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Eurogamer Expo: ZombiU Preview

This month Koku Gamer celebrates Horror in all the genre’s gaming and anime glory, and just in time too, as we recently got to play the Wii U exclusive ZombiU at the Eurogamer Expo. Set in an apocalyptic vision of London, ZombiU mixes the best of Dark Souls with the new innovations of the Wii U, to deliver an experience that is truly terrifying.

Before we have finished oooh-ing and aaah-ing at the new controller, the lights are up on our hands-on session, as we are greeted with the decay and filth of a murky underpass. Moon light illuminates the shallow puddles of sewage as we begin on our one and only attempt to get out of London and escape the deadly virus that’s brought Britain to its knees.

Our first task is to get acquainted with our inventory, and how ZombiU have implemented the tablet controller into the game system. Rather than a display on the screen, we were asked to look down at the tablet, which presents our backpack, full of goodies to fight of the undead horde. As this was a demo we’re gifted with a pistol, shotgun, cricket bat and a grenade – items that we’re told require scavenging and hard work to acquire in the final Christmas release. To equip items we use the touch screen to select and drag them into our quick slots ready for use. With pistol equipped we make our way into the moon light, and the start of our ZombiU adventure.

The first thing we are hit by isn’t an enemy , but the graphics: simply beautiful. ZombiU is certainly up there with the best that the current generation has to offer. Textures are well designed, with graffiti artfully placed along walls, and flies buzzing over bundles of trash. We make our way across a small walkway parallel to the grimy River Thames. This isn’t the pristine, decorated and colourful London of the Olympics, but a city fully of bloodied greys and browns shrouded in darkness. A street lamp flickers in the distance, drawing our focus to our first zombie, wading through the early tide. Lucky for us a handy sniper rifle lies by a deceased victim – a perfect time for target practise, and an introduction to the shooting mechanic. Our preconceptions proves incorrect. Approaching the sniper rifle wake the now undead victim up, and alerts the zombie further off. Hours of horror film history goes to waste as we begin blasting the pistol into the monster’s chest, only slowing the decayed carcass down. As he lungs forward, mouth open we blow his head off, covering ourselves in gore. With the second zombie still shuffling toward us, we take advantage of the distance and chose to equip our new rifle. Easier said than done. Rather than ‘pressing up on the d-pad’ we’re forced to look down at the controller, select the sniper rifle and drag it into a free slot. This is multi-tasking at its most pressured: as we split our attention between the backpack and the incoming zombie, our heart races, and perspiration begins to moisten the controller. Just as Dead Space never let us rest, ZombiU does the same, then asks players to look at separate screens handling several tasks at once. With sniper rifle equipped we use the scope by aiming the controller at head height and targeting with the tablet. One clean head shot and the zombie drops into the water with a satisfying splash.

Several more undead await at a distance, who were easy dealt with the sniper rifle. Aiming feels more challenging than with a mouse of conventional gamepad, but with the rise in augmented reality gaming, it’s not completely alien. With head shot after head shot under our belt we realise this is no Left 4 Dead, as a unwelcome CLICK signifies our empty clip. This is a survival game, which doesn’t just mean fighting off threats, but also about how you use the limited resources at your disposal to do so. As we continue along the Thames, an underpass invites us in. A corpse lies by an open drain. We aren’t taking any chances here – lifting up the tablet enables you to scan and analyse points of interests in the surrounding, proving information such as lootable bodies, locked doors and enemies. The scan revealed that this peaceful looking cadaver isn’t so peaceful after all: a bullet to the brain ensured there’ll be no surprises as we enter the drain. Into the catacombs we go.

The walls close in, and darkness surrounds. Again back to the tablet, were we equip our flashlight in one hand, pistol in the other. Tiptoeing around the dungeon reminds us of the best of Dark Souls. Knowing that one false move means permanent death really works to heighten the tension. Rats scurry in front of us as we disturb their abode. All quiet, but for the dripping of sewage. A scream ahead of us. Our torch flickers as the rechargeable battery begins to fade. Look back down to the tablet, turn the flashlight it off for a few seconds, allowing it to recharge. Where did that scream come from? Turn the flashlight on once more, just as a gas mask wearing zombie rounds the corner and heads for us. On his back is strapped a gas canister – perhaps these men tried to disinfect the city, but fell victim to the virus. Shooting the canisters would result in one mighty explosion, so with seconds to spare its back to the backpack to arm ourselves with the cricket bat. One great hit to the face should do it. No. No it doesn’t. We try another and another and another. The zombie staggers back, but seems unaffected otherwise. We hit and hit and hit, until finally, and rather ungracefully it stops moving. Now we understand the value of bullets.

With the threat gone we search the rest of the catacombs, making sure our torch isn’t going to flicker off again. Secret paths and hidden doors dot the levels, and by using the tablet to search the catacombs with its ultra violet light, we spot a secret door, and make our way inside to what looks like a basement office. The electricity still works and large wardrobes adorn the rooms. For a moment the tension subsides.

We are only half an hour into this demo, but it feels as though we have survived the night. When you’ve been holding your breath for this long, time slows. Trust us, during Dark Souls lung capacity was at about an hour. But like all horror films they must go on to the bloody end, and so we venture forth into a courtyard. Suddenly our vision blurs. Through the glaze we see movement. A spitting undead, aiming for us. Now we use our speed to get to cover as our sight heals. Cat and mouse ensures for several minutes. With no clear shot in sight we opt for our grenade, release the pin and throw it. The blast throws the zombie through the air. Glorious.

Forward through the courtyard and up the steps, into an adjoining building and down the corridor. Adrenaline is running high after our victory. An AK 47 sits on a table. Yes please. We follow the corridor, with our new assault rifle feeling like Rambo. Now it starts to go downhill. Quickly. A zombie awaits, and we release half a clip into his head before he moves. Then we see movement to the side. The downed zombie was just a diversion. ‘Clever girl,’ comes to mind as we’re flanked. Pushing the pursuer away and releasing more bullets in an effort to escape. Our vision blurs once again: another Spitter. We try to run, but don’t know which way is forward. Falling to the floor, the realisation that it’s over. No bullets. No hope.

It couldn’t be more different for this Wii U exclusive though. All the hope of Nintendo rests on the shoulders of ZombiU. As we’ve mentioned there are elements of Dead Space and Dark Souls in this unique experience. We’ve worked our way through a plethora horror games, and zombie films, but ZombiU is perhaps one of the finest examples of putting you into the survivor’s sweaty shoes. It’s not just the beautifully crafted levels and set pieces, but the sublime control system pulling your focus in different direction that makes this preview such a frightening experience. As much as multi-tasking is demanding on your concentration, it also creates an experience that is completely immersive. You aim the scope of the sniper rifle with your hands, your search for hidden clues by moving side to side, you rummage through your bag for the next weapon. Of course we’ve seen the PlayStation Move, Wii and Xbox Kinect respond to our movements, but the immediate feedback and touch screen presentation with ZombiU works so brilliantly, we expect great things not just from this game, but the future of the Wii U.

For more on ZombiU check out this trailer. For more on everything Horror this month, stay tuned to KokuGamer.com

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