Learn more about the main characters and the plot of an old prophecy that foretold the zombie apocalypse.
Update (6:37 EST 11/7/12): Corrected a statement regarding online multiplayer in ZombiU.
It is strange to think how far ZombiU has come over the course of its development. From its meagre beginnings as the bizarre comedic sci-fi shooter Killer Freaks From Outer Space to its current state as a marquee title for the Wii U launch, it has certainly been a wild ride for this new survival-based FPS from Ubisoft. Since the marked change in tone and direction became known at E3 2012, the focus has largely been honed on the game's unique approach to character death and its showcasing of the Wii U GamePad. As it turns out, ZombiU will also tell an original story that places its roots deep into British history.
Now, while your first thought may tell you that it must be very difficult to have a worthwhile plot in a game where your playable characters are permanently removed from the equation when they die, story director Gabrielle Shrager has laid out some unique themes that, if conveyed well, could make for a compelling narrative. First and foremost is the background involving the original 007 himself, John Dee. An actual historical figure, Dee was the royal astronomer and cryptographer during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Within the fiction of ZombiU, though, Dee predicted two plagues that would destroy civilisation; the first was the Black Plague of 1665, which was subsequently eradicated by the Great Fire of London one year later. The second plague, however, was pegged for 2012, setting the stage for the zombie-infested London in which the game takes place.
Who knew that the cause behind all this was, in fact, the Black Plague?
From this background mythology, several different story branches will grow. Over the course of the game, the player will interact with different groups, who all have their own interpretation of John Dee's so-called "Black Prophecy" and their own approach to this doomsday scenario. For much of the game, your survivor will be guided by a survival expert referred to simply as the Prepper, while the rest of your group takes refuge in his bunker, only being sent out one at a time when the current survivor out in the field is killed. The Prepper treats the Black Prophecy as gospel, believing that a great fire will wipe out the plague as before and spawn a whole new world from its ashes.
You will also encounter a scientist named Dr Knight, who argues that science shall prevail in the war against the plague. He has sealed himself under Buckingham Palace to search for Dee's fabled panacea, a universal cure for the disease. In addition, you will come across the secret society known as the Ravens of Dee and their leader, Sandra, as they strive to prepare people for this arduous struggle for survival and help them escape from London. When you consider just how pervasive the premise of a zombie outbreak is, both in video games and other media, the presence of these fascinatingly unorthodox narrative themes in ZombiU could be just what it needs to stand out amidst the rest.
All right then, lads! Time to take out some zombies, London style...
Of course, being a Wii U launch title, the game pulls no punches on showcasing the various new capabilities of the console. Much has already been shown of the GamePad's myriad functions, including inventory management and context-sensitive environmental elements, but we have since learned of an RPG-style levelling and upgrade system. Throughout the game, the player can use the GamePad to scan the environment for items such as weapon parts. Upon entering a safehouse, they can upgrade their weapons with these parts, boosting attributes like damage, firing speed and accuracy. Plus, the more the player uses a certain type of weapon, the better their character will become at handling those kinds of weapons as they level up different skills. These skills only apply to one character at a time though, and they disappear if said character dies, so careful play is encouraged in order to preserve these levels.
We now know about the local competitive multiplayer mode, which seems to be one of the few things to have carried over from the game's previous incarnation as Killer Freaks From Outer Space. In King of Zombies, one player controls the survivor using the Wii U Pro Controller, with the aim of reaching certain points in the level. Meanwhile, the opposing player on the GamePad acts as an AI director of sorts, spawning different types of undead and placing them strategically around the map; for them, the only goal is to kill.
Furthermore, players can affect each other's games even when they aren't playing together. Characters who are killed in one game can appear as a zombie in another player's experience, complete with all the gear they were carrying when they perished. Friends can also share messages with each other using a selection of pre-set symbols, presented in the game as spraying graffiti. When one person leaves a message somewhere in their game, it can be found by their friend using their handheld scanner when they visit that same location. Last but not least, there will also be online leaderboards that tracks everyone's survivor statistics.
Your spray-painted message could be a friendly greeting. Or a warning to great danger lurking around the corner.
Slightly curious name aside, ZombiU is a game full of potential. We have all probably partaken in our fair share of zombie slaying over the years, and for that reason, it might be easy to dismiss it out of hand as an also-ran. However, between the intriguing plot threads and the willingness to explore pretty much all of the new things the Wii U is able to do, ZombiU is looking more and more enticing for when it launches in the US on November 18, shortly after in Europe on November 30, and finally Japan on December 8.