Version Tested: PS4
Available On: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Wii U (ZombiU)
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier, Ubisoft Bucharest
Genre: Survival Horror
Official Site: https://www.ubisoft.com/en-US/game/zombi
Release Date: ZombiU (November 18th, 2012), Zombi (August 18th, 2015)
Where to Buy: PSN, Xbox Store, Steam, Retailers
It is not uncommon to see popular games from the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 era ported onto the current generation of consoles. However, it is not often that we see a Wii U exclusive make its way onto Sony and Microsoft’s hardware 3 years after release. Here we have Zombi. The re-branded Playstation 4 and Xbox One version of Zombi U. Zombi U was put out to die by Ubisoft, in a fleeting attempt, they made to support Nintendo back in 2012. The game has aged, and its unique Wii U gamepad features have been tossed aside. So the question is, does this game have the chops to stand out?
Graphically the game has visibly aged. Colors are drab and environments lack the detail and polish we’ve come to expect in modern gaming. The exact same animation is seen every time an enemy moves, attacks or is killed. Zombi somehow gets away with its now sub-par graphical design. You’ll spend much of your time within the game exploring abandoned subways, maneuvering through sewers, and evading the dead during the night. Therefore much of the environment is often blackened by darkness, leaving you with a small field of vision, illuminated by your weakly lit torch. This Outlast-like approach to exploring environments stops the world of Zombi from becoming monotonous and tiresome and allows a game with an admittedly boring visual design to stay gripping.
Zombi’s approach to narrative has a few unique traits that the game doesn’t quite pull off but mainly comes across as something we’ve seen before. You’ll face many of the familiar beats seen in a decade’s worth of zombie media. A doctor with a seemingly too good to be a true answer to curing the plague, crazed individuals you’ll be forced to trade supplies with, a barbaric segment of the human population who fall away to crazed brutality against one another. There doesn’t feel like there is a great overarching narrative within Zombi, just these by the book missions provided to you by a mysterious individual known as the Prepper. However, that is where Zombi attempts something interesting. The Prepper is a mysterious survivor who has established a safe house within the ruins of the London Underground Railroad. And this doomsday prepper extends his sanctuary to numerous individuals looking for refuge. This is where you come in.
You play as a randomly generated individual within the game. You are provided with a name, an occupation and at the point of death, statistics on how you fared in this zombie apocalypse. The Prepper and several other minor characters in the game will provide you with missions until your inevitable demise. However once you die that’s it, your character is gone. And you then awake in the Prepper’s safe house as a new character. This idea of permadeath is an interesting mechanic that adds a sense of panic to tense situations and justifies each death within the narrative. You lose all your gear upon dying but have the opportunity the return to the place of your previous character’s demise, kill their now-zombified selves and retrieve your gear. A unique and enjoyable touch within a zombie driven game. A large flaw in this system is that the narrative does not react to your deaths. You’ll have completed numerous missions as one character and then begin anew. However other characters in the game will continue to talk to you as if you were the same person. It’s a minor flaw but at times breaks the immersion of an otherwise well-designed system.
The gameplay itself is where Zombi shines. You’ll mainly find yourself traversing linear mini maps and disposing of one or two enemies at a time. But be warned, these moments are tense. Games like Dead Rising and Dying light overpower the player, allowing them to eviscerate oceans of the dead with relative ease. In Zombi, you are made to feel like a civilian. An average, everyday man or woman. And so clunky controls, slow movement and a lack of ammunition are used to accentuate this point. You’ll mainly be utilizing your primary weapon, a cricket bat. And so when facing one enemy it’s manageable. Two or three and it gets tricky. Four or more and you better hope you have some spare bullets. And don’t think running a reliable tactic, levels are often tightly designed, and most zombies aren’t much slower than you.
That’s the thing about Zombi. Visually it can at times be drab and outdated. It’s a three-year-old port of a Wii U game, and its story is packed with more hallmarks of the zombie genre than I can count. But its moment to moment presentation is immaculate. The amazing sound design adding to the atmosphere of the moment. As you hear the distant growls of the Undead and your radar pings, acknowledging movement up ahead. Your flashlight barely guiding you through the pitch black sewers. Then suddenly looking down to see a zombie right by your feet. Bludgeoning it several times in the head before it lays still. Hearing your character breathe heavily. Then suddenly being caught from behind and killed. The end of your journey, and the beginning of another’s.
For other reviews check out:
- Gameplay – Clunky, but incredibly enjoyable and tense
- Presentation – a game that attempts several unique features but fails to make them work entirely
- Sound – ambient and scream-inducing
- Graphics – considerably outdated
- Great sound design
- Clunky yet effective controls
- Attempts a unique perma-death system
- Drab and colorless environmental design
- Ideas that don't come all the way through
- Linear backtracking