Ubisoft still dabbles in creative projects outside of trying to compete with themselves in their ongoing quest to develop the longest games, but there was a time when the company was much more willing to slow down and let developers experiment or get weird. The creativity still shines through the company’s exhaustive checklists and icon-covered maps but and they still let developers craft human stories but it used to be different. Ubisoft used to gleefully dance with weird and different, like when we almost something way cooler than ZombiU.
I enjoy a lot of what ZombiU (or I guess Zombi now?) does. I purchased the game the week it was released and put a respectable amount of time into it. But I ultimately preferred the approach of other zombie titles, like Dead Island, Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead. I wasn’t alone and ZombiU ultimately wasn’t very successful. Part of it is that it came out on the Wii U, which didn’t sell very well. It probably didn’t help that it came out the same month as Halo 4 and Call of Duty: Black Ops II. But I also think it’s because it didn’t look better or different enough than everything everyone was already playing. It’s a shame too because the game originally started as something much weirder with aliens, Rabbids, and missing eyeballs.
Attack of the Killer Rabbids from Outer Space development started in 2010 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It was originally going to be a spinoff in the Raving Rabbids series where the terrifying cousins of the Rabbids attack Earth. The concept art shows creatures that look similar to the Rabbids but with sharper teeth and some creatures have missing eyeballs.
There were also different types of enemies with different skill sets, like shield troopers, a giant Rabbid, and different kinds of alien vehicles. Different kinds of soldiers were visible in some of the early concept art as well, which suggests the game may have had co-op multiplayer too. There was concern regarding the mature tone and level of violence in the game so the developers decided to remove the game’s connections to Rayman and Raving Rabbids. Designer Jean-Karl Tupic-Bron told Polygon in an interview that the team, “moved it to the Killer Freaks game quicky [because it was] not what Raving Rabbids is all about.”
Killer Freaks was officially revealed under the new title at E3 2011 as a launch title for Nintendo’s upcoming Wii U. At this point in development the game featured reptilian alien creatures up against 1-4 players in a post-apocalyptic London. The game was changed further though after the team decided Killer Freaks didn’t feel like a unique title for the Wii U, which was one of their primary goals during development. The team also disliked the smaller size of the creatures since it encouraged players to look at the ground instead of their surroundings. This is when the enemies were changed from aliens to zombies and the focus shifted from chaotic action to careful preparation and patience with inventory management.
The Wii U gamepad was used for displaying the map and item management, which worked as unique features for the Wii U’s tablet controller. Multiplayer was also removed from the campaign and replaced with a new system where players controlled a unique character that only had one life. If this character died then the player would need to use a new character to kill the zombie version of the old character and take their old supplies.
ZombiU was an ambitious title that ultimately wasn’t successful. It’s hard to criticize Ubisoft too much though because there were some good ideas in ZombiU but they just didn’t work well enough. The game was eventually ported to Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC, likely in part due to lower than anticipated sales for the Wii U versions. A sequel never happened either, which is sad considering Ubisoft could probably do some interesting stuff with the lessons learned during ZombiU’s development. Ubisoft has continued to use the Raving Rabbids in party games and in a strategy RPG series with Nintendo characters, which almost seems more unbelievable than Attack of the Killer Rabbids from Outer Space.