When the Nintendo Wii U landed back in 2012, one of the launch line-up success stories was the excellent survival horror title, ZombiU. The game rejuvenated a genre that had slowly been losing its roots and reminded us what zombie survival was really meant to be all about. Now, three years down the line, it has stumbled its way onto the other platforms including the PlayStation 4. But without the Wii U’s pad and the possibility of time draining its appeal, has Zombi lost more than just its ‘U’?
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier, Straight Right
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4 (review code provided)
Scared and overwhelmed in a battered post apocalyptic London, the stark voice of an ex-military man naming himself, The Prepper, guides you to his safe house with the intention of having you venture back out and complete tasks. It’s an ambiguous situation but the alternative means being out there with the horde, alone, so following his advice in search for answers means you’ll willingly oblige. The original game cleverly adopted a perfect balance of weighty controls and unforgiving enemies that made every moment matter. Placed together with The Prepper’s cynical and cheerless perpetual commentary, it coalesced into one genuinely tense atmosphere.
The PlayStation 4 version comes with the majority of the original’s trappings. Graphics haven’t really undergone any sort of facelift, a little sharper perhaps, but if anything the bleakly toned streets and curdling darkness of Ubisoft’s London was enough on their own, and still are this time round. More notably, perhaps, is the absence of ZombiU’s biggest triumph, the Wii U Pad. The second screen wittily diverted your attention as you rummaged through your inventory, checked your mini-map or held it aloft scanning rooms or hacking terminals – an unscrupulous ruse to leave you vulnerable to zombie attack.
In a way, Ubisoft have molded the ports to replicate the experience by filling the entire screen when you bring up your inventory. It’s not quite as fun or fear-inducing as it is with the pad but works well enough to invoke the intended uncertainty and panic that you’ll undoubtedly feel at crucial moments. The radar is permanently on screen now, too, hurting immersion in the same way the scanner and inventory does by being tied to buttons, rather than that separate entity. In fairness, Zombi still succeeds with its player-hating, no pausing mechanic and those who never played the original will miss nothing. There will be those like me, however, who’ll yearn for that peripheral to be back in their hands, stealing our attention, whilst undead gear up to chew on our oblivious anatomy.
What hasn’t changed is Zombi’s unnerving ability to unseat you on a whim. Zombies can be tough early on, even in ones and twos. Then, later on into the game when you’ve grabbed up enough ammo to make it expendable, you might still decide on the trusty cricket bat to get you through without attracting the entire horde; three is most definitely an unwanted crowd should you value your life. Dieing can be punishing in its own right. You’ll arrive back at your safe house as a different survivor, and then have to wander back to the area you died to reacquire your gear from your previous self, who’ll now be a zombie plodding around with your stuff in tow. Dieing again before retrieving the loot will mean it’s gone forever – another clever tension inducing mechanic.
Zombi has adjusted surprisingly well to life away from the Wii U, despite that version still being the most fulfilling way to experience the title. It might not be the prettiest, deepest or prolonged game you’ll play but what it lacks in those areas it makes up for in atmosphere and class. Of course, the prevalent thing to do would be to denounce other horror titles that contain the word ‘survival’ based on a notion that was founded over ten years ago, but in truth Ubisoft really do represent the genre in the way that we’ve truly come to expect. Zombi is intelligent, tense and unforgiving in the best way possible and there’s really very little reason not to pick this one up.