Platform: Wii U
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
If ever a console needed a title to appeal to regular gamers rather than small children and fitness-obsessed parents it’s the Wii U. After the relentless shovelware from the original Wii, Nintendo have a lot to prove to get us onboard.
It’s not a great start for Ninty at Gamescom 2012, as they couldn’t even be bothered turning up in first-party form. Thankfully Ubisoft have stepped up -hot off the heels of a hella-strong E3 showing- to get gamers onboard, with Rayman Legends and the much bloodier ZombiU.
My brief hands-on session made apparent just how much the devs have been inspired by Demons’ Souls. For example, when you die you lose that character permanently and become someone else. If you want to get your gear back, you’ll have to track down your former zombified self and kill them. It’s more than a little similar to the bloodstain system in Demon’s Souls. Hopefully, we won’t have to trek long distances to get back to where we left off as that was a major ball-ache in DS.
The tablet screen can be used as a blacklight scanner to find items or to discover hidden messages. These messages are left by your online friends, potentially warning you about lurking zombies in the next room or hidden items. Not that there’s anything to stop them lying to screw you over. Especially seeing as they can come into your game and kill you.
It’s not just these mechanics that have been lifted from that evil shit of a game. The unresponsive handling for melee attacks and bastard-hard nature of the game has been brought in too. One bite from a zombie is enough to kill you. Weapon ammo is so scarce it makes the original Resident Evil look like Gears of War. At least the crossbow has ammo you can reuse. Pistol aiming is wobbly and tense as you try and line up a headshot. I’m told you’ll be able to upgrade aiming skills as you go, but that’s not much help if you lose that character two seconds later. Wobbly though it may be, it’s manageable and it does add to the tension as you pop off a perfect headshot at a lunging zombie.
The melee handling with the cricket bat feels awful though. There’s such a delay between the input and the on-screen action which makes the whole thing feel way too lethargic considering you’re about to get your neck ripped open. Not to mention it takes ages to crack a zombie’s skull apart with this thing. Give me that tasty looking pick-axe I spied in another gameplay trailer please.
The tablet has been rebranded by Ubisoft as your ‘zombie survival kit’ and is used to rummage through your backpack in real time, keeping the ‘oh shit!’ atmosphere going as you hear the click-click of an empty pistol magazine before raiding your pack for something heavy or pointy. A map with red dots indicating zombie positions already proved just as valuable a tool as any weapon. Get ready for the dreadful moments when static interference puts you on your own in a dark room though. Picking or hacking locks uses the tablet touchscreen, but keeps a cinematic image of you on your TV, so you can keep your eye out for zombies.
There will be various zombie types in the game. The two that wanted to feast on my face today were the standard shuffler and the spitter zombie. None of them make particularly good pets. Seeing as the stage was based around Buckingham palace, a few of them were dressed as palace guards, complete with massive furry hats – most of which don’t count as headshot material.
Taking on one zombie at a time, is manageable, if still a little unnerving. Taking on two with a cricket bat is unadvisable and mastery of the shove move to buy you a bit of personal space will be imperative. Or you might just have to run away, and come back when they’ve spread out a bit. Courage isn’t a measurable skill for ZombiU.
For all of Nintendo’s bragging about the Wii U being more powerful than PS3 or 360, I’m yet to see anything particularly impressive in terms of visuals. Sure, Rayman Legends looks great, but the art-style hardly demands any technical grunt. ZombiU, to be honest, is a bit on the ugly side. It’s certainly not bothering the big boys yet.
The Wii U certainly has its first hardcore game, which could be a blessing, but it won’t appeal to anyone else with such a staunch difficulty level and miserly approach to progression. Will the Wii U have enough ‘gamer’s games’ along with hardcore titles like this to convince previously burned gamers to bother picking up the new console? Maybe it’s time Nintendo got off their arses and starting trying to convince us. Not turning up to the biggest consumer show in Europe was a slap in the face to gamers. We’ll need an impressive showing at Tokyo Game Show next month to convince us to keep the Wii U on our radars.