It seems like ages ago I hunkered down to play Ubisoft’s ZombiU on Nintendo’s Wii U console. At the time, I was impressed with some of its innovations and how it utilized the Wii U’s GamePad. All in all, it was a decent mature rated game for early Wii U adopters. The recent announcement of Zombi coming to the Xbox One and PS4 came by as a bit of shocker and completely out of nowhere. I mean it had been nearly three years since ZombiU was released, so the timing of its arrival on current gen consoles is odd and had me a little suspicious. It’s usually never a good sign when a Publisher sneaks a game out on the market (I’m looking at you Prototype Bundle). Over the past week, I had the chance to sink my teeth into Ubisoft’s survival horror game and much like when I played the Wii U version, I am left with some mixed impressions. Zombi definitely has a number of good things going for it, but I cannot help but think Ubisoft may have slightly missed the mark here.
In Zombi you play as a survivor in a zombie infested London, England. You wake up in a dark area below a Subway station only to discover you are one of a few survivors. A voice over a PA system soon chimes in offering you some help and guidance as you embark on your journey. This voice quickly gives you your first mission and off you go into this zombie-riddled world. The plotline is pretty standard stuff with the exception of some of the historical content added into the mix. Yet it is a story that never really deviates from that classic zombie tale we have all seen in one shape or another, time and time again.
The story; however, is not the cool part. When you die in Zombi, you are dead. No really, your character is literally dead and subsequently transforms into a zombie, but instead of “game over” you awake in the body of another survivor. Your primary focus then becomes finding your undead self who is out there somewhere stumbling about. You don’t have to go looking for your old self but you will want to as all the loot you previously accumulated is in a backpack that is now in the possession of your old zombie self. I found this aspect of the game original but unfortunately this innovation was a little overshadowed by some of Zombi’s shortcomings.
One of those shortcomings occurs just after you die. I hope you like retracing your steps over and over because you’ll be doing a lot of that in Zombi. Every time you die, you re-spawn in the safe house and from there it’s a journey to get back to where you turned into lunch for one of the undead. There are some shortcuts you unlock as you progress but by and large it remains quite a trek to get back to where you left off. I found this aspect of the game annoying and huge time killer. Also, if you die attempting to reach your old self all the contents of the backpack are gone. This ended up costing me a double barrel shotgun which was a piss off.
“The atmosphere in Zombi is fantastic. It is dark, creepy and the visibility in the game adds to the tension.”
Much like other survival horror games, Zombi features a great deal of collecting. Ammo and weapons are sparse, so you will feel compelled to look or use your scanner device everywhere which takes an otherwise short game and stretches the playtime significantly. Coupled with the amount of backtracking and you have a game that plays a lot longer than it should. The exploration in the game also leaves a little to be desired. Far too often you come up empty when searching bodies, lockers and other areas in the game. Additionally, the mechanic for searching items is not as refined or as smooth as it is in many other exploration games. The game breaks into a mini-cut scene almost every time you search for something. Not to mention some technical hiccups surface during some of the segments. In one particular instance I was opening a suitcase and the game froze which resulted in a reboot. Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed.
Managing all your weapons, ammo, health, energy drinks, planks, hammers and anything else you pick up is accomplished in your inventory. Yet you need be careful when managing your inventory as the game does not stop or pause to allow you to tinker with the best possible set-up. This little detail certainly adds some tension to the Zombi experience but having to keep going back to the inventory almost every time you pick something up does become a tad tedious at times. I was constantly removing items only to make room for others and all this takes time.
The combat is another area that did not feel smooth or refined as it could have been. You are equipped with a cricket bat early in the game and if you want to preserve your handgun ammo you will need to take out the enemy with it. These zombies however can be tough to take down though. One swift whack right on the noggin doesn’t always take the suckers down. Most take several whacks and it becomes a tedious task after you have already taken down a dozen or so zombies. If you encounter the riot squad zombies it will take you at least a half a dozen whacks to take them down. The game does however encourage you to use flares to distract the zombies, but more often than not you will have to take them out in order to proceed along in the game.
The atmosphere in Zombi is fantastic. It is dark, creepy and the visibility in the game adds to the tension. You are equipped with a flashlight but it does little to brighten or illuminate much of the games dark areas. Not to mention the batteries do run out. It is that dark spooky feeling that really shines in the game. You will spend long stretches going through door after door where you never know what is behind the next one. Zombi is able to effectively create an atmosphere where you really feel at a disadvantage and it scores top marks when it comes to the fright factor.
Much of your time in Zombi is spent just trying to survive. You will end up in an area, loot it for items, and finally run into that inevitable zombie encounter. It is that same formula that tends to get old after a couple of hours. I was looking for something with a little more variety and I was waiting for a “game changer” but it never came along.
Visually Zombi does nothing to push the genre forward. It looks nearly identical to the Wii U version which dropped a few years ago. I expected so much more here as Zombie comes across as dated, looking like a game 10-years old. The characters lack polish and the game’s environments were nothing to write home about. Likewise the sound is remarkably forgettable. The music is almost non-existent except during load screens and the dialogue is minimal. Again, I felt more could have been done here especially when it comes to character development.
Just as it did in 2012, Zombi successfully creates a spooky atmosphere, includes classic survival horror ingredients and has some innovative elements. At the right price, Zombi is a worthy purchase for some. Unfortunately, some of its technical shortcomings and painfully repetitive sequences kill much of the enjoyment. Not to mention some of the clumsy combat and dated gameplay makes for an experience that is far more tedious than it needs to be. In the end, I enjoyed my time with Zombi in small spurts but the some of its parts could use far more polish.
***An Xbox One review code was provided by the Publisher***