NYCC 2012: ZombiU Multiplayer Hands-On

Last June, I got the chance to try out ZombiU’s single-player mode, and it was incredibly impressive. This time around, I’m giving the head-to-head multiplayer mode a playthrough at Nintendo’s booth for New York Comic Con this year.

I may have gotten there early, but there was already a line ahead of me. I saw two players up front: one sporting the Wii U Pro Controller and another with the Game Pad. A large flat screen television showed a player fighting off hordes of zombies while trying to capture points. I figured the player next to her was using the Game Pad to feed her intel and work cooperatively, but as soon as I (and the girl behind me in line) walked up to the platform, we realized that the two players before us were actually competing against each other. The player with the Game Pad plays the game in a similar manner to a real-time strategy game, spawning several types of zombies around the map in an effort to take down the survivor and capture points themselves. Since I got the survivor’s experience last June, I offered the Pro Controller to my opponent while I took up the Game Pad.

The zombie “commander”‘s role is an interesting one; there are two resources for them to manage: zombie population and energy. The commander can spend energy to spawn zombies around the map (except inside obstacles and within a short radius of the survivor). There are three zombies to choose from initially, all with their own energy and population costs: the Grunt can capture points, the Guard stays within a short radius of where he’s spawned, and the Stalker always knows the survivor’s location and chases them relentlessly around the map. The commander can also earn experience and level up, at which point they can unlock even more zombie types.

After getting familiar with the Game Pad and the rules, I wished my opponent luck and offered to go easy on her – it was her first game of ZombiU, after all.

My radar showed me an overhead view of the entire map as well as the survivor’s location, heading, and health at all times. There were three points on the map to capture, so I immediately placed a Guard and Grunt down at the first one to begin taking the lead. The survivor found the location shortly after that and had to try to fend them off, but I had a plan; I planted a Stalker behind her (and just out of her field of vision), who immediately gave chase. Between the Guard and Stalker, she had her hands full and needed to retreat. After falling back to a defensible spot, she had the upper hand against my growing horde of Stalkers, but was eventually taken down, giving me the opening to spawn another Grunt to capture the second point. She had to wait a short while – roughly 10 seconds – before she could respawn.

By this point, I realized I had reached level 2, so I opened the upgrade panel and had a choice of three new zombie types to select. One was a sort of upgraded Stalker, but I decided to go with the Spitter to supplement my melee army. I spawned one near my opponent’s position, and once she was set upon by the Stalkers, the Spitter got into range and lobbed a glob of vomit at her, momentarily blurring her vision and leaving her wide open for my Stalker swarm. She tried to fight them off, but was ultimately taken down again. I tried to slow down a bit, but there was just so much to check out.

This pattern continued for another few minutes – my opponent held her own but ultimately, anyone would have a hard time focusing on capturing points while fending off a zombie army like one I had accumulated. After another couple of minutes, my Grunts captured the third and last point and won the game for me. My focus was mainly on my own screen, but glancing up at the TV gave me a glimpse into the survivor’s perspective. The map was dark and gloomy, with plenty of walls and wide-open spaces. Several dead ends reduce the chance of getting surrounded, but also eliminates the chance for the survivor to flee, so it’s a trade-off that more confident players may want to try.

All-in-all, I was extremely impressed by what I saw in the multiplayer demo. ZombiU, and the other games we’ve had the chance to preview so far, are really bringing back the magic of old-school split-screen play to a modern platform. If there was one criticism I could draw about the multiplayer mode, it’s that the zombie commander has a bit too much leeway in spawning zombies. It was very easy for me to spawn a group of Stalkers behind the survivor in the blink of an eye – perhaps a cooldown or a restriction in where to spawn zombies would make the game more balanced and strategic.

ZombiU is set for release the same day as the WiiU on November 18th, and it’s definitely looking like a prime launch title and a great first choice.

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P.S. Sorry Serenity! I didn’t know my zombies’ own strengths. Hope you enjoyed the game, and the rest of Comic Con, though!

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