By William Shelton
Release Date: August 18, 2015 (PS4 and Xbox One)
Systems: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Wii U (Under the title ZombiU)
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Obtained By: Free With PS+
This is the worst game I’ve played since I started reviewing. I even took a look back at my old “Poor Mans Geek” stuff (which was really embarrassing, I might add) and my God did I underestimate how bad a game could get. The single nicest thing I can think to say about this is that it’s technically not broken. That doesn’t mean anything was done well, but the game does work.
The story….can be found online. I only spent around four hours with the game before forcing myself to stop as it brought on a level of self-loathing I reserve for when I’m thinking about my future prospects. In that time I played through missions with there own stories, but never found a real over arching plot. John Dee is brought up several times, but I never reached any pay-off for that plot thread, nor do I care too.
Gameplay wise Zombie is as uninspired as it’s title, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with using established concepts. Where Zombie fails is in how little effort was put in to make it stand out. You play as one of a number of survivors stuck in London after a zombie outbreak is unleashed. When you die you play as another randomly selected survivor and all the equipment you have on you has to be recovered by killing and looting the zombie of your previous character. This isn’t an uncommon mechanic, but due to the fact that most of the environments lack any since of identity and several are repeatedly recycled it just doesn’t work here. Adding to the frustration is how simple a solutions could have fixed this: either have the new character spawn at the nearest safe house or have the missions objective markers reset. Either or those would have stopped so much irritation that the lack of their inculcation almost seems like Ubisoft was trying to piss players off.
Sticking with my issues with navigation, the running in the game is also a major problem as well. I was expecting some form of stamina management (knowing you can’t just run away from the zombies is part of the tension after all) but again, the mechanic was so poorly implemented that I almost want to say it’s main purpose was to aggravate players. Running is barely faster than the default walking speed and the distance you can go is so short that I always found myself questioning why I even bothered to use it at all. The worst part is that the game doesn’t communicate to the player when stamina is refilled, so when I did need to just get the hell out of dodge I was left just holding down the stick and running in small bursts because I couldn’t reasonably guess when the meter was refilled.
Now that I’m done bitching about the movement, I can move on to bitching about the combat!
Like with most Zombie fiction the game works on the logic that sounds attract the undead, so a large emphasis is placed on melee combat. And the one thing Zombie flawlessly replicates from other games is a painfully off feel for first person melee combat. The normal problems with judging the distance you an the enemies vs how far your weapon can reach is still present, but here you also have an extra nuisance as well. You can’t just swing your weapon. You have to ready it first, like how you did in the old Metal Gear Solid games. With the guns this makes a bit more sense as you have to aim first, but I can’t think of a single reason to add this stipulation to melee weapons as well. If you don’t ready the weapon first, your character will shove zombies away, creating some breathing room. But, when you hit them you get this same effect while also damaging them. So, why add the needless extra animation and button press? Compounding these issues is the fact that zombies take forever to kill. I never bothered to count the number of whacks it took, but each fight felt like it should have ended more than a few hits prior. When you do kill a zombie it doesn’t sound like you are breaking through skin and bone and instead it just sounds like you are stepping on a ball of wet paper towels. That would have worked for a more cartoony game, but here it only creates a dissonance between the world the game is trying to portray and the game world as it is. Things don’t get any better when guns are introduced either.
For starters ammo has an odd tenancy not to stack in your inventory. It’s the only in game item I recall being able to, but again it just didn’t. At one time I had three separate spaces used on handgun ammo; one full stack of 20 rounds, one with 3 and the last with only 2. After one big firefight I should have only had one space with around 14 rounds in it, but when I check, I was still wasting two more spaces than necessary. And if you’re wondering why I didn’t just go and manually put them together, I couldn’t. Your only options in the inventory are “equip”, “assigned to d-pad” or “drop”.
And for something so loud it draws the attention to every zombie near by, the gunshot sound weak as hell too. Every time I shot at a zombie the audio sounded like someone was shooting from somewhere down the block (and I say that as someone who has heard gunshots going off down the block in real life). Honestly, the “Lowercase R” from Enter the Gungeon had a more believable effect, and that was just some guy saying “Bullet” repeatedly.
And speaking of “some guy just saying shit”, the one thing that was almost tolerable was the voice acting. We’re not talking about award winning or anything, but the voice work could have been the highlight of the game save for one really bad decision: most of the dialogue is done through radio chat, and radio chat is put through the PS4’s controller speaker. I’ve mentioned this before, but the controller speakers are pretty crap, so making them a major part of the audio design is never a good idea. If any developers are reading this, please stop this shit. It’s not impressive, It’s not immersive or engaging, It’s just stupid.
In the time it took me to write this review, I’ve thought of one more interesting thing about the game I did like. You ready to get your mind blown? The map is made to look like It was drawn with crayons, which does give it a kind of scrappiness that fits well with the survive aspects of the game.
In the end Zombie was boring, ugly and audibly underwhelming. It wasn’t worth the time I spent playing it and it’s not worth your time even if you got it for free like I did. I hated playing this so much that the idea of spending another 15-45 minutes with it to get gameplay footage for this review is looking like more work than it’s worth.