Zombi is the port of ZombiU, a launch title for the Wii U, and as its name suggests it’s about killing zombies and surviving through an undead apocalypse. This is hardly new ground for the industry, the last few years have seen a deluge of survival horror zombie games, although Zombi does have the distinction of actually being finished, unlike many of its counterparts. That said it is a port of a game from two years ago, and the latest generation of console have been out for most of that time, so seeing a remaster is a little odd, but nonetheless, is it worth picking up?
As ports go, Zombi is particularly barebones, its options menu is sparse and any whilst keyboard controls are entirely possible, a controller will make your experience far more streamlined simply because all the button prompts are either dualshock4 or Xbox gamepad buttons. In terms of graphical fidelity it leaves much to be desired, the texture quality is poor across the board and there’s no particular art style or aesthetic design that redeems the bland visuals. Fortunately the game runs very well, on my relatively high-end system I was keeping above 100fps consistently and frame drops were infrequent to non-existent. Despite being an almost oppressively dark and grey game in terms of colour pallet, there are a couple of moments where the lighting is legitimated impressive and although it’s hardly exciting to look at, the world does match the tone of the game.
Where Zombi diverges from its counterparts is in its narrative, there is an explained cause of the outbreak, and rather than science gone wrong it’s based in black magic and prophecy. Whilst this twist is interesting the game fails to capitalise on the potentially innovative premise. Centuries ago a man called John Dee foretold of a blight that would purge the world. Most people ignored the warnings however some paid heed, notably The Ravens of Dee, an organisation who prepared for the event and attempted to find a way to help people survive. On the flip side there is The Prepper, your constant companion via earpiece, living up to his name he was similarly prepared, however he takes a survival of the fittest style approach to the apocalypse. There are glimmers of brilliance in the writing here and there and from time to time the characters do appear to have very interesting traits, unfortunately they get too caught up in cliché apocalypse stereotypes and become bland voices reminiscent of every bad zombie film you’ve seen.
One of the biggest problems when it comes to survival horror is the difficulty curve, with games like DayZ or State of Decay once you have acquired enough gear and become familiar with the controls, fighting zombies becomes a breeze and all the horror is sucked out of the game. Zombi manages to avoid this using the same idea that Resident Evil used in its earlier iterations, the controls are clunky and slow. You have to hold down sprint key which means you can’t easily do other things whilst sprinting, you have a contextual button to do things like ducking into vents or under fence gaps which severely slows down your movement, you have to hold “aim” before you can swing your melee weapon. This all coalesces into a game that can be frustrating at times, but what it achieves is making you feel incredibly human. You absolutely cannot fight off a horde, if you have to fight more than two zombies at once you are not coming out of the fight without a significant portion of your health gone. Another way Zombi gets around common survival horror pitfalls is by making ammo relatively scarce, it’s not quite as rare as some other games but there is never a time when you feel you can expand ammo without consequence and if you panic and deplete your ammo, the game becomes extremely tough. Combined with much of the level design being in tight corridors or catacombs, this makes for genuinely terrifying (and unscripted) moments where you feel horribly threatened and highly vulnerable, which is a nice change from most survival horror, where the tendency is to make the player feel far too powerful or utterly powerless.
Zombi’s use of the supernatural as a theme does perhaps indicate that there would be many different and varied types of zombie that you encounter, perhaps similar to Left for Dead’s huge roster of enemy types. This is not the case however, there are five main zombie variants; regular zombies, spitter zombies, armoured zombies, fast zombies and screamer zombies. Each fills a fairly traditional role, the spitter has a long-range attack, the armoured zombie has a riot helmet on, the fast zombies can run, and the screamer attracts other zombies to your location. All of them can be killed the same way as a normal zombie so there is very little variety in your combat style and you rarely encounter more than one special zombie at once so whilst they do elevate the threat of the encounter they’re not a spike in difficulty that you have to learn to beat. There is one “boss fight” around two-thirds of the way through the game which was absolutely standout, where you’re plunged into pick darkness and have to fight a zombie that can teleport, it’s the best encounter in the game, unfortunately it’s one of a kind and nothing else quite lives up to it.
Whilst you encounter a small cast of human characters throughout your explorations around London, you will never fight another human, any hostile people either flee or are killed off-screen by zombies. This often feels contrived and a cop-out so that the developers didn’t have to program an intelligent enemy, but at the same time it’s a necessary evil. The mechanics of Zombi are simply too clunky to make an intelligent enemy anything less than absolutely infuriating.The way this game handles death is fairly innovative, if you die, you awaken as another survivor, and must return to where you died and kill your now undead self in order to reclaim your gear, it’s an interesting system but has no real depth, there are skills which a survivor can build up but they’re limited to ranged weapon bonuses and it’s not that noticeable when you lose them thus there’s no real penalty beyond lost time.
One of the defining characteristics of Zombi is its setting, London. Unfortunately, with the exception of the classic London landmarks it doesn’t feel any different from most city environments, although the fact that the links between areas are underground stations was a nice idea. It certainly doesn’t help that many of these areas are clones, the rooms which link the hub and the surrounding areas are virtually identical, there’s just not enough personality in the environment. However the worst part of this game comes from its instability the game has a big problem with bugs. Personally I encountered a cut-scene freezing the game (which required a reboot), the game crashing on a specific loading screen (which only got fixed by externally verifying the game files), and lastly a mission which could not be finished. From the look of the forums I am hardly an exception. It’s infuriating, especially in survival horror, to see your work undone at no fault of your own. You’ll also see the physics system taking some weird turns, often zombies will fly into the air with your killing strike, which is oddly satisfying, but does dampen the immersion.
The Wii U version of this game used the game pad to deal with mini-games like scanning and unlocking doors, the intention being that whilst your focused on the pad a zombie can come up behind without being noticed. The transition to traditional platforms isn’t the smoothest, large screens come up for these mini-games and whilst the essence of the system remains the same, the interesting twist is gone. Similarly transitioned is inventory management which is where Zombi falls flat on its face, some of the items like mines and flares do not stack with one another, meaning much of your very limited carry capacity is filled with junk that you rarely use. Navigating it isn’t unintuitive, but it’s tedious and dull, with many actions taking one too many button presses, and there’s no mouse control.
Zombi is far from a bad game, it has many concepts that are just different enough to give it some great potential and its core design is solid, however it’s marred by the myriad of bland or lazy elements. Were the game a full $60/£40 release it would be hard to recommend, but at a relatively low ($20/£15) asking price it’s a worthwhile purchase for anyone looking for something subtly different from most of the survival horror games around at the moment.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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