With the ported version, Ubisoft has opted for a more conventional layout, placing the map in the bottom-right corner of the screen, and repurposing the inventory as a traditional overlay. It's undoubtedly the most sensible approach given the absence of the Wii-U's unique control scheme. That said, due to the lack of significant updates elsewhere, the Wii-U version remains the ideal way to play the game.
Nevertheless, Zombi is a compelling prospect regardless of platform. After an introductory sequence where your character is chased through the streets of London by the undead, the player awakes in an underground safe-house overseen by a former soldier who calls himself the Prepper.
The Prepper has concluded that hope for a brighter future is lost and that the only concern now should be survival. This makes him a useful teacher, if a massive downer during conversation. The Prepper instructs you on the basics of survival, how to hack into the city's surveillance grid to keep an eye on supplies in certain areas, how to navigate the city's twisting underground, and generally how to stay unchewed by the city's inhabitants. As the story unfolds, your character begins to look beyond basic survival, and is aided by several factions, all with differing views on how best to handle the situation.
During play, Zombi blends old-fashioned FPS systems with elements of resource gathering. Guns are plentiful, but ammo is scarce and inventory space limited, so you need to choose your loadout carefully when heading out into London, relying on evasion and melee combat where possible.
Combat is basic in function, but exceptionally balanced. Even when you're well stocked with ammo, a horde attack will burn through it at an alarming rate. Melee weapons can hold off one or two zombies at a time, but with larger groups close-combat becomes extremely risky, with your character shrieking in desperation as they beat away the undead again and again. In addition, special Infected such as exploding zombies make you think twice before laying into one with your trusty cricket bat.
Most recent zombie games enjoy showing off their numbers. But Zombi picks its fights carefully. There are long stretches where it's happy to fling just a few zombies at you and let the atmosphere do the work setting you on edge. And what an atmosphere it is. London's sooty streets and shadowy underground make a fantastic setting. Regardless of where you are in the city, be it the opulent halls of Buckingham palace, or the grimy alleys of Brick Lane, there's a constant, oppressive sense of unease that patiently grinds away at your nerves like the sound of the Grim Reaper sharpening his scythe. The sequence set in Baconfields' nursery is one of the best examples of virtual horror I've played in years, up there with Thief III's Shalebridge Cradle, Condemned's High-School, and System Shock 2's Med/Sci labs.
It's this atmosphere, combined with the game's commitment to death, that makes Zombi so consistently thrilling and terrifying. Even when the environment isn't thematically interesting, such as the many brownish sewers or litter-strewn tube stations that connect Zombi's London together, there's a lingering undercurrent of fear that anything lurking around the next corner could prove your undoing. Like the combat, the perma-death mechanic is perfectly balanced, inconveniencing you just enough to be fearful of it, but without obliterating your momentum entirely. You only need collect those supplies from that last survivor, and you're on your way once more.
Not all of Zombi's ideas are so well executed. The resource scavenging element is undercooked. The idea is that you monitor various locations in the game via CCTV and revisit them when you're low on supplies. But in practice there's little need to do so, as the game keeps you sufficiently stocked as you progress to new areas.
In addition, Zombi comes a little unstuck toward the end, breaking many of the rules it has established over its eight-ish hour length for the sake of drama. For example, as you venture further from your safehouse, you unlock shortcuts that let you quickly traverse home. But during the final sequence all shortcuts are suddenly deactivated for no reason other than "It's scarier this way." I don't mind the game doing this, it really is scarier that way. But the fact that it provides no warning or explanation makes the sudden change feel arbitrary, and that's a problem.
Ultimately though, theses issue have little impact on Zombi's appeal as a smart, spooky and uncompromising first-person horror. The port may not be a stellar one, but it works well enough to pass as acceptable, and the game it brings with it is a grim delight.