ZombiU was supposed to be a flagship title for the console, displaying it's graphical abilities and the new features of the gamepad in a manner that would make the console the "in" thing for gamers everywhere.
Instead, what it became was an extremely polarizing game. There are very few people who are of the mindset that this game is "just alright". Most people you run into will find it either a brilliant video game, full of depth and difficulty, or a janky, poorly executed mess.
ZombiU takes place in London in November, 2012. An old legend called the Black Prophecy is coming to pass, with a zombie outbreak. There has been an underground group researching and preparing for this day. As one of the survivors of the apocalypse, you are tasked with working with this underground group to find the cure.
ZombiU doesn't set out to be your typical run-and-gun shoot-'em-up first person shooter. It, instead, wants to be a survival horror game. You can shoot all the zombies you want, great. What's more important is the goal of survival. Survive so that you can get samples. Survive so that you can help find the cure. Survive so that you can just keep living. It takes an angle on the zombie fad that a lot of games just look past.
One of the more polarizing aspects of the game is it's permadeth. In ZombiU, when your character dies, you don't play as that character anymore. Instead, you respawn as another one of the survivors. Your old character, in keeping with the elements of the game, doesn't just disappear- it becomes a zombie. You have to kill your old self to get your items back, which is a surreal experience. You have just spent three hours or so as character A, and now you are character B, and your first mission? Smash in Zombie Character A's brains. The weakness to this system is that there is only one dead copy at a time, so if you die again before you can retrieve your loot, it's all gone.
Another polarizing aspect is the combat. It tries to do so well. You are always armed with a melee weapon, a cricket bat. Along the way, you can pick up other weapons, including, of course, guns. The problem with guns is that they make noise. The noise attracts other zombies to come see what all the fuss is about, which turns your group of three zombies that you got the drop on into five or six guys trying to eat your brains. Add in that kickback causes problems for you (which, if you're thinking about yourself as a survivor in England who might not have the most experience shooting a gun, adds a level to this game that isn't always thought about) and that ammo is very, very scarce, and you have all the elements for a great survival horror game. However, the problem is that the melee with the cricket bat is unrewarding. It can take five or six hits at times to down a zombie. Finding a group of three or four means fifteen to twenty hits, and that's a chore.
The use of the WiiU gamepad is a fun part of this game. When you go to loot things, rather than a menu coming up and the game pausing, you are directed to look at the gamepad's screen. There, you can see what is in the filing cabinet and decide what you want to keep. While that is happening, though, the game isn't paused. Everything is still going on around you. It adds an element of tension to your adventures that is not found in many other games.
This game tries to be one of the best zombie games out there. It tries to take a fresh approach to things. It has all of the right ideas, too. Rather than an amazing story or just being a game about killing a million zombies, it really nails the feeling that you are trying to survive so, so well. Unfortunately, it misses in execution of parts. I really hope we see a sequel to this with more polished combat, or at least another game trying to do the same things here. This game is the epitome of having great ideas, but not quite executing them in the right way. It's an enjoyable and unique experience for sure if you're willing to forgive it of it's faults, but that is a bridge too far for some people.