Hands-on Impressions: ZombiU

By Paul Hunter

During Nintendo's E3 press conference, Ubisoft's newly unveiled survival-horror game ZombiU stood out as the game I was most looking forward to getting my hands-on. At a recent post-E3 Nintendo event in Toronto, I had the opportunity to spend some time working my way through the campaign demo of this truly frightening zombie game. I made it to within a few feet of completing the mission when a particularly aggressive zombie starting nibbling on my neck, ending my twenty minute survival stretch, and instantly mutating my character into one of the undead. You see, in ZombiU, when you make a mistake that costs you your life, be prepared to say "bye-bye" to your character forever...at least in human form.

In what has to be one of the most innovative death mechanics ever seen in a survival-horror game, in ZombiU when your character perishes, you lose all your items and abilities, and then warp into the body of another survivor for another go at the action. What's more, your past life becomes "zombified" and can be encountered around the area where you met your unfortunate demise. This mechanic not only adds a great deal of "survival" feel to the game, since the penalty for dying is steep, but can also add an element of desperation after death since very likely your new character will possess weaker skills and be less equipped. Fortunately, if you're able to track down and kill your roaming zombie self, all of your items and weapons can be retrieved.

ZombiU E3 trailer (Ubisoft press conference):

As seen in the above trailer, ZombiU utilizes the innovative Wii U GamePad in several ways. Most notably, it's used as your packpack, and while rummaging through your belongings using touch swipes on the tablet, the main TV game screen switches to a third-person mode which allows you to see your immediate surroundings. Unlike most first-person shooter games which pauses the game while accessing your inventory, in ZombiU every action is done in real-time, meaning as you're looking down at your Wii U GamePad the zombies are still walking about and could easily sneak up behind your character for a defenseless fleshy meal.

The graphics in ZombiU are definitely better than anything seen on Nintendo's last console, the Wii, though at this stage they're still behind what you'd see in most AAA shooter games on PS3 and Xbox 360 (though admittedly, games like Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 set the bar unrealistically high). Still, the build I played was far from finished, and already there are some nice weather effects (the rain drizzle looks awesome) and eerie atmospheric environments (the murky basement below the nursery is especially haunting).

I want to contain my enthusiasm since it's way too early to cast final judgment on this exceptionally promising Wii U title, but without a doubt it was my favourite Wii U title on the E3 show floor. I see potential as a system-seller for hardcore gaming fans -- it was just that damn good.

ZombiU will be available exclusively for Nintendo's upcoming Wii U console, and has a 2012 release window. The game is being developed by France-based Ubisoft Montpellier and will be published by Ubisoft Entertainment.

ZombiU is not yet rated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

[This article originally appeared on the Future Shop Tech Blog]