Last week, Jean-Philippe Caro, a creative director with Ubisoft Montpellier, responded to a question with a tweet that is leading us to speculate that a sequel to the 2012 Wii U first-person shoot, ZombiU, is in the works. This is Ubisofts chance to right a lot of wrongs and I’ve decided I’d help them along with a list of suggestions I think would vastly improve the experience a second time around.
ZombiU was easily my biggest disappointment in 2012 – I really wanted to love that game. This was the game that was supposed to show everyone that Nintendo was truly diving head first into the hardcore gaming market; a gritty first person shooter that takes place in a seemingly post-apocalyptic London, overrun with undead.Unfortunately, it turned out to be a bland, boring, repetitive, unimaginative and seemingly unfinished mess of title, with a mediocre story that was made worse by a ridiculous mechanic (albeit an interesting idea) that served more to confuse and frustrate the gamer than it did contribute to the experience.
To quote my original review of the game:
ZombiU is unfinished, and in many ways, completely broken. I believe ZombiU was released in spite of these facts, because the game was sure to sell. Hardcore gamers were promised exclusive, mature content that catered to their needs, and loads of early system adopters were eager to see if Nintendo would live up to their word. It’s understandable why reviews of this game were embargoed until the day the Wii U was released, and I feel cheated. There are many things ZombiU could have and should have been, but the only thing it ended up being was bad.
As I clearly stated above, I feel that the main reason the game turned out so poorly was that it seemed like it was rushed – Nintendo likely needed a game that would move systems on day one and perhaps encouraged Ubisoft to push it out the door without the extra layers of polish it so desperately needed. Now, with the possibility of a new ZombiU title in the works, a longer development period and the time needed to really get to know the Wii U hardware and use it to its full potential, Ubisoft has a chance to right the wrongs of the first iteration.
Here is what I think should be done in ZombiU2 – and tell me that title alone doesn’t automatically make that a better game already – taking out Zombie Bono with a crossbow bolt to the brain? GENIUS! But I digress…
Make the permanent death mechanic work, or get rid of it completely
The concept of the permanent death mechanic is what initially drew me in to the game. It’s such a cool concept: if you die, you wake up as a new character and have to find your now zombified previous character, kill it and retrieve your goodies from the back pack. The problem is, the mechanic only served to pull the player out of the experience and leave no room for a coherent story. While you struggle to stay alive, you feel no attachment to the character your playing as and there is little to no emotional investment. While that’s not a make or break for me, what really threw me off was the ridiculousness of how the mechanic was executed.
Let’s say you make it to the very last enemy of the game and then die – you wake up as a new character back in the safe house, with no idea of how you got there or what has happened in the story up to this point. However, the games narrator who also walks you through the game, talks to you as though you’re aware of everything that’s happened to that point. He would yell things like “How could you do this after all we’ve been through?” or “I told you not to do that” and other things that were simply not relevant at all to your current character. It’s just annoying and I found it impossible to dismiss it as “it is what it is”.
Either lose the story and just make it a game about getting a high-score by surviving as long as you can (which would allow this mechanic to work) or write a great story and just make checkpoints for the main character like in every other game. If you’re going to make a permanent death/new character mechanic work, at least do it in a way that makes sense.
More diverse weapons and interesting ways to dispatch the undead
Man did the cricket bat get old fast. And it’s not that the weapon itself wasn’t interesting, it was how you used it that was so boring. Every enemy took the exact some amount of hits. There were no head-shattering, brain exploding, massive one hit splatter kills. You’d club the zombie, then club it 3 or 4 more times until it fell, and then finish it off by clubbing it again. YAWN. Let me take a swing at its leg, knocking it off from below the knee, then, let me take one massive swing at its head and send it flying and splattering into a wall. Let me one kill enemies with an axe or sword decapitation. Forcing a line up of enemies to walk around a corner or through a door one at a time, just to club them all five or six times before they each die the exact same way was excruciatingly boring. Let’s liven it up a bit.
Make the game difficult for reasons other than poor game play mechanics
I relish a good challenge. ZombiU was rumored to be “Dark Souls” difficult and in a day and age of games holding your hand every step of the way, this was something I was looking forward to. The problem is, the game was difficult for all the wrong reasons. Hit detection was good awful and from time to time, you’d glitch through an enemy and you’d end up in a corner with the zombie blocking you in. You’d be dead before you could figure out what happened. I love a good challenge, but let’s make it a fun challenge. Overwhelm me with the undead. Make save points or check point few and far between. Make it as difficult to survive as a real zombie apocalypse would be – just don’t make it difficult because the game isn’t finished and doesn’t do things the way it’s supposed to.
If it’s not gonna look “next gen” take the time to make it look “current gen”
Let’s face it: the Wii U is the “next gen” Nintendo console but when stacked up versus the next iteration of Playstation and likely safe the assume, the new Xbox, games on it look about as good as 360/PS3 offerings. Which isn’t a bad thing – NSMBU is absolutely beautiful and from what I’ve seen of a lot of up coming titles like Pikman 3 and Wonderful 101, the system is capable of producing some stellar looking graphics. That being said, man was ZombiU and UGLY game.
The world is dark and made up mostly dull greys, blacks and browns. The textures in some areas border on horrendous. The environment is boring and completely forgettable. You’re constantly boxed in (even when outdoors) and I often felt as though I was playing a game that was originally intended to be released on the Xbox or the Playstation 2. The junctions linking areas are identical, right down to the placement of holes in the wall and the broken candy machines. One several occasions, I thought I was accidentally back-tracking, as opposed to entering a new area.
The enemy zombies all look the same. Weapons leave no lasting effect on the undead. It was just as boring an unappealing to look at as it was to play. I blame this on being rushed out the gate in time for launch.
Take your time, Ubisoft. We know you’re capable of some amazing graphics. We need an excellent FPS zombie game and we want it to look damn good. I’m not asking for photo-realistic graphics here, but pick an art style and go with it (just make sure the style you pick isn’t a combination of “meh” and “blah”.)
Test the finished product/release a finished product
The glitches in this game were inexcusable. It was unfinished and clearly not play tested to the extent that was necessary. Either that, or they just didn’t care because the game had to launch with the system. There were numerous game breaking glitches, major load time issues (beyond the usual long Wii U load times), and on more than one occasion, the game failed to load at all leaving me stuck and forcing me to restart. At one point, I couldn’t get doors to open, because the game would try to load and it would just fail. Whether this was problems with the system, the game or both, lets make sure these problems are sorted before the sequel is released.
All in all and in a strange way, I’m looking forward to the rumored sequel to ZombiU, because deep down, I feel like there were a lot of brilliant ideas that were very poorly executed in the first game. Now that Ubisoft has had time to get to know the system, flesh out the mechanics and graphics and won’t be rushed to get a game out in time for launch, hopefully they’ll be able to produce the title I was hoping for the first time around. And come on, call it ZombiU2 and let me take out Bono and the Edge… pleaaaaaaase!