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ZombiU: Is this the hardcore title Wii U is aiming for?

London is burning in Ubisoft's new survival horror...

A popular train of thought among gaming's chattering classes is that Nintendo has to recapture the so-called "hardcore" with the Wii U.

Fail to do so, they say, and Nintendo's new console is doomed, destined to be a Dreamcast for the HD generation. Or worse.

To recapture the hardcore gamer, the argument continues, Wii U must offer so-called hardcore games. Perhaps mindful of this rather spurious notion, Nintendo are currently promoting ZombiU as the standard-bearer for Wii U's more mature content.

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And mature it is, too, at least in so far as any zombie-based survival horror can carry the definition. It's also a triple-whammy of rarities as far as Nintendo goes; the first obviously being its host of reanimated enemies, the second its FPS leanings and the third its UK setting.

Taking place during the aftermath of a period of civil unrest in which our nation's problems are further compounded by a mysterious outbreak of zombi-itis, ZombiU is a game unafraid to show split skulls and torn throats as the need arises. It's also a survival horror that puts the emphasis on surviving, given that the player's death won't result in a cushy retry.

FLESH-CHEW ISLAND

The solo campaign is like a persistent endurance mode, sliding you into the blood-spattered shoes of a desperate survivor and demanding that you stay alive as long as possible. One bite, though, is all you get - and death will promptly drop you into the body of a different character, leaving the zombified corpse of your former self shambling around the area in which you died.

Whether these characters are all the same in terms of ability, how many they number or what kind of story threads them all together is yet to be seen,but what we do know is that Ubisoft are playing hard for immersion.

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As with many games of this ilk, the setting - in this case the blood-drenched, burned out streets of Westminster - is a character in itself. Scorched and hollow cars line the charred roads like rows of blackened, broken teeth, drifts of noxious smoke cloud the vision, and shadowed buildings sit abandoned and ominous.

Such effective use of the environment is something Ubisoft have honed well while working on franchises like Assassin's Creed and Splinter Cell, and the sense of dread, further enhanced by the Wii U's unique functionalities, is palpable.

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By assigning menus and activities such as lock-picking to the GamePad screen, Ubisoft leave the TV monitor clear to ramp up the tension - then tighten it even more by adding physical flourishes to proceedings: the way your character rummages in his pack while you thumb through the inventory; the way the screen focuses on the advancing hordes while you clumsily hammer keypad combinations into electronic door locks.

Even watching the demo is enough to heighten the anticipation for the attention to detail that Ubisoft, as developers, are renowned for - and that's only in the single-player campaign.

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