Published on July 7th, 2012 | by Ethan
E3 Debrief – ZombiU: Is this what the Wii U needs?
Nintendo must have thought the best way to grab the attention of the hardcore crowd was to release a zombie fps game. Honestly they weren’t wrong. While not a Nintendo game, seeing something so violent and gory running on a normally kid friendly Nintendo machine can catch a person off guard. The question remains, is ZombiU just for the people who buy a game off a shelf just because it has zombies? Or is this game actually interesting and full of good ideas that will change how we play FPS games forever? I had a chance to play with the game at E3 and here are my impressions.
While not much footage was shown at Nintendo’s press conference about ZombiU, besides a pre-rendered trailer, Ubisoft was showing it at their allotted show floor space. After waiting in line for two hours and watching numerous people, presumably investors from the looks of them, cut in front of me, I was led into a poorly lit room. In the room there were three Wii U systems (covered of course) displaying the game’s start screen with the option of multiplayer and singleplayer. The lady showing me the game put the game on singleplayer and walked me through how the game worked. For the most part I picked it up pretty quickly. The controls felt standard to an other FPS game and even though my two hands were farther spaced from each other, it didn’t seem any less conformable to handle the Wii U’s gamepad as opposed to a traditional controller.
One of the biggest problems I had with the game up front was the graphics. They weren’t completely bad, but they looked like a very early Xbox 360 game. In other words, they were primitive. This could be because the developers didn’t want to pay too much money on graphics or they haven’t figured out how to make full use of the console yet. I am hoping for the later because then they still have time to make the graphics stand out as much as the control scheme.
There are a few unique gameplay ideas in ZombiU. The first one would be the way a player deals with ammo and other items. On the bottom screen a player has access to an always open inventory menu. This comes in use when a player finds a corpse or a box to loot or needs to switch guns. The player’s character bends over to check the corpse if there is anything useful and utilizes a drag and drop loot management system. While in this state, the TV screen shows the player in the third person to let them know if it’s time to pack up shop when a zombie gets close. Juggling between dragging and dropping items and looking up at the screen can be stressful and adds a lot of the suspense a player would want from a survival game, but at the time I played the game, it had a “take all button”. It didn’t take me long to figure out that whenever I would find anything to loot, I would just tap that button as soon as possible to make sure I spent the least amount of time in the area as possible. This of course would be the wisest game play move, but it takes out all of the suspense out of looting. Hopefully this will be addressed and the button will be removed or maybe later on in the game a player won’t want to loot everything because bag space will be rare.
Another neat feature has nothing to do with the Wii U’s gamepad. When a player dies, their character dies permanently. They will spawn in as a new survivor who has to kill the zombified version of the old character if they want to get their stuff back. While playing I also saw players before me who had died earlier and were now zombies. I killed a Nintendo representative and received all of the items he had on him before he died. It seems like a very neat idea, but how far will Ubisoft take this concept? Will I be able to kill my online friends whenever they die in their game? Or will it only be available to people who die on the local machine? I asked the representative who was showing the game and she sadly didn’t have an answer for me.
The strangest feature in the game was the aiming mechanics associated with the sniper rifle. When a player wanted to pull off a sweet headshot, they would have to raise the gamepad in front of their face and then the gamepad would display the aiming reticule. Now the player was in aiming mode. To get a good shot on the zombie the gamepad itself would be moved left or right to get the perfect shot. On paper this sounds great, but when I was fooling with the aiming it felt unnatural. Every time a zombie showed up on the screen I would throw the gamepad up and then lose track of where I was aiming. This disorientation could just be so different from what I am used to that I haven’t got the hang of it yet. The real problem lies in that the system didn’t feel very intuitive or natural and that’s a problem for Nintendo.
I can’t help but to feel that the Wii U is splitting Nintendo’s audience down the middle. A casual gamer might be turned off by the new gamepad, thinking it looks too intimidating and not simple and intuitive enough to use. The “hardcore” gamers didn’t really get a good hard sell at E3 either. ZombiU was one of the only “hardcore” titles being shown solely for the Wii U that wasn’t Nintendo and even the big N showed “Nintendo Land” long enough to overstay its welcome. Sure finally being able to play high definition games with up to date hardware on a Nintendo console is long overdue, but will the Wii U improvements actually matter or is it too little too late? Or better yet, will the improvements be fun and actually improve the game? My time with the game was too brief to make this call. Only time will tell.
ZombiU has some really great concepts in it that could use some polish, but they still have the potential to utilize the Wii U features to make the game more enjoyable instead of being tacked on and not affecting the game much. These are just concepts that leave good impressions though. Not much else about the game has been revealed. We don’t know anything about the story yet or if it will have any online capabilities. As most gamers know, it takes a whole lot more to make a great game than just cool concepts and neat gameplay mechanics. A great game needs the whole package. We can only hope that ZombiU really sells the concept of the Wii U, and doesn’t turn into another Red Steel.