I’m excited to say this will be my first software review for a newly released console. The Wii U’s launch consisted of many titles, some 1st party titles such as Super Mario Bros. U, Nintendo Land and many third party titles such as Mass Effect 3 and Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition to name but a few.

However, the flagship launch title that would represent the console in its first few days of sale was one that stylistically in every way detracts from Nintendo’s “family friendly” image – that game is ZombiU.

So, what makes ZombiU such a very strange game to launch your new Nintendo system with? Very simple. Take a first person shooter. Set the game in an extremely dark, hardly visible London. Surround the player with zombies that take several hits to kill. Give them a paltry amount of ammunition.

I know that sounds clichéd on paper, however let’s put it this way. Remember Dark Souls (or its predecessor Demon Souls)? Well, when you die in ZombiU the survivor you play dies for good. He/she loses all his stuff! But never fear, as you'll instantly resurrect as a new survivor with a new backstory every time. You'll then have the chance to find your old survivor, who is now a zombie, and kill them to reclaim all your lost loot. That is, if you can get past the horde of zombies attacking your safe house with little to no ammunition!

PhotobucketZombiU is set after the aftermath of a deadly virus outbreak that causes the majority of the world's population to become zombies. Out of the chaos, you, a survivor, are trying to survive through London whilst a “prepper” contacts you via the Wii U’s GamePad (using the speakers on the game pad itself).

The prepper basically wants you to survive and to use the safe house you are given in London's Underground as a safe haven to stock up on items and weaponry. His motive at the start is unknown, however as the game progresses you will become aware of different characters that are trying to escape or even cure the outbreak that has happened in London.

The game is a first person shooter. I will say off the bat (no pun intended), that it's one of the best survivor horror first person shooters I have ever played – it completely puts to shame 2011’s Dead Island.

I loved the fact that shooting doesn’t feel “right”, as the survivors you play are just regular civilians; they don’t have fantastic training in weaponry so they aren’t expected to fight zombies hordes with absolute Rambo-styled skill or soldier finesse. Instead, the weapons you will mostly use are a cricket bat, pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, Molotov cocktails, mines and even flares.

Now I know that sounds like you’re kitted out to take anything on, however ZombiU does something fantastic – it limits your ammunition tremendously. Scrounging for ammunition later becomes an art form as you take multiple trips to parts of London taking risks to check every dustbin, drawer and even dead zombie corpses for ammo/health items (definitely make sure those corpses are “dead” first though!).

For those wanting to be thrifty with ammo and health items, you will be disappointed to find that a one-on-one zombie encounter is dangerous. Many times the zombie will take multiple hits with a cricket bat (4 before giving them a finishing blow to the head). Guns are the same until upgraded later via your Safe House. Yet again another element of “Risk over Reward” is introduced when you take multiple outings to possibly defeat more “powerful” zombies that drop weapon parts that you can use to upgrade your weaponry.

However, when there are two zombies, it’s time to panic. I was blessed with a bounty of Molotov cocktails and I’ll tell you right now that they are going to be a god send for you if you want to save ammunition and run through this game with a cricket bat for most of the journey. Regardless, when there is more than one zombie, its time to run – if even one zombie grabs you, its game over, regardless of your health bar’s status.

To find ammunition or health items easier, the game introduces motion control features via the new Wii U GamePad screen. Basically you can scan the environment at any time and use the GamePad to move around the environment with motion control and to see, in a CCTV type style, any points of interest in your surrounding vicinity – Although this function was fascinating to work with, I will admit that overriding the motion control and using the game pad’s right analog sticks for camera control was more efficient and satisfying at times.

PhotobucketContinuing the trend of integrating the Wii U’s GamePad into the gameplay itself, the game features a very intense item management system. Now, I use the word “intense” for the very reason that when you use the touch screen to drag open your backpack, your survivor will plonk him or herself down to grope around their backpack frantically whilst potential zombies sniff out their next meal ...which happns to be you.

Your backpack can only hold so many items, but it can be upgraded later. However in the grand scheme of how many encounters there are, you can’t really hold all that much, further adding tension to the overall experience. As well as your backpack, your Safe House has a large metal container for you to dump stuff into – this will be your main chest to keep all your goodies in when you do scavenger runs through the streets of London.

Item management with the touch screen controls is fluid and nice for the most part, however at times, whilst dragging the item you want, it can snap away and return to its original position or accidentaly double tap the item to show you item info.

An essential feature on the game pad itself is the map and radar. Almost 90% of ZombiU takes place in complete dark; I would be safe to say this is one of the most darkest games I’ve ever played since the early Silent Hil games. Although you have a small flashlight, you will need your radar to “ping” life signs on your GamePad. Sometimes the life signs are false readings of nearby rats or crows …however when they’re not, be prepared for what is around the corner!

As mentioned earlier, once you die you resurrect as a “new” survivor. You are randomly given a male or female survivor and told their occupation and age. I really loved how this gave diversity to the gameplay. I was also surprised at how distraught I became when my first survivor died. As you progress killing zombies, you will rack up a score of points and your skill proficiency with weapons will increase in an RPG-like fashion. However, when you die, you don’t just lose your loot but you also lose your high score and all your skills.

My longest runs were as a male Police detective, slain outside a market stall by 3 zombies who ambushed me. My 5th was a female plumber, drastically eviscerated in a sadistic circus gauntlet chamber full of zombies. I was pretty disappointed that I completed the game with my 7th survivor – a slob of a fat guy who’s job status was “Unemployed” …typical he survives! Maybe he later goes on to become the “Boomer” in the Left 4 Dead series? One can only dream…

The zombies themselves are difficult to deal with; many can and will over power you, specifically when they spawn regularly on multiple trips in random positions throughout the map. To add to the mix over regular brainless walking dead, there are certain “types” of zombies you will bump into to make your time in the game a living pain. For example, SWAT zombies.

PhotobucketImagine a zombie that takes at least 3 hits to shoot or hit their helmet off and they have bulletproof armor on. Add to this fun the fact that the SWAT zombie was probably quite a robust dude in life and takes AT LEAST 7 or 8 cricket bats to the head to kill – when he's accompanied with other zombies, its time to give up and run. Oh and fire doesn’t affect him either – Bastard!

Sound too easy? Ok try this one:

Imagine a electrical zombie that can phase shift itself around the map, jams your radar, runs fast, is invisible and looks absolutely terrifying as it runs up to you …now fight two of them at the same time. God, I hope you bring your shotgun for that one!

For the most part, the variation of zombie encounters is very challenging. Most of the time you'll be walking around taking your time and stopping dead in your tracks when your radar picks up life signs of possible infected. In that sense the game becomes very strategic and the sure path to success is one of patience, clever use of item management and keeping an eye on your radar at all times.

Graphically the game displays some very nice water effects and a great ambience overall. It isn’t the most graphically exciting game out there; texture models aren’t as dynamic as a PC running Far Cry 3 for example. However the animations of zombies in this game are fantastically well done - my favorite was a clear Easter egg and nod to 28 Days later, when I found two zombies sitting over a body in complete darkness. As they realized I was there, they both turned their heads in a random direction in the air as if they sensed me, then they jumped to their feet to charge me with lightning speed and ferocity!

There is the odd glitch now and then – zombies will not hesitate to run continuously forever into the side of a lamppost if you evade them quite swiftly (although it rarely happens). Hitting zombies near staircases causes them to moon jump violently into the air and land with cat-like grace. However the most annoying bug was when I tried to complete a mission that required me to kill a sequence of zombies, and when I did, the game continued to run without triggering the next sequence forcing me to either restart or kill myself (I took the latter option and collected my loot later).

The audio is also fantastically well crafted – although the music is very much along the lines of a “Generic The Walking Dead Piano Theme 3” type of affair. Some of the soundtrack in certain scenes such as Buckingham Palace’s Underground facilities or the general ambient noise of gunshots and screams really set the tone of fear and desperation.

Aside from the main game is a Multiplayer that features one player as the survivor utilizing the Wii U pro controller and the other player using the GamePad as a “Zombie Spawner”. Basically the zombie spawner trolls the hell out of the survivor by spawning zombies all over the place and the survivor must hold out as long as they can before they die. Fantastic idea, however I lament a proper two survivors vs. hordes of zombie A.I mode.

So, what’s the overall conclusion of a Survival Horror used as a launch title on the Wii U? Well let me tell you:

Remember those days of actual fear we had playing ,em>Resident Evil 2? When we realized that item management and imminent death was always a heartbeat away? When Silent Hill was actually frightening and made every venture into the void a terrible experience? When zombies actually weren’t cannon fodder but a horde of destruction as depicted by George A. Romero? ZombiU brings it all back.

PhotobucketThis game is actually a real survival horror. I was so disappointed with Resident Evil 6 - it’s a testament to everything that's wrong with the modern bastardization of concept in favour of marketing and while I wasn't hugely disappointed by Silent Hill: Downpour, I was always reminiscing about the days of when that series was actually tense to play and not “a little scary” but VERY scary.

ZombiU did something simple; It gave a feeble survivor with one life (literally if you play the “Survivor Mode”, when you die it's Game Over forever), limited ammunition, a horde of robust zombies, complete darkness, uneven odds and a difficulty that could make one of the bosses from Dark Souls give a nod of respect.

It's a fantastic game in every respect and I actually felt scared playing it. The intensity of the gameplay is something pretty much unparalleled in any game I have played to date, horror or other wise.

The only thing stopping this game from a perfect review would be the fact that when it’s complete, there really isn’t all that much replayability value. Also with the way I played the game (with a cricket bat and a lot of patience) I managed to complete the game in 12 hours – a respectful time for a FPS, though I know some will it an issue.

Suffice it to say, ZombiU is one of the most surprisingly well-crafted and fantastic releases of the year. It restored the faith I had lost in survival horror games and has given me hope for a potential sequel and possibly a new franchise – as long as they never lose that true survival horror edge.

Summarized in a few words - Resident Evil 2 in first Person, a Dark Souls-like difficulty and ,em>Silent Hill's darkness. It's intense, challenging and the fear it elicits will make your palms sweat. What else can you ask for in a survival horror game?