Zombies. There are only two things more prominent than zombies. People complaining about zombies, and re-releases. While the gritty, visceral, and tense survival experience of the original Wii U release is still present in the PC port, a myriad of technical issues and some mechanical inconsistencies blight what would otherwise be an easily recommendable title to one which only those genuinely intrigued should purchase.
The campaign is the only mode available in this port, and it wastes no time in providing players with a random survivor who luckily receives remote support from a former soldier, Prepper, who guides the survivor into a refuge beyond the reaches of the opening zombie horde. It is a strong opening, introducing our narrator and more significantly setting the tone. This is not Dead Rising; carelessly wading into a mosh pit of rotters armed only with a Cricket Bat, the default loadout of an Englishman, is sure fire formula to add to the horde.
Ghoulish ambiance, zombie resilience, and survivor clumsiness all nourish an all important sense of frailty. Although a single undead can be routinely disposed of with a cricket bat, it takes precious time. Landing an accurate blow to the cranium is difficult; melee weapons must be readied by holding the left trigger before pushing the right trigger brings it crashing down. All the while position is jockeyed for, health easily whittled away should melee range be encroached upon. It will take a few good swings, but eventually the dead will be felled. Add just one more zombie to the mix, however, and combat forces perfect awareness of enemy positions, fleet movement and precisely timed strikes to bring them down without damage.
As befits the British setting, ammunition is scarce, and therefore dealing with threats while conserving bullets quickly becomes the optimal strategy for progression. Indeed, with runners, spitters, and exploding zombies gradually added to the mix, ammo becomes a precious commodity to be used for such occasions as when special infected arrive. Even then, headshots do not always make perfect solutions, as armoured former policemen populate certain levels. In short, while Zombi provides solutions its problems, dealing with them optimally continually feels challenging, as their ranks swell throughout the course of the game.
The difficulty certainly plays its part in facilitating a tense environment, consistently demanding that players keep a keen eye on their surroundings and supplies. Yet this is all powerfully reinforced by the sound design. Survivors sensing nearby threats will begin to breath heavily, and those engaged in combat crescendo towards outright cries of despair as thick dark blood congeals upon the weapon of choice. Ghoulish howls and hisses populate the air, engendering a grave feeling that trouble lurks around the corner. A mildly accurate sonar can detect movement, but oftentimes only rats are found, and healing is only possible by opening an inventory screen which does not pause the game. With this in mind, slowly passing a corner, weapon raised, the survivor breathing heavily, becomes an ordeal, and played at night, truly immerses one into the survival experience. When it all comes together, it feels like an accurate portrayal of an average person forced into hell.
One of Zombi’s most notable features is its 'permadeath'. There is an option to play the game with one life only, but most will be happy to continue the story in the shoes of another character upon death. The great thing about that is it gives a chance to recover lost equipment by returning to the place of defeat, and slaying the old character. Die along the way, though, and all of the gear will be lost. As a result, death has real consequences, so mechanically it works. However it is a shame that the level otherwise remains as it was, if all zombies until the point of defeat were cleared out then your return will find the location barren. A few fresh challenges along the way would have been welcome, and it is a little odd having the new survivor seamlessly pick up the plot from the former. Nevertheless, the potential to lose all of one’s equipment is a compelling way of adding additional risk to gameplay, and assists in making one care about their given survivor.
For all of its great ideas though, Zombi is fatally flawed. At least on my computer, fast travelling via the sewers works about 60-70 percent of the time, otherwise causing the game to crash. The sewers have to be used with some regularity, so these crashes are largely unavoidable. What’s worse is that I advanced to a point where a group of survivors were to assist me in traversing a watery area by suppressing a zombie horde, vital assistance given that both the protagonist’s hands are occupied in keeping their rucksack dry above water, but after I died there the first time they did not come back, leaving me in a perpetual state of defeat.
It is a real shame too, because despite the crashes I was really enjoying my time with Zombi. It will remain installed in the hope that a patch one day resolves these issues, but until then I can’t give it a full recommendation, even at £15.
Also, Uplay is required to run this on PC (even with a Steam purchase), which means if you live somewhere like Somerset, and your internet frequently drops, the game will stop running so there's that too.