Zombies in Videogames:
What I played and what I want next!
Let me begin with saying I am a zombie fanboy. Whether it’s movies, tv shows, videogames, toys etc etc. I love me some zombies. Night of the Living Dead was one of the first “stayed up past my bedtime to watch” movies of my childhood. How cliched, right? From that point on, there was no looking back. At the time there was no netflix, internet or anything of the source, so the local 99cent videostore was my source for everything “Zombie” I swear, one summer me and neighborhood friend must have rented damn near every horror movie in that section. Once we had seen all they had to offer I was still hungry for more, but being too young to drive and really buy stuff(opposed to rent) the well was starting to become dry, fast, and then the following Christmas I received an Ninentdo Entertainment System! Knowing my fascination for the horror genre as well as my begging and pleading for an NES, one of the games I got with my system was none other than Friday the 13th.
I know technically Friday the 13th is not a zombie franchise, but by 1989 Jason Voorhees was well into his “feel no pain” stage, and besides everyone knows he kinda/sorta was a zombie hybrid after Jason Lives, so I am going with it. Not only that, but the hordes that attack you on all the different areas have got to be zombies. Anyway, suddenly I had a new medium to explore my love for the genre. In a few years the Super Nintendo Entertainment System would be released and along with a classic such as Super Ghouls & Ghosts we were brought the unforgettable…..
Zombies At my Neighbors was a game that seemed to initially come out to little fanfare but achieved cult status later on. It’s combination of zombie action with humor and a soundtrack that played homage to the type of music found in zombie movies, left me with the feeling that the makers were zombie lovers themselves and that was a joy to know while indulging in the game myself. I even read later that the blood had to be changed from red to purple due to Nintendo not wanting anything to do with the violence that comes along with zombie-murder. Purple Ooze was apparently ok though. Sweet.
Next up came perhaps the biggest “HOLY SHIT” moment in the history of my zombie-playing days as far as originality graphics(for the time),story, gameplay etc etc….yes, I am talking about the smash hit for the original Playstation, Resident Evil. Absolute dreadful voice-acting, and cheezy dialogue aside (“you are the master of un-locking” WTF?)this game really put the survival-horror genre on the map, if not inventing it outright. The best aspect of the game? It was pretty fucking scary! Yes. I said it; SCARY! This game knew how to creep the hell out of the player. “What was that?” you would often be saying to yourself as some type of shadow or figure or creature scampered across the screen never to be seen or heard from again…..until you opened the next door. There were many nights where I had to convince myself that I was shutting off the game because I was “tired” and not because I couldn’t take being attacked by a horde of zombies out of nowhere again. (And don’t even get me started on how well the vibrating controllers enhanced the experience) If there is any doubt from you about the power of this game, know that it has spawned multiple sequels, a movie franchise, action figures, apparel, anime, with more on the way! If you owned a Gamecube, you would have been smart to have checked out the Resident Evil game on that system with the updated graphics. It had never looked better at that point.(Similar to what PS3 did with God of War 1&2 in anticipation of Part 3)
Around the same time Resident Evil was released on playstation, House of the Dead was invading the arcades (you do remember arcades, right?) It was your typical “pick up the gun, blast away, shoot off-screen to reload” fare. This game was good for a quick time-killer but I don’t think I’d ever leave the arcade not feeling like I got ripped off considering how little playing time you got killed. Especially if you played by yourself. House of the Dead also spawned some sequels but the rip-off feeling was unfortunately an attribute that stayed with the series. Out of all these style of games, the only one I felt I could ever get my money’s worth on was the Star Wars’ themed machine, specifically the Hoth planet level.
Next up for me were the Evil Dead games. Based on one of my favorite franchises, how the hell was I not going to run out and grab these games up. Admittingly, Hail to the King was kind of ermm..lets say, average. A Fistful of Boomstick on the PS2 however was pretty awesome. You played Ash, of course featuring the voice of Bruce Campbell in the role and hack ‘n’ slashed your way through a bunch of deadites on your way to the conclusion which ends in typical Evil Dead fashion.
After this the well ran dry for me a bit. I am sure there were other games that fit the bill at the time but I personally went through a bit of a dry spell…..until Call of Duty: World at War was released. Going into this game I had no idea there was a zombie mini-game that was unlocked after beating the main storyline. Killing hordes of zombies, each wave bigger than the last was the name of the game here. Buying weapons off the wall and playing with a group of friends would serve as a winning formula. This wasn’t necessarily a new concept; rather it was zombies in place of whatever generic enemies had been part of the game. This proved to be very popular indeed and was followed up in Call of Duty: Black Ops. With a couple different levels at the launch of the game and a new level available with each new map pack, the zombie genre is a live and well in the first-person shooter genre. Is it starting to feel a bit stale though? The formula while fun for a couple of hours can get to be bland after awhile. And trust me, if you are looking to get anywhere near the leader boards for levels conquered, be prepared to put at least 3+hours into a single game.
In the same time period, a couple of franchise I have played sparingly but do not own made a splash, Left 4 Dead became a big hit on the Xbox 360 system with it’s brand of carnage which was amplified even more in it’s multiplayer game. Dead Rising took the comical over-the-top shenanigans of hacking & slashing to a new level with its sheer number of undead to slaughter coupled with the hilarious weapon combinations available to be made to try and keep the game play fresh.
That pretty much brings us to present time as far as zombies go. “Call of the Dead” has just been released on the 360, with a release date for PS3 TBA (although since breaking news says PSN is down until May 31st it won’t be till at least then, UGH) Later this year we are getting Dead Island and a Walking Dead game is also on the horizon! Will they do enough to separate themselves from the pack?
Now for what I would like to see. To me the one definitive aspect that has been missing from genre is the Romero-esque quality in the story-telling and style of the game. Zombie games have tended to be more action-based for the most part, and while that is not necessarily a bad thing, it can begin to feel over-saturated. What I am suggesting may be bold and you can question whether there is an audience for it, however I think there is, and they have been waiting for the next evolution. It’s time for a Zombie-themed MMO. Yep. I said it. Imagine roaming the world, a lone survivor, running into other bands of survivors, will they be friendly or hostile? Build up your own gang of survivors, (a motorcycle gang, perhaps?) Stake claim to abandoned buildings, make them into a fortress. Attempt to rebuild local communities while the constant threat of the shambling undead lurks just beyond those 20ft high fences. What happens when your nice little community takes in a drifter who goes crazy and threatens to bring the whole place to the ground? The possibilities are endless here folks. Expansion packs could offer new scenarios and missions etc etc. A decade ag0 or so ago I might have questioned if the demand for this type of game was out there but with the popularity of the zombie multiplayer games and the ratings records of The Walking Dead on AMC, I think the time could be right to throw this out there, or at least send out feelers to gamers on their thoughts. Think Fallout, but with zombies, and much larger scale. I’d be willing to pay a fee if the game was done right, would you?
So there it is. I know I haven’t played every zombie game out there, and there are quite a few I failed to even mention, but I think I have played enough to get a good feel for what the genre has had to offer in the past, is offering now, and where I think it should go in the future to take the next step in the evolutionary process. Any experiences or hopes for the future you’d like to share? Leave a comment or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org