Game review: Ubisoft’s Zombi lacks life

The idea has lots of potential but unfortunately the delivery lacks follow-through

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 September, 2015, 4:48pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 September, 2015, 4:48pm

Zombi  – what a great title. It’s simple and effective, harking back to the grindhouse movies of  George A. Romero and Lucio Fulci, and the entire low-budget  horror genre they spawned. It’s the kind of title  casual gamers would  do a double-take at in a store and take a chance at a blind buy.

As opposed to, say, ZombiU,  this game’s original title on the Wii U. That sounds like some ridiculous  television show in which reanimated college kids get into all sorts of brain-eating antics while pulling all-nighters for that big Undead Biology 101 exam.

So, a better title, but still not such a great game, unfortunately. This port  to the PS4, Xbox One and PC – of a game that wasn’t exactly impressive when it was first released and is now three years old – is disappointing, to say the least. It can be fun and fear-filled at times, as many zombie games are, but the opportunity to rebuild the initial game – to reanimate it, if you will – has been missed.

There was a clever gimmick hyped about ZombiU when it first appeared on Nintendo’s console, and that’s still true of this new U-less incarnation, making the game stand out from the many undead horror releases that now populate consoles. There’s no real narrative to speak of and your only key goal is to survive. And when your character dies – and trust us, they will, many times – they become part of the zombie horde, with you respawning as an entirely new survivor.

Great idea, right? Just like a real-life zombie apocalypse, where there’s no goal or cure. Only a random survivor, a couple of melee weapons, the endless throngs of the living dead and the very real threat of becoming one of them. Except, a great idea in a video game doesn’t really mean anything without the mechanics to follow through.

That’s immediately apparent when you start things up, your survivor thrown head first into a hospital full of zombies. Scary, sure, but you can’t help but notice just how blocky everything looks. Graphics here are admittedly weak compared to our current-gen expectations, with seemingly little or no update from the original Wii version. But it hardly matters  as you creep and crawl your way through London’s darkened hallways and streets; the atmosphere is dripping with terrifying suspense despite the visual drawbacks.

No, the real problem is in the gameplay, the delicious brains behind any great zombie game.  Survival is just another word for combat and, in that regard, Zombi doesn’t satisfy. From the get-go, your weapon of choice is a  cricket bat, much more manageable than any type of gun, and it takes a few good wallops to kill a member of the undead.

Bashing ghoul brains is fun at first, but after a while, when the zombies start crowding around you  two or three at a time, and they take, say, five hits each, the game slowly starts to  head into classically boring button-masher territory.

Worse still are the looting mechanics, another brilliant concept that unfortunately isn’t fully developed. Killing a monster or opening a hidden room allows you to loot it for all it’s worth, meaning your guard is down while you scavenge  for ammo, medikits and other items. Except, most of it is junk and you can only plunder incredibly specific areas, once again destroying any semblance of reality behind this zombie apocalypse.

This  all sounds like Zombi is terrible – it isn’t, really. It’s just disappointing. Some fanatical undead minds obviously came together for a  brainstorming session when the game was first developed, coming up with dozens of clever ideas for a true zombie simulator. Translating them into a bona fide video game, however, seems to have  eluded the developers and we’re left with this half-formed release, one that cries out desperately for an impressive sequel.

And a bit of relevant trivia to finish things off: Ubisoft, Zombi’s  game developer, first came onto the scene in 1986 with an arcade game called – you guessed it – Zombi. Its mall setting was heavily based on the classic Romero movie Dawn of the Dead,  and this London-based update is obviously a riff on the equally influential 28 Days Later.  Except, that British horror film is now 13  years old, and the zombie genre has moved leaps and bounds in the years since. Nobody seems to have told the higher-ups at Ubisoft, though, and even with their second chance at a reprise, they’ve mostly missed on Zombi