By Greg Newbegin
Nintendo’s E3 presentation was somewhat divisive – there seemed to only be a bunch of ports, as well as a number of new games in existing franchises, but not much that was really NEW. Ubisoft, however, really rocked the boat with the announcement of their WiiU exclusive (well, exclusive at first – although I doubt it will be ported to be honest), ZombiU. Sure, the name is terrible, but hey – what’s in a name? Especially when it looks this good…
The premise is quite original – you “wake” into a zombie-filled area (the specific details of the outbreak/situation are unclear, so I’m not prepared to suggest you wake into a zombie apocalypse), with a goal to survive as long as you can. Interestingly – and a really strong hook for me at least – the death of your character results in permadeath, with a pop-up showing how long you managed to survive and how many zombies you took out. That character will then become a zombie and roam around the area that they died… Waiting for your new character to come along.
Yes, on death, you wake into the same world as a new survivor (hence my reticence to describe the backstory… It’s a little unclear at present). Ubisoft has also built in a reason to go looking for your last character, and it’s not just to put them out of their misery. Each character is equipped with a backpack that Ubisoft is referring to as a Bug-Out Bag (BOB, for short). Whatever you find along the way that can help you survive will be kept in this bag, so considering each playthrough will result in certain items being permanently removed from the world (think weapons, medicine, ammunition, etc.), you will need to hunt down your last BOB in order to reclaim them – it’s a GREAT idea.
But the great ideas don’t stop there, and it’s in the OTHER great ideas that Nintendo’s new GamePad is put into play. Stemming from a desire to bring desperation and fear back into zombie titles, Ubisoft has used the touchscreen on the GamePad to ‘distract’ the player – to great effect (with sexy results? Not quite).
For example, the contents of your BOB are accessible via the touchscreen. Players need to swipe through various options, and make selections in order to equip weapon and tools, essentially replicating the real-life actions involved with rifling through a backpack by making things take a little time to perform. Beyond this, the GamePad can also be used as a scanner and a motion tracker, both of which require the player to take their eyes off the TV screen. While this is happening, the game is not paused and the zombies continue to advance… In one example, the player used the touchscreen to hack a door locked by a PIN, while the TV displayed an over the shoulder view of a group of zombies approaching. Tense stuff.
And multiplayer is something new as well – the number of different modes are unclear, but there was one mode introduced that again tries something differently. One player—using the Wiimote—attempts to survive as long as possible, while another—using the GamePad—acts as a kind of “Dungeon Master,” placing zombies using the touchscreen directly. An interesting idea, but I’m hoping there are modes for more than two players (this might simply be a local multiplayer option, with other options available online). Time will tell.
There’s more to the game, of course, but it’s really these innovations that have caught my eye. If ideas like these are employed in more WiiU titles, it will really demonstrate the strengths of the device. Graphically? Yeah, I’d have to say it didn’t quite look next-gen, but hey, it’s still early, and in the end… Does it matter? Next gen is more than just how a game looks – in terms of new game experiences, the WiiU looks to be carving itself a niche in much the same way that Nintendo has done in the past. Hopefully this time they have their focus firmly on the hardcore gamer (and in my opinion, it seems they have).