PAX Prime 2012: Wii’re Getting Hands On U and the Zombis
Not to be outdone by all of the heavy-hitters, Nintendo decided to bring their own ace card to this year’s PAX. With the Wii U in tow and Ubisoft’s ZombiU among other titles, Nintendo was ready to show-off their seriousness in the next-gen console competition.
Set in London, the brief demo for ZombiU gave players a taste of the spine-tingling atmosphere that you can expect while trying to survive in a world that seems to enjoy being torn apart by the zombie apocalypse time and time again. You’re dropped right off in Buckingham Palace, and are told to find some medication for a survivor.
In a world reminiscent of Left 4 Dead‘s starkness, the Wii U definitely flexes its graphical power with the demo. The zombies are disgusting to look at, the textures are sharp, and there’s no shortage of that atmosphere that makes you feel small and vulnerable at times.
It’s clear that the demo was intended to get players to be familiarized with the Wii U’s odd gamepad, its capabilities, and how badly Nintendo wants to be taken seriously when it comes to mature titles. A sign in front of the booth warning people that they must be 17 years or older or have parent guardian consent to play was a definite…well, sign. Seriously, there is some business to get down to with ZombiU.
It was a very nice surprise to see that Nintendo would allow such a visceral game be published for their system, which lately seems to be advertised as the most family-friendly console in the business. When starting the demo, you have access to a flat piece of wood to serve as a melee weapon. Swinging it and beating zombies down successfully rewards you with pieces of brain everywhere and a bleeding corpse by your feet.
Welcome to the big leagues, Nintendo.
So you’re in Buckingham Palace, and there’s a zombie apocalypse outside. One of the survivors that you’ve found needs medicine, and you’re instructed to go find some in a nearby nursery. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?
Did you remember how that grade school scene played out in Dead Space 2? Yeah, these things never end well.
One of the first things you’re taught to do with the Wii U’s gamepad is how to manage your inventory, and there’s that moment of, “…this would be so much easier on screen with a controller.” Yes, yes it would, but then again none of us are really used to holding a miniature tablet while playing a game either.
The immediate feeling is that the gamepad is completely unnecessary, except for parts of the game where you have to scan bodies to find certain loot. Trying to swipe your finger to find a weapon in a hurry, or dragging and dropping the icon on the touchscreen for a quick swap later just felt like an over complication of something that really shouldn’t be that complicated. If you were hoping for a simple button to switch weapons on the fly, you’re out of luck there too — gotta find the right spot on the touchscreen to tap before you can use the weapon. Hotkeys? What the hell are those?
As the demo proceeds, the player is introduced to different weapons. You’ll find a crossbow and a shotgun to add to your inventory, and a pistol and melee weapon are already in your possession. The crossbow was fun to play with, but precision aiming required, you guessed it, holding up the gamepad to the TV screen and trying to use it as a scope. I guess it worked in a way, but again it felt like an ill-placed advertisement for the Wii U’s gamepad and all the potentially potential greatness it had. I couldn’t shake that feeling at all during the whole demo.
A few gunshots, bashed in heads, and a fistful of medication later, I was instructed to leave the Nursery and return to where the other survivors were hiding. Of course, Ubisoft couldn’t let this experience pass up without a boss fight, and this consisted of putting down a zombie four times before it would be considered “dead.” Apparently multiple deaths for one enemy is becoming a thing these days, especially in horror games.
All complaints aside with ZombiU and the Wii U, the game itself looks to be fun, but unfortunately doesn’t bring much of anything new to the table. Fans of the survival horror genre might want to give this one a go when it releases in 2013, but it’s doubtful whether a title like this will be a big seller on the new console.
As for Nintendo’s Wii U, the console itself appeared powerful enough to compete with the current generation of consoles, and will probably sell well just because it’s got that Nintendo name attached to it. However, with the ZombiU demo, I couldn’t help but think that it was a very large (dare I say it) gimmick of a controller being placed in my hands. There’s no real reason why ZombiU couldn’t be played using a controller on the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, but maybe I’m just missing a point here. Whatever the rhyme and reason, the Wii U is still an enigmatic player on the field at this point.