Review: ZombiU

The life of ZombiU has been one that is traditionally not exactly conducive to a quality game – especially not one in the shadow of a schedule as urgent as a console launch. The flagship third-party Wii U launch title started off at Ubisoft Montpellier as a rather light-hearted gore romp named Killer Freaks From Outer Space, for Xbox 360 and PS3, but the decision was soon made to switch the game as an exclusive for Nintendo's upcoming and mysterious next generation console. A prototype was presented at E3 2011, which was followed by a complete radio silence from the studio. A year later, and it was apparent that an almighty change of direction had been decided upon, for E3 2012 showed off an entirely different beast: a now completely dark and intense survival horror title called ZombiU, which was still very clearly in development six months before the scheduled launch. Has Ubisoft rushed it just a little too much once again? The answer is an unequivocal no, with ZombiU being the most inventive survival horror title in years, and easily the best reason to own a Wii U.

ZombiU is set in a seemingly near-future London in which a catastrophic event has rendered virtually the entire population either dead or walking-dead. You're assigned the role of a randomly named, randomly gendered character who wakes up in the midst of the chaos. You are armed with nothing until you shortly come into possession of a poxy cricket bat, at which point it becomes abundantly clear that you're going to have trouble fending off the agile, relentless hoards that infest the streets. It dawns rather quickly that ZombiU is not going to let you run-and-gun your way out of this mess.

Eventually, you find yourself in the reassuring quietness of a safe-house, which will become your main hub for the whole of the campaign. You're lucky also to have a faceless ally – the 'Prepper' – on the radio backing you up with advice and intel, which serves as the main signpost for where you need to head in the game. To face the zombie hoard, you'll find a handgun to compliment your bat, but weapons beyond here are few and far between, and much of the time you'll find yourself avoiding enemies with steady stealth and distracting flares, such is the worrying scarcity of ammunition.
Perhaps your most vital weapon throughout the game is the Wii U GamePad itself. As well as giving you a vital map and radar to detect living movement, the controller also acts as your character's 'Scanner' device. By holding the pad up to your TV, you can view the game world through the touch-screen and view the situation in full 360 degrees using the gyroscope. This allows you to see hidden items, ammo, and can also aid you simply by giving you a more thorough perspective of your surroundings. All your inventory management is mapped to the touch-screen, and you can't pause to switch your items and weapons around, which is particularly terrifying when you've got a zombie darting towards the direction of your face and you hear the click of an empty magazine on your pistol.

It is those moments where the game utterly shines. Everything about ZombiU has been created and tailored to make the experience as manically intense and terrifying as possible. Almost everywhere is near-pitch black, and whilst you have a torch, but would you risk attracting the attention of enemies? You could run though a particularly foreboding room, but even the foot-steps would make a hell of a noise, let alone a gun-shot. And while the radar picks up the movement of both zombies and rats, what if there's a fearsome little bugger just stood still around the corner waiting to eat your eyes out?

But what makes life seem all that more precious is ZombiU's death system. Human survivors have this annoying little thing about being weak – a good five or six bites will reduce you to one of 'them'. And when it inevitably happens, it's an absolute tragedy, for that is the permanent end of that character. You will wake up back at the safe house as a newly generated survivor, having lost every single one of your items bar a bat and handgun. Now, it may not be the end of the world. For one, a prudent player would have kept some reserve supplies in the handful of safe-boxes dotted around London – similar to Resident Evil. Alternatively, you could actually hunt down your previous character – now just a zombiefied marauder – and retrieve that tempting horde of supplies and weapons you'd spent two hours amassing. What is also a nice touch is that zombiefied characters from Miiverse and your Wii U friend list may also find themselves wandering around your game world with their own items.


This omnipresent threat of a death that has serious consequences is one of the defining attributes of ZombiU, but if it is to be one of the best features of the game, it must also be coupled with the astounding atmosphere created by Ubisoft Montpellier. As well as all the neat real-world details taken straight from London, the studio has expertly nailed down a continuous tone of claustrophobia and danger that will often give you a genuinely and brilliantly distressing experience. You'll likely not have been forced to feel like this from a video game since you first played Resident Evil at far too a young age.

Presentation wise, the game shines too – quite literally. The world is filled out with clutter that really does make it look like a city that suffered an unexpected ruin. Whilst some nooks and crannies and exposed for some naff texture work upon very close inspection, the game more than redeems itself with some of the best lighting effects you'll see in a game, all lending to game's superb overall aesthetic feel. Blood splatters across walls to much satisfaction, and you can even spray cryptic messages around to warn your friends of particularly dangerous locations.

zombiu8The main campaign is a decent length – a skilled player will probably take 12-15 hours to reach the end, and burn through at least a dozen survivors in the process. If there is replayability to be had, it will likely be had on survivor mode, which offers the rather sadistic challenge of getting through the main game with just a single survivor. If you feared death the first time round, good luck in holding on to your senses here. There is also a cool little multiplayer mode, in which one player takes control of a survivor with the Pro Controller or Wii Remote and Nunchuck, and a second player aims to bring about his or her demise by using the GamePad touch-screen to place zombies about the map.

Despite being a launch title, ZombiU remarkably avoids feeling like a rushed product to virtually every extent. Gameplay mechanics are smooth and refined, and the presentation is nailed to an absolute tee. Voice-work for every character is given the full shebang, and the little interactivity features enabled by Miiverse is beyond what you'd normally expect from a launch game.

By eschewing the conventions of the traditional first-person shooter, as well as those of the factory-line of modern-day gun-fests that fall under the 'survival horror' category (yes, we are mainly looking at you, Capcom), Ubisoft has not just provided the best game on Wii U (by some way), it has single-handedly revitalised a genre. With a sequel, the studio may add various things online multiplayer and longer quest, but they've already created one of the most intense, rawest, disturbing horror titles in years.

N-Europe Final Verdict

A roaring triumph that puts two chewed-off fingers up to the modern day survival horror game and gives it nightmares for a week. A compulsory buy for all (18+) Wii U owners.

  • Gameplay5
  • Playability4
  • Visuals5
  • Audio5
  • Lifespan4
Final Score



Genuinely inventive death mechanics
The best horror atmosphere created in years
Superb presentation values that defy ‘launch-title-itis’


Might be genuinely too difficult for some

Game Summary

N-Europe Score



Platform: Wii U
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Genre: FPS / Survival Horror

Release Date:





This omnipresent threat of a death that has serious consequences is one of the defining attributes of ZombiU, but if it is to be one of the best features of the game, it must also be coupled with the astounding atmosphere created by Ubisoft Montpellier.

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