What happens when the sole protagonist in a zombie story dies? They spend so much time gathering supplies, clearing safe areas, and forging new paths through the post-apocalyptic wasteland only to die alone. Who picks up those pieces?
One of the hooks of Zombi is that it answers this question. When you die in Ubisoft’s first-person survival action game, your character is dead forever. You then begin anew with a fresh face and a mostly empty inventory. Yet the progress your last character made isn’t erased–any paths opened or objectives completed are permanent–but you will have to make do without the old hero’s supplies. Unless, of course, you can recover all that sweet loot from the corpse. Small problem: You might have to fight your zombified former self to get your stuff back.
When it was originally released in 2012 as ZombiU, the game was a showcase for the Wii U’s GamePad. Tasks like inputting numbers on keypads, picking locks, scanning the environment, and even aiming weapons with a scope, all took place on Nintendo’s tablet-like controller, often requiring you to physically raise and move the controller to look at your surroundings. Now that Zombi has dropped the U from its name and made the jump to other consoles, it has a more traditional control scheme. Zombi still has some unique things going for it, but it has also lost a bit of charm in the transition.
At a glance, there might not be much special about Zombi. It’s a first-person game in which you shoot zombies with guns, and while this isn’t a new concept, Zombi has a few twists that make it feel distinct. The post-apocalyptic London setting, for instance, adds a bit of British flair that you seldom find in modern zombie games, and the dark, quiet atmosphere does a better job of making you feel alone than many other pieces of zombie fiction. Sure, you’ll run into a few other humans here and there (several of whom are appropriately unhinged), but most of your time will be spent by yourself, fighting for survival.
Acting along is useful when trying to sneak around–an important element of survival. Why waste precious shotgun shells on a cluster of zombies when you can instead distract them with a flare? Fighting your way from one location to the next doesn’t require fast reflexes; it requires being smart and often methodical.
You fire your fair share of bullets, but you also make good use of a cricket bat, which, luckily, never breaks. You hold one button to wind up and press another button to swing, leaving no room for real finesse. Aim for the undead. That’s pretty much it. There’s a catch: the animation of the swing is very deliberate and cannot be canceled (you could compare the weapon swings to those in games like Dark Souls or Monster Hunter in this respect. Animation takes priority over your desire to swing quickly). If you swing too early or too late, you might pay for it in an attack that takes away a solid chunk of your health bar.
Unfortunately, Zombi’s roots as a Wii U launch title include some rough edges, and little work was done in this version to smooth them out.
Taking it slow is good advice even when you’re carrying firearms. Sure, you can find (and slightly upgrade) a variety of shotguns, pistols, and carbines that can be used in conjunction with tools like Molotov cocktails to great effect, and the smart usage of your arsenal could be the difference between life and death. But ammo is severely limited, so it makes little sense to waste bullets on a single lumbering enemy when you could just as easily bludgeon it to death, even if the latter option is slower.
The dual-screen elements in ZombiU worked quite well, and this was most true when it came to inventory management. Every time you would go to loot a container or rummage in your backpack for an item or weapon, you would have to stop and look away from the TV–where the main action was–and at the GamePad screen. The need to look away from incoming undead so you can dumpster dive successfully added tension to a game with already high stakes, especially considering that your permanent death could come quickly. When you’re one solid hit from death and desperately looking for a medkit, taking your eyes off a nearby doorway is a scary proposition. Even with this element removed, much of the stress has been preserved. In lieu of the GamePad, Zombi instead forces you to focus on elements like your inventory by framing them in almost the entirety of the screen.
Unfortunately, Zombi’s roots as a Wii U launch title include some rough edges, and little work was done in this version to smooth them out. The graphics are nothing special. The story sometimes flirts with interesting characters and concepts but never fully realizes them. Some control concessions made from the transition to standard controllers are awkward (to use the scope on certain weapons, for example, you must hit up on the d-pad while aiming down the weapon’s sights). Even worse, the original game’s multiplayer–which was a fun distraction that required the Wii U GamePad–has been completely removed.
Worse than its design shortcomings, though, is an assortment of glitches. While I didn’t run into anything truly game-breaking during my time with the game, I twice fell victim to getting stuck permanently in geometry. One of these cases led to death by a horde of undead that had been chasing me, and when I went back to that location as a new character to retrieve my stash of items, I found a zombie version of that character still stuck in the exact same place, looking idiotic as he tried in vain to shuffle towards me.
ZombiU no doubt benefited from its iconic approach . It’s easier for a zombie game to stand out on a system that has very few games focused on horror, survival, the undead, or even first-person shooting. With the jump to other platforms, Zombi is going toe-to-toe with a lot of other games that could appeal to the same audience. Still, Zombi manages to set itself apart, with its deliberate pacing, desolate atmosphere, and focus on survival. It might not be a Crown Jewel, but this undead romp through London is an interesting change of pace.