ZombiU plays to the strengths of the Wii U to create an intriguing experience worth looking at.

ZombiU isn’t the best title for a game in my eyes. Given the current state of Nintendo’s affairs with game titles on the Wii, it evokes feelings of “simple,” “rail-shooter,” or “cash-in.” Would anyone pay attention to a game called ZombWii? I wouldn’t by instinct, and I wasn’t paying much attention to ZombiU either. How wrong I was.

A brief hands-on with ZombiU‘s single-player mode was enough to determine that Ubisoft is not putting together a quick money grab for the Wii U’s launch. ZombiU is a first-person, mission-based shooter that looks very nice, which is a good first step toward immersing players in a scary, zombie-filled world. But beyond looks, a deep experience that gamers are drawn to, like a zombie to a brain, is apparently being crafted inside of ZombiU

Players operate out of their safe house, your basic level hub. In the safe house, you’re able to work on weapons at a workbench, mess around with a multi-screen computer, take a nap (i.e. save), and more. All of these actions require both a button press to activate, and then a head tilt downward to look at the Wii U GamePad screen. Yes, we’re in the future now. All the busywork of menus and making choices is quickly handled with the GamePad’s touchscreen interface. Quickly swiping your finger up returns the action to the big screen.

This shouldn’t feel as good and new as it does, but it does. We live in a world with tablets and talking watches and holograms of Tupac Shakur, but controlling our TVs with a tablet, much less our TV games, isn’t that common. Even better, the Wii U GamePad is used for much more than just menus.

Remember how you used to have to press a button, perhaps the D-pad, to cycle through weapons in an FPS? Or press pause to equip a new gun in a game like Resident Evil (the older versions, anyway)? No more. With a tap on the GamePad , ZombiU lets you quickly switch weapons, or turn on and off your limited-use-hence-stress-inducing flashlight. In addition, the GamePad allows the use of other features like a scanner you move 360 degrees around the real world to search for secrets and items, and a zombie-detecting radar. Just don’t look down while a crowd of zombies pops out of the darkness right in front of you. It’s as if you were actually holding a zombie radar in real life.

Further, because of the GamePad , ZombiU has no user interface on the television screen (aside from context sensitive action prompts). None. Just you, a dank sewer, and an Olde English zombie (the demo took place in the Tower of London) whose head you need to cave in with a wooden paddle. Pretty cool.

As for gameplay, ZombiU is your basic FPS. Tilt, aim, and move with the control sticks. Bash zombies into a bloody pulp with your melee weapon, or push them away and blow their heads off with a variety of limited-ammo guns. Zombies will be lit on fire, they might spit, or they might be wearing an exploding backpack. Nothing wrong with anything there.

I didn’t get to learn too much about ZombiU‘s storyline, but it does seem to guide the entire experience. Players aren’t just shooting zombies, but exploring an apparently non-linear world trying to complete certain objectives. For some reason, there were high-tech devices blocking my zombie radar that I had to shoot out. The zombies sure didn’t place those, so there must be some kind of conflict going on there. From the hub, players will go out to explore this world and its interconnected levels. Once you complete certain conditions, you’ll earn the ability to quick-travel to areas you’ve previously visited.

Taking a cue from Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, when a player dies he/she will start again in the hub as a different character, leaving a backpack behind at the spot of death. Well, not just leaving a backpack behind, but becoming a zombie wearing that backpack. If you can manage to get back to kill the old you, items can be recollected. If the player dies first, those items are gone. Also like the Souls games, you can spray paint hints around the world which your Wii U friends will be able to see in their games.

As you can see, in addition to multiplayer modes previewed earlier there’s a lot of neat stuff going on in ZombiU. It’s an intriguing game that is squeaking all the use it can out of the Wii U’s new GamePad and features, while still potentially catering to hardcore gamers that want that deeper experience. Don’t be turned off by the name alone.

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