It's pretty easy to be skeptical of a game entitled "ZombiU".
Rather than the thought of encountering zombies themselves, the kitschy name is more than enough to strike terror into the hearts of cautious consumers. Though perhaps it instills slightly more confidence than its original working title of "Killer Freaks from Outer Space".
It really must be asked, who decided that the world was in desperate need of more zombie games? Across every platform and gaming style, zombies continue to literally plague gaming.
However, despite all the cynicism, the fact of the matter is that ZombiU – or at least the level on offer at E3 – was fun, and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the WiiU GamePad actually adds to the experience.
Although a third-party title, ZombiU represents Nintendo's biggest efforts to diversify its image in the minds of core gamers.
Functionally, ZombiU makes incredible use of the WiiU GamePad. When not in use, Nintendo's new hardware ably performs map making duties, although additional tricks are kept in reserve. It works primarily as an inventory system, which is an important part of the game in itself as ZombiU hamstrings the player during interaction with their backpack. As it is necessary to remove the bag in order to search through it, a level of vulnerability is introduced and suspense is maintained by the need to glance back up at the screen and use the left and right bumpers to keep track of any incoming zombies.
In addition to this, the GamePad is a scanner that can be used to search bodies for signs of life or potentially scavengeable items. In the demonstration, we discovered a zombie body that had ammunition stuck in it that could be extracted by using the scanner. In a nice touch, when players pull out the scanner to look at the screen on the GamePad, the character on-screen does likewise.
Most practically however, the GamePad can be used as a scope or reticule for various weapons throughout the game. By simply holding it front of the screen, the WiiU GamePad’s secondary screen shows the zoomed-in view.
There are plenty of goofy touches like this in the game. If the hero falters and is rabidly consumed by the horde, it's possible to track down and kill his zombie version in order to retrieve his inventory items. There are also fun nods to other pieces of zombie fiction, such as the protagonist brandishing a cricket bat.
The “one bite and you’re dead” mechanic may make for an interesting game, but the defensive syringes that can be acquired makes it slightly less menacing. However, once players are out, they're pretty much screwed if a zombie gets within a couple of feet.
We were also able to take a quick look at the multiplayer side of ZombiU. Based on the classic Capture the Flag formula, the game takes a turn where the GamePad user acts as a zombie maestro. At no point controlling any character on-screen, this director can simply push AI controlled zombies in the way of the player. These zombie buddies can also go ahead and capture the game for the zombie wrangler.
Graphically and stylistically, ZombiU doesn't appear to be anything special. This is especially so for those who are accustomed to the graphics of current so-called AAA titles. Indeed, the biggest concern about the game is depth, or rather, the lack of. It's simply too difficult to tell at this early stage whether or not it will ship with enough diversification to ensure gamers aren't bored within a few hours.
There is also the distinct possibility that many will tire of holding the giant GamePad in front of the screen, causing the novelty to wear off swiftly.
However, at these early stages, the core gameplay appears solid enough. We'll check it out as soon as more gameplay becomes available prior to the launch of the Wii U itself.