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This edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Ubisoft's Wii U survival horror title ZombiU, which reviewers alternately describe as "often delightful" and "a game trapped in the wrong genre."

Danny Cowan, Blogger

November 20, 2012

5 Min Read

This edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Ubisoft's Wii U survival horror title ZombiU, which reviewers alternately describe as "often delightful" and "a game trapped in the wrong genre." ZombiU currently earns a score of 72 out of 100 at Metacritic.com. Joystiq's Richard Mitchell gives ZombiU 4.5 out of 5 stars. "I have twelve pistol bullets left, one crossbow bolt, a Molotov cocktail and about half a dozen zombies between me and freedom," he recalls. "After some soul searching, I decide my aim -- and certainly my nerves -- just aren't good enough. I'm betting on the Molotov. I take a deep breath, listening to it hiss through my teeth, and step through the door. This is moment to moment survival. This is ZombiU." "ZombiU is unique in a number of ways, including its story, which mixes both the biblical and the historical," Mitchell explains. "As ZombiU would have it, John Dee, 16th century alchemist and spy for Elizabeth I, predicted that a 'Blight' would strike London in the year 2012. As you may have guessed, he was right, and now our survivor will become key to solving Dee's ancient quest for a cure." ZombiU's brand of survival horror focuses on close-quarter combat. "What's initially most striking about ZombiU is just how intimate its encounters are," Mitchell writes. "With a few rare exceptions, you aren't mowing down hordes of the infected. Instead, you'll more often face one or two at a time and, believe me, that's enough. With a very limited supply of ammunition, and only limited space in which to carry it, you'll have to decide when and where it will be most useful." "There are hiccups, sure," Mitchell admits. "Inventory management can be annoying. Some of the touch screen minigames are unnecessary. Physics can be floaty and strange, notably when fighting zombies on stairs. "These minor problems, however, rarely interfere with the pulse-quickening thrill of diving into a mass of infected and coming out alive on the other side. ZombiU isn't for everyone, but those who stick with it, through its unforgiving and occasionally frustrating difficulty, there's a an exhilarating experience to be had." Edge Magazine scores ZombiU at 7 out of 10. "Historically, third-party releases on a console launch day have been chequered and timid affairs made by inexperienced teams fearful of losing their footing on unknown terrain," Edge notes. "When Ubisoft Montpellier's ZombiU works in smart union with its host console, however, it frequently delights." "Operating from a central safehouse deep in the London Underground, your quest is an odd mix of survival objectives and discovering the overarching intentions of the followers of Elizabethan occultist and academic John Dee," Edge's writer explains. "You must carefully tread through zombie-packed hubs, some tourist spots and a few housing estates. Throughout it all, your primary objective isn't just the plot MacGuffin you're after, but to also find the save points and manhole shortcuts that will make your progress secure." The Wii U's hardware gets a workout in ZombiU. "It's Wii U's GamePad that conspires to make this game impossible on other platforms, its subtle art being to divert your attention from the primary screen," Edge writes. "When you, for example, reorganise your inventory, you must touch-and-drag weapons, health packs and molotovs into easy-access slots on its screen, but up on the main display you're still vulnerable. As such, whether you're picking locks or inputting puzzle codes, you're forever worriedly peeking back up to the main screen to check the shadows. Very often those shadows move." "Red herring clues, twitching corpses and suspect doors all play into its manipulation and contribute to sophisticated shocks," Edge continues. "The GamePad's new way to play also presents new ways for you to be played, and the resulting surprises are often delightful." "The trouble with ZombiU comes when you go off-piste -- those moments when you're thrown from the ribbon of the game's missions, or die deep within an unscanned area without a saved shortcut to easily retrace your steps," Edge warns. "This issue is underlined when, just before the final act, the game forces you into a needless and poorly explained treasure hunt through previously explored environments. [...] It shines a light on the fact that ZombiU is a lot less fun when it can't deal out fresh shocks and surprises." Maxwell McGee at GameSpot rates ZombiU at 4.5 out of 10. "The survival horror genre is a balancing act. The player needs to feel fear and helplessness, but also needs satisfying ways to take action and combat those feelings," he explains. "However, [ZombiU's] vision of a zombie-infested London not only fails to create an engaging horror experience, but also falls short of being a good game." McGee finds ZombiU's combat to be problematic. "The best course of action is to play it safe and dispatch all the zombies you encounter," he recalls. "This means luring enemies away one by one and clobbering them with the cricket bat. This melee method can take a long time, since the number of hits needed to fell a foe changes randomly. And no one zombie, even the faster ones or the armored ones, poses an engaging threat individually. You just stand there, hitting and waiting. "Whether you choose to conserve your bullets or you use them as soon as you pick them up, most of your time spent fighting will be with the laborious cricket bat," McGee summarizes. "Dispatching enemies this way is as repetitive as it is dull, and does not change throughout the entire campaign." The game's narrative also has issues. "Since your hero is mute and disposable, all characters you encounter communicate at you, rather than with you (and they do not talk with each other)," McGee notes. "Everyone you meet is basically shouting at a very confused brick wall. This is not ideal for maintaining the unease and mystery of a horror story." "ZombiU is a game trapped in the wrong genre," McGee concludes. "The run-and-gun multiplayer modes emphasize the game's competent shooting mechanics and ability to create interesting enemy encounters. However, these two aspects are discouraged in the single-player campaign for the sake of survival. To compensate, there's the bare minimum of a story and a few simple puzzles. And so much cricket bat. ZombiU could have been an enjoyable action game, but instead it is a poor entry in the survival horror genre."

About the Author(s)

Danny Cowan


Danny Cowan is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist for Gamasutra and its subsites. Previously, he has written reviews and feature articles for gaming publications including 1UP.com, GamePro, and Hardcore Gamer Magazine.

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