E3 2012: ZombiU Hands-On Preview

By Jordan Douglas on June 26, 2012, 9:16PM EDT
Wii U

With Sony and Microsoft declining to talk about new hardware, E3 2012 was an opportunity for Nintendo to capitalize on the hype surrounding the gaming industry's biggest gathering. Little did we know Ubisoft would be the publisher to bring surprisingly creative Wii U offerings to the table, while the console-maker itself arguably kept some big announcements under wraps and played things a bit conservatively. Alongside Rayman Legends, Ubisoft Montpellier's ZombiU was one of standout reveals for Nintendo's next console, featuring an inventive control scheme and punishing survival mechanics aimed at the "core" audience.

ZombiU is set in London, England during... well, a zombie outbreak and apocalyptic event. It's not exactly the freshest setting in the gaming space these days, but to their credit, Ubisoft Montpellier is taking a unique approach to survival in this excessively-crowded genre. For starters, it's one-and-done for your character in this harsh existence. If you're out of emergency medical supplies, one bite from a zombie is more than enough to kill. At this point, players will return to the fray as another survivor, but their former self will also come back as an undead enemy. Who says Nintendo consoles only support baby games?

In addition to its seemingly brutal survival system, ZombiU also looks to set itself apart through creative use of the Wii U's touchscreen controller. Players use the GamePad to check their backpack inventory, scan for important objects on and off the television screen, look through scopes, and so on. Simply put: Ubisoft Montpellier has squeezed more unique control ideas into one demo than the rest of what we saw from the Wii U at E3, which is an impressive accomplishment in and of itself. That being said, some of this functionality feels a bit unnecessary - i.e. motions which could easily be mapped onto a traditional controller. Regardless, there's a lot of potential here.

Beyond controls, the mission we played didn't quite evoke the same imaginative spirit with its presentation and combat. A cynical person could say what we saw amounted to little more than a slow-paced, somewhat clunky shooter set in Urban Setting B. I'm more inclined to say ZombiU looked promising overall, but it's unclear how much lies behind the novelty of its control scheme.

ZombiU is set for a "launch window" release on Wii U later this year.

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