and items won't create an artificial pause. Like Dead Space, this adds some extra tension because you'll either have to find a safe place to hang out before you look through your equipment or just frantically look through stuff before a nearby zombie comes by and takes you out.
With the first part of the demo acting like a tutorial, the second part gives you a taste of the gameplay. The game is set in an abandoned pre-school, and you've been sent to find some medicine and answers. There's an overall sense of dread even as you go through the familiar motions of finding key cards and shooting a few zombies. Just about every part of the environment is bathed in darkness, with your head-mounted flashlight being the only source of illumination. The lack of music heightens the use of effects to the point that they'll play tricks on you. You encounter some run-of-the-mill zombies, but you'll also encounter an undead creature that suddenly has teleporting abilities. In a few instances, your Control Pad intentionally fails to work due to radio interference. A new Pad-specific mechanic is introduced: the idea of using the screen to pick locks. It shows some willingness to use the screen as more than a glorified information center.
Then there's the most intriguing mechanic the game has introduced so far: the idea of exactly one life per character. Taking a page from games like Demon's Souls, death means that you have to go back to the spot where you died in order to get everything back in your inventory. The difference is that you come back into the game as a brand-new character while your old character has been turned into one of the undead. On one hand, this is a neat mechanic because you have the opportunity to start the game as one person and finish it with someone else. On the other hand, if you're the type of player who tries to form a bond and relate with your playable character, you won't get much time to do that, and even if you did, there isn't much to go on aside from the fact that he or she is just a lucky survivor.
One thing that was revealed to us in the demo was a local multiplayer mode that plays out a bit differently than expected. It's a tower defense game of sorts, where one player using the Control Pad plays the aggressor, dispatching several different waves of zombies all over the map. Meanwhile, the player on the television uses the new Classic Controller to fend off the zombies and prevent them from overrunning his base. Unfortunately, we didn't have a chance for some hands-on time, but from what we saw, it looks like a fun and inventive use of the console's unique tools.
ZombiU is set to launch alongside the WiiU, and from what we've seen so far, this looks to be one of the big original core gaming experiences the system will offer. With some good scares and unique mechanics, ZombiU is shaping up to be a launch title that's worth watching.
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