Back in November of 2012, Nintendo launched its Wii U console. One of the launch titles was Zombi U, a first-person survival horror game set in modern day London developed by Ubisoft Montpellier. The game’s reception was mostly positive, paving the way for it to be ported to current-gen consoles a little less than three years later by Melbourne’s very own, Straight Right. I never played the original, so I have no experience with how the game played on the Wii U and what benefits the gamepad brought to the table, and nor did I wish to know. Because this is a PS4, Xbox One and PC release, my opinion of the game wasn’t influenced by a missing feature that is not technically possible, even if it is a port.
As you can probably guess, the game is about a zombie apocalypse, because that’s really what we needed, another zombie game. It would seem that Ubisoft are trying to ride the coattails of the recently successful Dying Light and to a lesser extent H1Z1 and Dead Island. Obviously the powers that be at Ubisoft didn’t want to loosen the purse strings to give it that HD remastered look, because it is evident from the get-go that this is purely a port. It looks extremely dated. I’m not saying it looks terrible, because it does have a gritty charm to its appearance, but looks-wise, Zombi was released in the wrong generation. The textures, the facial modelling, even the physics all look like a mid-gen PS3/360 game. There are some landmarks in the game, notably Buckingham Palace, but the playable landscapes feel rather basic and lack any real authenticity.
The game’s plot goes something like this: Four hundred years ago, John Dee prophesised that the end of the world would occur in 2012. This was dubbed as ‘The Black Prophecy.’ A secret society, known as the ‘Ravens of Dee’ existed in order to try and prevent the apocalypse, but unfortunately they were unsuccessful. ‘The Prepper’ a previous member of the Ravens, foresaw the apocalypse and built a safe house and stashed supplies in preparation. This is where you wake up, in The Prepper’s safe house, with a flash light, a bag for supplies, the Prepper Pad (radar and scanner) and your main weapon and best friend throughout the game: a cricket bat. The Prepper acts as a somewhat Big Brother-type narrator throughout the game, and you’ll hear him speak to you about how he thinks you’re making the wrong decision or about how the Ravens of Dee are wrong, yet he won’t hear you at all, because your character doesn’t actually say anything. Wouldn’t you have questions if you woke up in a random safe house during the middle of a zombie apocalypse?
From here you are given various missions to complete such as defending the safe house or retrieving fuel for the generator. Along your journey you encounter Dr. Knight, a member of the Palace guard who is attempting to find a cure. You’ll be asked to assist him by finding a book, or a bunch of letters. All the missions the campaign consists of are rather generic and mundane. They’re not bad by any stretch, they’re just not exciting. There’s nothing new or innovative about them, and when you do complete a mission there is no real sense of fulfilment.
However, if you die there is no coming back, at least not as that same character. This is one of the game’s biggest draws but also one of its biggest downfalls. Each time you die, that survivor either becomes a zombie or another corpse on the ground. After each death you wake up as a new survivor that The Prepper got from his safe house’s survivor vending machine, armed with the same cricket bat. At first it is fun to go find your former self and smash their head in to retrieve your supplies, but it doesn’t allow for any connection between the characters and player to build. In fact, the further along the campaign I progressed and the more times I died, the more my level of detachment increased. It got to a point where I simply no longer cared if I lived or died, because I knew that another survivor would just be pushed off the conveyor belt and onto the safe house bed. In the end I became my own worst enemy and my biggest cause of death.
Zombi’s gameplay becomes horribly repetitive after a while: scan an IP junction box, hack a door, find a code, unlock a door, pick the lock of another door and smash zombies in the face with a cricket bat. The game would probably have more meaning if the main character was an English cricketer whose second life was break and entering. There are firearms you discover and use but none of them kill with any conviction, except maybe the shotguns. You can also find upgrades for your weapons throughout the game, but they hardly feel necessary. I went through large portions of the game without upgrading my guns, simply because I either forgot or I couldn’t be bothered.
The main antagonists in the game, the zombies, are as you would expect, stupid. They only present a challenge when encountered in large packs in a confined area, which seldom occurs. Even then you can easily lure them to one location with a flare and cook up some BBQ zombie ribs with a Molotov cocktail. Otherwise they’re easy to kill one by one, which can take from one to six or seven hits with the trusty Guns & Moore willow.
That being said, the game does have some tense and creepy moments that deliver an engaging survival horror experience. These occur when you’re surrounded in darkness and your flashlight only provides limited field of vision. This coupled with the game’s decent soundscape can cause some uncertainty when walking into a new area or running from a pack of star-struck fans. More than once I found myself whacking whatever lurked in the darkness, only to end up part of the wallpaper as I blew myself to smithereens, as I smashed an infected with an oxygen tank. Unfortunately these moments are few and far between.
The game’s campaign clocks in at about 11-13 hours, depending on your play style and the amount of times you die and have to backtrack. There are three endings you can achieve and all are determined by certain events leading up to the final moments. In the end I didn’t care which ending I got and I managed to skip the final cutscene by accident, which didn’t faze me.
Overall the game has foundations to build on, everyone loves a good zombie apocalypse, but Zombi delivers an experience that for the most part is monotonous and testing. If you’re going with lacklustre gameplay you need to ensure that the story grips people and this is where Zombi falls flat the hardest. The game’s best idea is its biggest undoing. It gives you no reason to invest in it, there is no character progression outside of The Prepper, and the more you find out about him, the more you realise he is just a huge flog. Zombi isn’t a bad experience, it’s just not an exciting one, but if you’re a fan of FPS zombie apocalypse games like the aforementioned titles then you’ll probably squeeze a good time out of it. But it in the end it’s like the champion athlete that instead of going out on a high, played on one season too many.
Reviewed on Xbox One.