Before the WiiU launched, Zombiu was hotly tipped to be its first killer app, and whether you agree with that or not, it made a big impact upon its release. Critics and players alike were divided though, with many calling it “ugly”, “slow” and “repetitive”. Much noise was made around its novel use of the gamepad as a map and inventory screen, drawing your eyes away from any lurking zombies approaching on the TV. Yet, even the game’s harshest critics conceded that there was something special lurking beneath ZombiU’s rotting facade. But what is ZombiU without Nintendo’s unconventional controller? Zombi, as it is now known, plays the same as before but it is, arguably, all the better for having dropped the “U” from its name.
For all intents and purposes Zombi is the same game you can pick up for a fiver on WiiU, with the exception of a few changes. Combat is still clunky and dull, but a few new melee weapons thrown into the mix, and a slight attack speed increase. Graphically, the game is as dated as ever, with big ugly textures and asset repetition being commonplace. Multiplayer features have been ripped right out as well, leaving you with just the single player campaign to fight through. So, why then, is Zombi still so appealing, even with its many imperfections and cutbacks?
Playing as a lone survivor you’ll sneak around the derelict streets of London, while they are teaming with infected. Guided by “The Prepper” – a cynical ex-military survivor – you’ll work your way across the city from the underground to Buckingham Palace, all in a bid to stay alive, and escape to safety.
Survival is your focus in Zombi, and you’ll find plenty of equipment scattered across London. You can carry a limited number of items around with you in your bug out bag (B.O.B); a bag that holds your food, first aid kits and weapons. And here’s where things get interesting. If you get overwhelmed by the undead you’ll re-spawn in the underground as a new survivor – and you’ll need to get all of your old equipment back. To do so you’ll have to track down your previous character, cave their head in and make off with your loot. Lovely.
Once you’ve got your stuff back you’re free to pick up where you left off, before your previous survivor had their brains scooped out. You could argue that Zombi does little to endear you to your character, perhaps subtracting from, what is otherwise, an immersive game. You never really learn much about them, except for some intro text every time you re-spawn, so there’s no real personal connection tying you to the game.
As previously mentioned, Zombi is a little rough around the edges in the graphics department, but it still manages to succeed in creating a foreboding atmosphere. Expert use of lighting, shade and audio serves as proof that graphical fidelity comes second to well-designed environments and sound. This is a game where you’ll tentatively turn corners, flash your torch every few steps, and stop to listen for nearby undead. Paranoia becomes an asset rather than a burden, leading you to decapitate already dead enemies, look behind yourself every few seconds, and take the long way around to avoid encounters.
Zombi’s combat is never the focal point, and neither it should be because it’s rubbish. The game’s main appeal lays in its ability to mess with your head, make you preempt things and expect the unexpected. Outright scares are sparsely dotted throughout the game, evoking panic and disorientation at the worst possible times. Zombi doesn’t want you to win, and that’s why it’s so great.
The majority of horror games I’ve played simply try too hard to evoke a reaction from the player, but Zombi is different. It’s all too happy to let you become comfortable with your surroundings. It lets you become sloppy and the pounces on you with expert precision.
Although it’s far from perfect, as an original IP Zombi is among some of the better games and deserves a second chance to live.
Temper your expectations, close the curtains and lose your head in its undead fantasy.