When the first-person survival horror game ZombiU came out in 2012, it showed how the WiiU’s tablet-like controller could be used for some inventive games. Which makes it all the more ironic that Zombi — a version of ZombiU for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC — is just as good as the original, even though it’s played with a more typical controller.
When Zombi begins, you’re in London during the inevitable zombie apocalypse. Luckily for you, someone planned ahead, and you find yourself in a subway-adjacent safe house, with its builder and former resident giving you advice over the P.A. system. To pay him back, you have to run errands all over town, and listen to him prattle on about history and prophecy, while gathering supplies and re-killing the undead using a guns and a cricket bat.
Between its first-person perspective, mix of melee and firearm combat, and constantly searching dead people’s pockets for supplies, Zombi may sound like a clone of Dead Island and Dying Light. But while there are some similarities between it and those action games, Zombi is actually much closer in both spirit and gameplay to the original Resident Evil. Not only is ammo in short supply, but there’s also not a ton of the undead for you to use that ammo on. Which isn’t to say you can just waltz around town like a tourist, just that when you do run into the living impaired, it doesn’t result in a Call of Duty-esque firefight, and that your best option may be to run away. Especially since you’re a wimp who dies after just a few bites.
Zombi also has a mechanic that makes it rather tough, and much more of a survival horror game, since you really have to work to survive this horror (get it?). When you die, and you will, your game doesn’t reload your last checkpoint or saved game, you come back as a different person, and find yourself back at the safe house without any of the stuff you had in your backpack at the time of your death.
What makes this mechanic, and thus Zombi, unique and interesting is that the game doesn’t reset time. Instead, your new character actually picks up the story where your last one left off. You can even go find your former self and get your stuff back. Though given that your former self is now a zombie….
Oh, and lest ye think you can use save points to cheat the system, forget it. You can only save your game by taking a nap when you’re in the safe house.
As for the differences between Zombi and ZombiU, there’s really only one: the controls. And even then, it doesn’t really change that much about how this game plays. In ZombiU, using something in your backpack required you to look away from your TV and at the touchscreen in the WiiU’s controller. And since you couldn’t pause the game when doing this, reaching for something in your bag left you vulnerable to attack. But rather than abandon this mechanic for Zombi, they’ve instead replaced it by having the inventory screen take up most of the space on your TV, and by still not pausing the action. Which means you’re still a sitting duck, just one who has to keep glancing at the edge of the screen instead of up at your TV.
Aside from that, though, the controls for Zombi are basically the same as those of ZombiU. So much so that the former’s combat can, at times, feel as clunky as the latter’s did three years ago.
Sadly, this is not the only problem suffered by both Zombi and ZombiU. Visually-speaking, ZombiU was not a good looking game, as its visuals were muddy and looked like a movie shot in soft focus. And it’s not because London is foggy, either; the graphics were just as fuzzy when you went underground or somewhere else fog wouldn’t be. But while the makers of Zombi could’ve obviously fixed this issue — especially since Xbox Ones, PlayStation 4s, and most modern PCs are all more powerful than the WiiU — they left them the largely the same.
It also doesn’t help that the flashlight you have in Zombi is kind of crap. Not only does it not work well, but it doesn’t stay on all that long, either. It also, in this version of the game, has a new brighter setting, though this uses up the battery even quicker than normal, is more attractive to the undead, and still isn’t all that bright.
Now, it could be argued that the difficulty in seeing things clearly helps Zombi be scary. And it kind of does. But it also makes this more frustrating than challenging when you should be able to see something but you can’t. Sure, having impaired vision works when you’re outside and it’s a foggy night in London, but when you’re in the subway or the safe house and you still can’t see clearly, it’s just irritating.
For those willing to tough it out, though, Zombi is a genuinely frightening, harrowing, but ultimately engaging game, the likes of which we haven’t seen much lately. It’s not perfect, especially since it doesn’t fix the mistakes of the original ZombiU, but as is, it’s still a scary trip to Britain you won’t soon forget.