Review by Phange
"ZombiU's blend of tension and calculated helplessness is simultaneously brilliant and frustrating"
ZombiU, like From Software's Souls series, has an intrinsic respect for the player that few games allow. With almost no tutorial or introduction to speak of, ZombiU plants you into the middle of a post-apocalyptic London, where resources are all but drained and survival is granted only to the slow, methodical, and well-prepared. It's a game that is unforgiving, punishing even the slightest melee combat miscues and wasting of ammo. It's a game that openly taunts you by making your last survivor into a zombie fully capable of killing your current one, especially if your prior survivor had gained considerable experience. Yet despite the ruthless approach to player skill, ZombiU never tries to hold your hand - forcing you to get better; your skills hone, your melee timing becomes more precise, you slowly learn how to deal with zombies in larger packs. It relies on the same sort of environmental positioning strategy that made Dark Souls such a hit - no strategy is "cheap" in your efforts to progress. Running from zombies is perfectly acceptable and, frankly, encouraged.
You die, and die, and die. As you do, you slowly learn to take the game seriously. ZombiU gives you all of the tools and resources to survive - a handy zombie scanner, a handgun with six bullets, a permanent weapon upgrade system, a safety deposit box, and a safe house that is usually within walking distance of anywhere you go. Like Dark Souls, it's a punishing game that is never cruel. ZombiU is a game many people will hate for the very same reasons others will love it - it's intentionally clunky, deliberate, and aggravating. But those are also endearing qualities of a game much closer to survival horror than games before it.
Up close, ZombiU is not a good looking game. However, ZombiU isn't meant to be viewed up close. When you're not fumbling around in complete darkness, your pitiful excuse for a rechargeable flashlight may grant you a meager, barely adequate cone of light with which to navigate your environment. What ZombiU clearly lacks in technical prowess, it more than makes up for in atmospheric brilliance. Never has a game encompassed hopeless isolation in the way ZombiU does. The game is claustrophobic, horrifically dark, gritty, and depressing. The rain outside Buckingham Palace pours mercilessly over the unpopulated wasteland, dripping endlessly down your character's scratched, blotted glasses (which show a remarkably cool spottiness when looking at light sources). The game features a bile-green image filter not unlike that found in the movie The Matrix , giving it an ethereal and distressing tone which only adds to the overall feel of isolation.
There is no question that ZombiU's combat mechanics are clunky and unrefined, but these qualities seem deliberate, and even necessary, in order to recreate the sense that your survivor is not equipped to deal with the situations they're facing. This is no Left 4 Dead, with endless bullets and precision shooting. Your survivor screams in exhaustion and terror as he weakly clubs away at a zombie's head - his fourth or fifth swings are filled with pained, anguished screams that are haunting in their own right. The handgun is woefully underpowered yet simultaneously under-supplied with ammo, making it a weapon best suited for panic emergencies. The other weapons are considerably more effective, but their presence and ammo are exceedingly rare. In short, ZombiU's combat is refined explicitly by the fact that it's unrefined. Having to wind up and then strike with the cricket bat is one of the clunkiest melee mechanics I've ever seen, but it also requires immense skill and timing, allowing the game to punish you quickly for being brazen and overconfident. Like Dark Souls, the combat's deliberate slowness rewards the patient and prepared, and punishes the button mashers.
Excellent voice acting and appropriately creepy zombie sound effects, but nothing that will knock your socks off.
There will certainly be people who hate ZombiU, as there were people who hated Demon's Souls and Dark Souls. This game is not for them, and rightfully so. ZombiU is not a game for everyone. It's a game for people who enjoy overcoming immense obstacles; a game that rewards perseverance, intelligence, and drive. ZombiU respects the player, punishes arrogance, and rewards mastery of its uniquely difficult mechanics. In short, it's a game you may very well love to hate.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/27/12
Game Release: ZombiU (US, 11/18/12)
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