Zombi – Review
PC, PS4, Xbox One
ZombiU was first released as a 3rd party launch title for the underwhelming WiiU but failed to generate enough sales for Ubisoft for the game to be considered successful enough for a sequel. ZombiU has since come back from the dead as ‘Zombi’ for Xbox One, PS4 and PC. This is not a remaster or a definitive edition, but a port with minor gameplay tweaks that ditches the multiplayer mode which required the WiiU Pad to play.
Zombi starts with a lone figure chased by zombies in the streets of London. He is compelled by a voice to escape to shelter by ‘The Prepper’. From this vantage of safety the gameworld hub emerges as you must explore game areas and meet other lone eccentric survivors. Each mission in the game pretty much comprises of fetch quests to the various level maps with a small amount of context as to why. All quest givers are emotionally broken people in some way, whether spouting David Icke theories (the Queen is a Lizard!) or survivalist mantra. Either way the player must do only what they are told to progress.
Zombi impresses early with a fight for survival game mechanic where the player feels dramatically underpowered and is constantly surprised by marauding zombies. Early weapons are simple; flares to attract zombies and a cricket bat to smash their heads in. The first zombie encounters pummel the player as it takes multiple hits to dispatch the undead. Quickly a pattern emerges for the rhythm of hitting the zombie, waiting for them to come back and then hit them again. Almost all zombies have the same attack pattern, but the amount of blows needed varies. Zombie types come later in the form of armoured zombies, exploding zombies (don’t melee!) and spitting zombies. I quickly got the hang of this game, only dying when encountering a cheap death from a new gameplay element (mines!). The best feature of this game is that upon death, a new player character is provided and you must hunt down your old body, now zombified, to collect your lost gear. This idea impresses at first, but there is no effort on the game-maker’s part to help you identify with these new avatars or differentiate them from being merely the same gameplay in a different skin. Even ‘The Prepper’ continues to make comments as if you were still playing as the first avatar.
Gameplay in a zombie game is usually fighting hordes of enemies with ridiculous weapons and maximum carnage. Zombi is a nice change of pace as the player is kept vulnerable with only a small amount of weapons and ammunition. This is where most players will make their stand with this game. Zombi will either feel like a tense, fight for survival against a threatening enemy or a dull slog against enemies that mostly attack and are defeated in the same way.
Zombi looks quite plain, but that’s OK. Most areas are reasonably atmospheric, but there is little variation overall. Muted colours and dark levels work well when inching forward with your torch to highlight your way, but there are few ‘wow’ moments. I couldn’t help but compare this game to the far superior ‘Alan Wake’, which shows the value of variety and clever set-pieces to create tension and atmospherics as well as a variety of gameplay for the player. Zombi started well but just became a routine slog through the same types of levels with the same types of enemy attacking in the same way (see above!). Guns and grenades get unlocked as you progress and make the game easier, but ammo is low so the bat must do.
Gameplay variation comes in the form of using a scanner to unlock secret rooms to gain weapon upgrades. The scanner can help you search the field of view and highlight zombies and munitions but takes away some of the tension and surprise of each level as a result. Letters and newspapers can also be found in each level, but say exactly what you would expect. No loss or achievements there. A word of warning must go out for the C4 unlockable areas (blocked rubbish must be blown apart with C4 to continue) as there are more blocked areas than C4. I ran out before completing a story mission, meaning progress was forever blocked and I had to start again. This was a problem in the WiiU version too.
Overall Zombi remains an interesting riff in a well-worn genre that doesn’t do enough to overtly recommend it. I like some of the ideas on offer and the combat has tense moments, but banality and routine quickly set in. It is a shame to read that multiplayer was dropped in this port as it looked more fun than the campaign. Maybe this one is better as a purchase on the hardware it was designed for.
Peter began gaming with a Commodore 64 then moved to PC when VGA was all the rage. He still likes inverted controls when playing consoles to the frustration of everyone else. Peter has previously written and podcasted about games for Blackpanel.com.au.