E3 2012: Hands On Preview: ZombiU Single Player

I had the pleasure to try out one of Ubisoft’s newest upcoming titles for the Wii U.  With a heavy focus on augmented reality using the new Wii U GamePad, it was definitely a unique first-person shooter experience that I’d like to play more.

I wasn’t given a context for why there were zombies around me or why I was trying to fight my way through them, but the game gave me prompt objectives such as finding a key-card to gain access to more rooms or to find a specific medication.  Like most survival horror games, we expect there to be some requisite amount of scares, creepiness, or dread, and ZombiU delivered small to medium doses of all three.  I attribute this in large part to the audio and lighting; for example, you could sometimes hear zombie movement or you’d be in a dark room and your flashlight would flicker out for a second.  From a gameplay perspective, this is all pretty standard.  But let’s be honest with ourselves: it’s not why you’re going to want to play ZombiU.  ZombiU single player is all about making interesting use of the new Wii U GamePad.

ZombiU jumps you right into augmented reality by immediately teaching you to hold down the L shoulder button to put the Wii U GamePad’s screen into scan mode.   While in this mode, the protagonist on the main screen looks around through his own Wii U GamePad to mimic what you are doing on yours.  The Wii U GamePad screen will show a grey-scale window into the game world that you can raise, tilt, and pivot about in real space to look around the virtual environment.  Noteworthy objects appear in white, and steadying the viewfinder over these objects while holding down a touch-screen button marked “Analyze” will result in the appearance of a label describing it or its contents as well as a marker for the object on your map.  Objects could be corpses, containers of ammo, weapons, and zombies (particularly useful for those lying in wait or playing dead).

When not in scan mode, the Wii U GamePad’s screen serves two obvious purposes.  Firstly, it acts as an interface for equipping and wielding weapons, which appear as symbolic squares in the top left and right side of the touch screen.  The second-revision GamePad’s size is so large, that I was not accustomed to holding it and tapping the weapons without completely releasing one hand.  Additionally, I had a bit of a texting-while-driving syndrome and had to stop looking at the action on the main screen to find the weapon I wanted to tap on the peripheral’s screen.   It’s possible that with more practice, these will be non-issues.  The second main function of the GamePad’s screen is as a map. Sometimes, zombies will show up as red dots on the map, so it’s worth paying attention to both screens as much as possible.

The weapon selection that I had during the demo included a handgun, what looked like a cricket bat, a crossbow, and a shotgun.  While the majority of combat was like most console first-person-shooters in that it consisted of using an analog stick to position the main screen’s viewport and reticle over your target, the crossbow had a zoom function that made yet another use of augmented reality on the GamePad’s screen.  To aim in this mode, you do it much like you would with a deadly digital camera.

Overall, the game is solid and fun to play, and I’d like to spend more time with it.  If I own a Wii U in the future, I’ll likely pick up a copy.  That being said, it’s still not enough of a stimulating experience to be a console-seller.  I’ll be looking forward to seeing how the game matures as Ubisoft pours more love and sweat into its growth.

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David Fenster

A gamer since he was old enough to push buttons and a programmer for over 15 years, David Fenster can "see the code" in games. While today he uses his programming skills to write web applications, he intends to someday revolutionize the world by inventing morph ball and portal gun technologies. His favorite games are the Xenosaga series, Heavy Rain, and The World Ends With You because they are "story-driven and imaginatively unprecedented."

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