Nintendo Wii U Hit Zombi Moves to the PS4

Zombi. Ubisoft

I was lucky enough to attend an early launch party for the Nintendo Wii U, at which this sure-to-be breakthrough console was shown off to journalists, including its revolutionary touch pad controller system and an array of new games. We were excited. It’s often difficult not to be at events like these. Companies that have been doing this kind of thing as long as Nintendo know how to promote. It’s debatable whether or not the Wii U has lived up to the hype of that day, but I’ll never forget playing a little title called “ZombiU.” They put us in a back room, it was dark, and the game really worked. I loved the idea that your character would really die, turning into a zombie for the next brave soul to find. I loved the backup mechanic, in which you had to look at your touch screen to see your inventory while the dangerous world still went on around you—no “Pause, Find, Un-pause.” And I considered picking up a Wii U just to play it, although that day never came. When I heard Ubisoft was finally porting “Zombi” to the PS4, my terrified heart skipped a beat.

Time for some brain-smashing action. And then my heart sank a few minutes into “Zombi.” Perhaps it was the hype, but “Zombi” just doesn’t work the same at home on the PS4.

Most of the elements that make “Zombi” unique are still there. Like “The Walking Dead,” this is a post-apocalyptic vision of the end of the world. In other words, almost everyone you encounter will try to eat your brain. You have a “handler,” someone who communicates with you via the speaker in your Dualshock Controller. He’ll tell you what to do, how to play, where to go, etc. Much of the game is designed around fetch quests. Go find this, and take it here. And the game is built to keep supplies at a minimum, especially considering the fact that you lose almost everything every time you die. But you can get it back. For example, Steve goes out and gets bitten by a zombie in a Buckingham Palace uniform. Chloe wakes up in the safe house, goes and finds zombie Steve, brains him, and gets the stuff he had amassed. However, you only get one chance. If you don’t make it back to zombie Steve, the stuff is gone forever.

As I said, equipment is a rarity in “Zombi.” In fact, you’ll use a wooden board to smash the undead in the skull more than you’ll use a weapon. Not only do guns draw attention, they’re inconsistent and you don’t have much ammo. I actually gave up on using them most of the time, turning “Zombi” into a melee game, in which I bounced around zombies, smacking them in the head with a big plank. This is not the most satisfying gameplay in the world. On the contrary, it’s inconsistent and downright annoying. Contact isn’t made at the same level of force every time, zombies seem like they have elastic arms given how far away they are when they connect, and their speed varies wildly. It’s the sign of a game that has been ported poorly in that what happens in that case is inconsistent gameplay. I’m not sure if it was so on the Wii U, but it definitely is on the PS4.

It also doesn’t help that the game looks horrendous. A word of caution to people considering porting from older systems or less visually impressive ones to the next generation—put some serious effort into the visual polish. “Zombi” looks atrocious, especially with two of the more visually startling games hitting stores tomorrow—“Madden NFL 15” and “Until Dawn” (both of which I’ll review this week). “Zombi” doesn’t look half as good as most iOS games. It’s hideous.

So, in the end, that hype machine that had me pumped up and ready to go out and buy an entire system just to play one zombie game must have worked. For in my mind I had built up “Zombi” to be a must-own experience. Maybe it was on the Wii U. It’s not on the PS4.