Back in the early Eighties my young boyish self was always seeking out horror movies and one day my friend told me that his Dad had just got hold of a recently banned one and that he would be out for the evening so we prompty rushed to his house and stuck the video cassette into the VHS player.
The movie was called Dawn of the Dead and was directed by the brilliant George Romero. It scared us, it made us laugh and it made us go ‘ewwwww’ in equal doses and so began my love of all things Zombie. Getting horror movies as a child was a lot easier back then than it is now and over the next few years I watched many more Zombie movies but the George Romero ones were always something special. They were always a niche subject though, certainly not vogue.
I’m sure that by now you’re wondering why I’m blathering on about old movies when you came to read about games; well just stick with me, all will be revealed.
Fast forward to today and Zombies are more vogue than Madonna (but then one could argue that Madonna IS a Zombie) and even more vogue than Vampires – it wasn’t that long ago that you could wipe your ass on paper, say it’s about vampire romance and some idiot would publish it (something that Stephanie Meyer proved more than once).
If you were to throw a stick at a pile of games from the last few years then the odds are that your stick will hit something that has Zombies in it. In fact I was listing off all the games I can think of that are either exclusively about Zombies or have Zombie related Downloadable Content and that list is huge. The game dev collective have finally realised something that I’ve known ever since watching that movie as a kid.
Zombies are awesome.
Yes, they are. There’s no denying it but (there’s always a ‘but’) can they fit into any game and give it instant ‘zombie cred’ or do they feel a bit forced? Well, let’s take a look at the evidence…
The very first ‘zombie’ games were made way back in 1984, we had Evil dead, which was a tie in with the film and was available on the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum. The other zombie game released was imaginatively titled ‘Zombie Zombie’ which was a ZX Spectrum ‘exclusive’ (fnarr fnarr).
I didn’t want to go so far back though and Zombies in games weren’t all that popular until 1996 when two games were released that would both become huge franchises in their own rights.
On one hand we had Resident Evil which became a classic in the survival horror genre, this was when survival horror was actually about surviving horror, not sticking a comically huge gun in your cyber hands which instantly removes all sense of danger (I’m looking at you, Dead Space).
Resident Evil was definitely a triumph among videogames and its second offering was more of the same but well polished with better visuals and scarier zombies. The game starts out simple enough and lulls us into a false sense of security as we decide that this is just a third person action game where shooting zombies is the order of the day, seems like fun but hardly scary.
It’s not long before we have no option left except to run away before the zombies catch up. A true master of gaming suspense.
With all its subsequent sequels Resident Evil has become a name that’s synonymous with Zombies. It’s about a zombie outbreak, has two dimensional characters and can be very very scary.
Scary that is, until they made Resident Evil 5 which suffers from its lack of zombies and if it wasn’t for Chris Redfield being one of the protaganists you could be forgiven for not recognising it as Resident Evil and thinking it’s generic shooter #50987.
Zombies required in Resident Evil? Most Definitely.
On the other hand we had House of the Dead, a great on-rails zombie shooter that made shooting zombies in the head both fun and infuriating at the same time. The most recent serving being House of the Dead: Overkill which was released as a Wii exclusive and even has a story that makes sense in a campy ‘B’ movie kind of way.
This reboot of the House of the Dead games has some great features such as a psychotic scoring system which awards you with exremet violence, ultra violence and psychotic score multipliers and if you’re good enough you enter goregasm mode where the scores really rack up and the other player begins to feel inadequate. The bosses are your usual crazy house of the dead bosses but with a lot of tongue in cheek humour thrown in.
With outrageous characters who curse like angry marines and lashings of overblown psychotic violence, Overkill plays like a Tarantino movie.
Overkill works really well with the Wii controllers, never feeling like the target isn’t doing what you’re telling it to do and is great fun with two players.
Even though the game isn’t perfect and a lot of the jokes miss the mark, any fans of ‘B’ movie horror really should check it out, it’s a blast.
Zombies required in House of the Dead? There wouldn’t be a game without them.
In 2006 a game arrived that was so similar to George Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead movie that it even had a disclaimer on the box saying that it didn’t have any official ties with that movie.
Of course it is the Xbox exclusive, Dead Rising. This was the game that zombie fans had been waiting for. It had a good story, some great comedy moments and of course, it had tens of thousands of zombies. Zombies that could be killed with lawnmovers, sledgehammers, weights, broom handles, dildos, katanas and least of all, guns. In fact if you could carry it, you could whack a zombie with it.
The main protagonist is Frank West, a freelance photographer who gets caught up in a small town zombie apocalypse. All the action takes place in a huge shopping centre and players can use Franks camera to take awesome pictures and earn points. Although this sometimes got me into a lot of trouble, mainly consisting of being surrounded by zombies, I thought it was a great feature.
Some thought that the save system was too brutal and the savepoints were too far apart but I’m in the school of thought that actually used this to create more excitement because nothing makes me sweat more than knowing that if I don’t make it to the bathroom (save point)- I’m screwed.
The bosses in Dead Rising were all brilliantly amusing. My favourite being Adam, the psycho clown and his two mini chainsaws.
More recently we saw the release of Dead Rising 2, which was a multi platform game this time. This time our protagonist is a motocross biker named Chuck and unfortunately, Chuck doesn’t have a camera. The action takes place in a vegas style resort and although I missed having the camera I was still able to get myself into the same kind of trouble (surrounded by zombies) by playing fruit machines.
Dead Rising 2 had more save points and one of the most appreciated fixes was that survivors actually followed Chuck. A decent update to a great game.
Zombies required? Absolutely, all 53, 594 of them.
2006 also saw Valve (Half Life, Counter Strike) release an amazing take on co-operative multiplayer shooting by the name of Left 4 Dead. Similar in gameplay to Killing Floor (2005) Valve took that premise and ran with it like a giddy child with scissors.
In Left 4 Dead, the player controls one of four characters that are neck deep in a zombie apocalypse with guns, melee weapons and witty one liners at their disposal.
Each map has an increasing number of Zombies trying to make brain soup out of the four survivors. There were also some interesting zombie ‘bosses’ that as well as appearing in co-op mode and scaring the bejeezus out of everyone (the first time getting pounced on by a Hunter is extremely tense) they could also be controlled by players in ‘Vs’ mode.
Left 4 Dead can be played single player with the AI controlling your companions but anyone playing it this way are really cheating themselves out of the Left 4 Dead experience which is multiplayer, be it co-operatively through the story or in vs mode, this is the game that keeps giving.
When it was released it was fresh, exciting and fun to play with friends. It was only a year later that the sequel arrived which was also a damn fine game but this time with annoying survivors and less witty one liners. Still a great game to have a blast with your buddies.
Zombies required? Hell yes!
Anyone who has played Red dead redemption will know that it’s most recent DLC, Undead Nightmare, is a ‘what if?’ story that resurrects everyone’s favourite cowboy, John Marston, and puts him in the middle of a zombie outbreak in the Wild West.
At first, I wasn’t sure about this one. I loved Read dead redemption, but I loved it for what it was and never once said
“You know what’s missing from Red dead? Zombies!”
It just didn’t even cross my mind. So I eyed it up suspiciously for a few days, poking it with a stick now and then before curiosity got the better of me and I played it.
It was okay.
It started off really well and created a great atmosphere but I got bored after a few quests. The addition of zombies definitely didn’t feel forced or out of place but the content just got a bit dull. Meeting some of the old faces from the game was nice – I especially enjoyed the moviemaker Mackenna’s mission where he asks for certain zombies to make a horror movie. This was very amusing.
The problem with Undead Nightmare is that it keeps doing the same thing; meet an old face from the game, complete a task for them, watch as they get overpowered by zombies. It’s a one trick pony and the novelty wears off pretty quickly.
Zombies required? Well for the sake of the whole zombie outbreak story they are definitely required but become a disappointment.
There is even a typing aid with zombies in it. Typing of the dead is like the lovechild of Mavis Beacon and George Romero. Players must touchtype words before they’re eaten by zombies. It has to be said that this is a very novel way to teach people how to type.
More recently came Rock of the Dead which is like typing of the dead but this time we dispatch the undead hordes by playing Rob Zombie (and others) tracks with a Guitar hero controller. A very uninspiring zombie gimmick game.
Zombies required? In Typing of the dead, yes. In Rock of the dead? Come on, stop the madness!
Up to now, most of the games mentioned have been good games containing zombies. So good that they leave us wanting more zombies, not less. There are other titles though that are so awful, so out of place, so unnecessary, so undeserving of the zombie moniker that have saturated the market until it creaked and groaned like an arthritic pensioner under the weight of them.
Then, more were made.
Popcap jumped on the zombie bandwagon with their addictive little tower defence flash game Plants vs Zombies.
Now, while it is fun in a ‘just five minutes more’ kind of way, are zombies really needed or are they just a cynical moneymaker? I think the latter. It could just have easily have been Plants vs Martians or Plants vs Werewolves where the plant is destroyed once the Werewolf has cocked its leg and urinated.
Instead of trying to be original though, Popcap just stuck zombies in there because zombies are cool. If werewolves were the new cool, they’d be in the game.
Zombies required? Not really.
This seems to have heralded a whole mass of xbox live and psn zombie offerings. From PSN’s “Dead Nation” to the Xbox indie game “I maed a game with zombies in it” – yes, yes you did. You also spelt ‘made’ wrong.
None of these games are outstanding and none of them really need zombies in them to be a game. It’s as though a memo went round all the game developers saying “Add zombies to your game and rake in the cash”.
Even Call of Duty joined in by adding a zombie mode to the already mediocre World at War. Now I know some prefer World at War to Modern Warfare but I thought it was lacking something and the gameplay felt cheap, I mean how many f*cking grenades did a japanese soldier carry?
It seems that Treyarch also thought something was lacking in their game and I’m guessing they had a meeting which went something like,
Exec 1. “Okay, we really need to add something in here. Something original, something that’s never been done before…”
Exec 2. “Zombies”
Exec 1. “Hmm but haven’t they been done to death now?”
Exec 2. “Yeah but people love zombies. We should add zombies. Zombies are cool.”
Exec 1. “Well it will make us an extra bucket of money. Let’s do it!”
I know that that’s a very cynical way to look at it but let’s be honest, is it really that far from the truth? Some people claim to enjoy zombie mode in the game, but my point here isn’t how fun it is, it’s that there’s no real reason for it to be there.
World at war Zombies required? They couldn’t be more out of place if there wore sombreros and played panpipes.
There are many many more cheap cash ins such as Red Riding Hoods Zombie BBQ (I shit you not), Teenage Zombies: Invasion of the brain alien thingys, Fort Zombie, Zombie Apocalypse, Zombie Driver, Zombie Tycoon, Zombie Panic in Wonderland. The list is endless.
Zombies then, are everywhere. There is a real zombie apocalypse going on in the gaming world and it doesn’t look like it’s about to stop. Some are great but unfortunately most are awful and serve only to cheapen zombie subject matter.
There is some light at the end of the tunnel though especially with the excellent looking upcoming “Dead Island”. This game looks as though it will be extremely deserving of the zombie moniker.
Here’s hoping we’re not disappointed.
What are your thoughts on Zombies in games?