Almost two years ago, when I decided to purchase Nintendo’s faltering Wii U console, I was almost completely unaware of one of its most innovative and exciting titles: Ubisoft’s ZombiU. Sadly, dismal sales figures in the UK led to me being able to pick up the game for the equivalent of just ten dollars, but I was so glad I did. Thanks in part to a slow, deliberate weight and grungy atmosphere, ZombiU’s ability to shock and dismay stood alone amongst the Wii U’s growing catalogue of cute, playful platform games. The game also made excellent use of the unique controller, with a superb local multiplayer mode unlike anything I’d played before and a range of features presented away from the main screen.
Now, the same ZombiU has shambled its way onto Xbox One in the form of Zombi. Identical but for a minor graphical upgrade, a slight change of name and of course, the loss of that ever-so-important gamepad. The local multiplayer is gone, and previously offscreen features are now presented onscreen, but does Zombi still convey the same feeling of dread and despair that Wii U owners found so compelling?
The green, green grass of home — As someone who visits London often for work, I regularly find myself shuffling through the very same streets and tube stations as those featured in Zombi, with the key difference being that the hordes of shambling bodies that inhabit my waking nightmare are other commuters or, worse still, shoppers, each as desperate as me to get home. Although Zombi uses stylized representations of popular London locations, it remains uncannily accurate in feel and appearance to the respective areas in which it is set. For those less familiar with the city, it simply presents an unusually claustrophobic, oppressive atmosphere for a zombie game. This set, along with superb level design and a truly dismal colour palette are the very best ingredients for a proper zombie survival experience.
Why so serious? — Almost in spite of the darkness and horror, Zombi features countless ways to raise a smile in all but the most steadfast of players. A zombie sat at Her Majesty’s grand piano, knocking out a jaunty tune for example, or the awkward gait of the undead guests showed a house party gone horribly, horribly wrong. These things never spoil the suspense because they are usually over in a heartbeat, but this kind of attention to detail is much appreciated.
Hardcore mode — ZombiU was pretty tough, and the removal of the gamepad hasn’t made things any easier. Inventory navigation is now mapped to a button, as is searching and hacking, but none of these things pause the game or provide any respite, so the tension remains as high as ever. Difficulty levels include a permadeath mode, whilst on any other difficulty, if the player dies, he or she must return to the location of their death, kill their former self (now a zombie) and retrieve any gear or else risk losing it forever. There is also new and improved flashlight in Zombi, and there are at least a couple of new melee weapons which do even the odds somewhat.
Here’s what I didn’t like:
No reason to return — In all honesty, although I enjoyed playing Zombi for what is basically the second time, I wouldn’t necessarily say that needed to invest in it a second time. Yes, it looks slightly better and there are minor improvements, and yes, STRAIGHT RIGHT have done a great job in converting the game to a traditional controller, but without the superb local multiplayer and the novelty value of the controller, I would suggest returning players think twice before jumping in.
For those who already enjoyed ZombiU on the WiiU, it might be worth trying Zombi before you buy, as there isn’t much new here. For anyone who hasn’t played the original, it’s one of the best undead survival horror games available on any format, and the solid, suspenseful and sometimes scary gameplay offers a stiff challenge for those who are up for it.
Score: Try it
Zombi was developed by STRAIGHT RIGHT and published by Ubisoft Montpellier on Xbox One. It was released on August 18, 2015 for $19.99. A copy was provided for review purposes.