Platform Xbox One (played on), PlayStation 4, PC
Developer Ubisoft Monpellier (port by Straight Right) Publisher Ubisoft
Genre First Person Survival Horror
I’ve never been to London before, but I definitely don’t want to be there during the apocalypse. Zombi is a port of the 2012 Wii U launch title ZombiU. It maintains the bleak, dark and mostly deserted feeling of London, with the atmosphere creating a truly terrifying survival-horror experience. However, despite a few welcome additions, the repetitive gameplay still takes a toll on the experience.
Zombi is a true survival horror experience. The game has been designed to make you feel lonely all of the time. Exploring the streets and buildings of London is quiet, with a non-diegetic soundtrack mostly non-existent. All you hear are your footsteps, various ambient noises like wind hitting steel fences or floorboards creaking, and the moan of zombies – known as blighters in Zombi. It’s terrifying.
Lighting plays a key role in setting the mood of Zombi. Large parts of the world, especially inside buildings, are pitch black unless you use your flashlight. It creates a feeling of claustrophobia as you explore dimly lit corridors, only illuminated by the small beam of your flashlightlight. Zombi adds a second setting to ZombiU’s flashlight, allowing the player to switch between a brighter, wider beam and a lower, narrower beam. The latter was the only one available in ZombiU, but now I can’t imagine playing without the wider beam. With only the narrower beam on, it was often difficult to navigate buildings, but it does make you less noticeable to zombies. The wider beam makes the batteries in the torch run out faster, but it makes navigation somewhat easier.
Zombi opts for a minimalist heads up display, adding to the sense of loneliness. The only thing you’ll see on your screen is a small minimap and your ammo count if you are holding a gun. It works well at keeping the player immersed in the experience. The minimap has a motion sensor that you activate by pressing Y (or triangle), and it gives off an Aliens motion tracker vibe with beeps representing nearby zombies. Other gameplay systems that involved the Wii U’s second screen had to be translated to a single screen, but the tension still remains. Accessing your backpack and searching for loot does not pause the game, it pulls the camera out to a close third person perspective with limited peripheral vision. It makes every decision important; spend too much time looking at your backpack or rummaging through corpses and you risk a zombie sneaking up behind you and biting you.
And you don’t want to be bit by a zombie because one bite can mean death. Adding to the survival-horror experience is, of course, the zombies themselves. Even a lone zombie poses a threat to the player. While most of them only travel at a slow walk, more than one can offer a problem with their relentless determination to eat you. Let one sneak up on you and it could mean losing all of the loot you earned, unless you can track down your previous survivor who has turned into a zombie, and kill them. It’s a smart and unique death mechanic that makes life matter the longer you survive with a character.
Zombi wants you to feel scared and vulnerable, but at times it’s not very fun. Ammo is extremely scarce, so most of the time you’ll be using the trusty cricket bat melee weapon. The average zombie takes about five or six whacks to kill, and swinging the bat feels slow. Not slow in the fact that it’s unfair, just slow in the fact that you have to hold left trigger to raise the bat, then press the right trigger to swing the bat, then repeat five or six times. It definitely kept me on edge as I hoped more zombies wouldn’t show up, but it gets repetitive over a long play session; especially when a tactic will often be to take on the zombies one at a time to save resources. Zombi has two new melee weapons to add some variety to melee combat, but it does not do much in the way of making combat feel less repetitive, especially when you can die and lose them until you hopefully stumble upon another one.
Certain design elements that add to the sense of vulnerability also detract from the experience. Other than the aforementioned melee attack speed, quickly selecting items to equip can be a hassle. You can scroll through your items by pressing up and down on the d-pad, but when you have collected a lot of items it can be frustrating flicking through to find what you want when zombies are lurking towards you. Even placing items on the left and right d-pad as quick slots can be finicky when switching between them requires a quick double click. I also sometimes felt like I was battling with the controls. Turning the camera sometimes felt sluggish, even with a higher sensitivity, and the contextual interaction options, like pressing A to climb a ladder, sometimes only worked when standing in a certain spot.
Furthermore, if you are looking for a gripping post-apocalyptic narrative, you won’t get it from Zombi. There’s talk of prophecy and various groups, but I never felt connected to the plot other than seeming acting as everyone’s errand person. Partly, I think it’s to maintain the sense of isolation. You hardly come into physical contact with anyone in the campaign. Anyone you do meet is separated from you. For example, the character who acts as your guidance is just a voice, a doctor you meet talks to you from behind a containment chamber, and a resistance member yells at you from afar while snipping zombies. It’s a double edged sword, adding to the atmosphere, but hindering the narrative and my connection to it.
There is also no autosave or quick save feature in Zombi. The game can only be saved by sleeping on a bed, of which I only found two – the main one is in your safe house which you will often return to through fast travel spots around the map. Sometimes I felt hesitant to start a quick session of Zombi because, considering the slow pacing, I didn’t know how long it would be before I found another fast travel point.
Let’s be honest though, your main reason for wanting to play Zombi should be for the superbly terrifying atmosphere. Moments of sanctuary come few and far between. A surround sound system or headphones will add to the experience ten-fold as you hear zombies approaching from behind.
Zombi is a fine port of the 2012 Wii U launch title of nearly the same time (just add a “U” to the end). The tense survival-horror atmosphere remains, with a constant sense of vulnerability and caution, even when no zombies are present. Lighting and sound play a key role in creating claustrophobic, lonely environments that make Zombi such a unique experience. However, the flaws from the 2012 version remain. This is not an action game so pacing can be very slow. Combat also gets repetitive quickly, with zombies taking five to six hits to take down. Critically, Zombi’s gameplay lets it down, but if you are willing to overlook the repetitiveness, then there’s a truly unique survival horror experience to be had.
- Lighting, level design and sound create a tense open world, survival horror experience
- Unique death/respawn loot system
- Repetitive gameplay
- No quick save
- I felt like I was fighting with the controls at times