By Matt Cabral
November 09, 2012 at 07:43 PM EST


  • Video Games

The most promising title launching alongside Nintendo’s upcoming Wii U console doesn’t star Mario or any of his Mushroom Kingdom pals, but rather a bunch of brain-craving walking corpses. That’s right, following a full afternoon of hands-on time with many of the family-friendly hardware’s day-one offerings, it’s the very Mature-rated ZombiU that’s got me anxious to get back behind that funky new gamepad.

Set in modern-day London, Ubisoft’s fresh take on the rotting flesh genre puts players in the midst of a plague that’s turned most of our friends from across the pond into crazed people-eaters. While undead hordes are as common as exploding barrels and breakable crates in contemporary games, they’re treated as something different in ZombiU: an actual threat. Forgoing the action-movie antics of recent horror titles in favor of a terrifying survival experience, ZombiU is more about staying alive than pumping buckshot into bad guys.

Sure, the title provides ample opportunity to silence foot-dragging foes with everything from cricket bats to hand-cannons, but players can expect to do more running than gunning. The majority of my demo, for example, saw me managing the scarce contents of my backpack rather than engaging in deadly conflicts. While this might sound as mundane as making a sandwich, it’s actually what drives the title’s nerve-fraying focus. The Wii U’s tablet-style controller serves as the survival pack, containing everything from first aid supplies and food, to ammunition and tools. Instead of accessing such resources from a pause menu, they’re managed in real-time via a few finger swipes and taps on the touch-sensitive screen. For players, this means finding a secure spot to grab and organize gear and goods on the small screen, even as the threat of their brain becoming an appetizer looms on the big screen.

During my 15 minutes or so with the game, this novel approach to thwarting the zombie apocalypse boiled down to carefully skirting clusters of walking corpses and focusing attacks on lone threats. Of course, silencing lone creeps can also lead to attracting some of their close-by buddies; when this happens, the only option is to run, hide, and regroup, less you want to become the newest member of the meat-bag army. You see, in another refreshing twist, ZombiU infects — rather than re-spawns — those who’ve met a grisly end; players are then returned to the game as a new survivor… who must retrieve the previous protagonist’s pack from their now-mutated form.

While I enjoyed having my fragile psyche taxed more than my trigger finger for a change, it’s yet to be determined if such pacing can remain engaging for the several hours it’ll presumably take to complete the campaign. That said, the prospect of a “survival horror” title that’s actually about surviving has my interest — and neck hairs — piqued. At the very least, the promise of fending off Beefeaters-turned-brain-eaters ensures I’ll give ZombiU a second look when it shuffles onto the Wii U on Nov. 18.

Yes, yes, enough with the words. Click through for some exclusive images from the new game.

Slick lightning, shadowing, and fog effects promise to up the spine-chilling ante.

You’ll find more corpses than bullets to fire into them in London’s supply-sapped environments.

From Big Ben to Buckingham Palace, no British tourist attraction is safe from the undead.

God save the Queen…unless she looks like one of these guys — then you can just shoot her in the head.

The Wii U gamepad also serves as a scanner of sorts, capable of identifying useful objects in the environment.

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