Good moaning: my favourite zombie games

It’s Zombie Awareness Month so we’re talking all things undead. Following on from Monday’s look into why we find the living dead so fascinating, on Wednesday we shared the best survival advice to get us through the coming apocalypse.

But we haven’t even talked about video games properly yet! There are currently over 1,400 titles listed under the Zombies tag on Steam right now so there are plenty of them to discuss. Although the majority fall into the action or horror genres and these aren’t ones I’d usually go to myself, this doesn’t mean I haven’t played my fair share of games where the undead make an appearance. My final zombie-related post for this month’s celebration features a few of my favourite releases, some you may not expect.

Corpse Killer

I really enjoy full-motion video (FMV) games but I’d never heard of Corpse Killer until it was kindly gifted to me by Ellen from Ace Asunder in March. It definitely comes under the so-bad-it’s-good category that’s the standard for FMV releases from the 1990s: hammy acting, cheesy lines, an unconvincing female character thrown in as a love-interest and plenty of badly-dressed actors. It looks like a bunch of extras turned up on the day not knowing what they were going to get into, and it’s perfect.

Dead Rising

Dead Rising is great for several reasons. Not only does it take place in a shopping mall, a location which features in many an apocalypse fantasy, but it teaches us that any object can be used as a weapon during such dire times. Grab a baseball bat, bass guitar or a lawn mower – and make sure you’re wearing the Servbot Mask while you’re doing it. It might sound like a comedy, but the fact that the game must be completed in 72-hours (six hours in real time) adds to the pressure and keeps you on edge.

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge

LeChuck has been killed so many times during the Monkey Island series that it’s difficult to keep track of his deaths. But this doesn’t stop him and he just keeps on fighting: knock him down and he’ll get right back up again in the form of a ghost, zombie, demon or even god. He’s constantly getting blown up both mentally and physically, and yet he keeps coming back for more. This sign of resilience and determination is surely the mark of a true protagonist and shows us that real heroes never quit.

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

I love the way Resident Evil 7 uses flashbacks to flesh out its story because it’s not as simple as sitting back and watching a cutscene. Ethan comes across VHS tapes that can be played using VCRs around the Baker family’s plantation; and ‘played’ is exactly what I mean, as you’re able to relive and control the events of the footage you witness. This mechanic not only offers insight into people other than the protagonist and reveal sinister secrets about the Bakers but also provides some excellent gameplay.

Strange Brigade

Sometimes a release is made even better thanks to a good narrator and this is the element which stands out for me is Strange Brigade. What more could you want when shooting the undead in a cursed tomb that someone saying things like ‘Tally-ho!’ in a posh English voice? Though he may come across as sarcastic and as if he’s not taking the situation too seriously, the narrator is shown to be concerned about his team’s wellbeing and offers the player hints and tips on how to progress.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

In The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, investigator Paul Prospero receives a letter from 16-year old Ethan and is inspired to visit his hometown of Red Creek Valley. He begins encountering some unsettling phenomena immediately after his arrival, along with evidence of recent violence in the deserted mining village; but does this really have anything to do with zombies? Getting attacked by the corpse in the mines scared the hell out of me because I totally wasn’t expecting it to appear in a narrative game.

To The Moon

To The Moon is an incredibly emotional title and so it may therefore seem strange to hear that zombies feature in a particular section. After the doctors have a disagreement about how to proceed with their patient, Eva creates several zombie versions of herself to stop Neil from progressing through the school and foiling her plan. It’s a scene which provides some comic relief before building up to a conclusion which never fails to make me cry, regardless of how many times I’ve seen it.

The Typing of the Dead: Overkill

Rather than blasting away at zombies with a gun using a controller, in Typing of the Dead: Overkill you use your keyboard to enter words and fire shots instead. I really shouldn’t like it for several reasons but somehow it manages to suck me in every time and that’s why it’s my guilty-pleasure game. I mean, come on: you’re fighting a boss called Meat Katie who’s a zombified cow-person while being confronted with phrases such as ‘udderly delightful’ and ‘sirloin surprise’. How can you not laugh at that?

So there you have it: a week of undead-related posts in celebration of Zombie Awareness Month. Hopefully you’re all now prepared for when the apocalypse hits – and have a range of zombie games to play while you wait.

Scary games: only kidding

Imagine you were playing a horror game and suddenly, a child walks into the room and asks what’s happening in the story. You hit the pause button and consider your answer. How would you explain it you them without lying, but without frightening the hell out of them either?

This was posed to bloggers by the awesome Quietschisto from RNG as part of his Sunshine Blogger Award nominations at the end of September (sorry for taking so long to respond). It’s just the sort of question that suits me because I’m happy to watch someone else play a horror but I’m too easily scared to be able to do so myself. I’ve got some experience in this area too: when my stepson was seven-years old, he walked in on us playing BioShock and it gave him nightmares for a week.

Because I don’t search out titles from the genre regularly, most of those included on today’s list are releases my other-half completed while I was sat next to him on the sofa, bravely peeking out from behind a cushion. Let’s see how well I do at trying to describe their narratives in a way which would make sense to a child – and pretend we’d actually realised Ethan was standing in the doorway and had been quicker to press the pause button during that BioShock incident (I still feel bad).

There are spoilers in the following paragraphs. So if you haven’t yet played the games listed and intend to at some point, you may wish to consider navigating away from this post now and coming back later.

Alien: Isolation

A lady goes looking for her mummy after she went missing on a space station. She flies all the way up to the stars and there’s a big, bad alien waiting for her! She tries to get it off the space station but the robot workers there turn nasty and want to stop her. Then she finds out that an evil company wants to buy the alien and its babies, but there’s a big explosion when she gets into a fight with one of their people. She tries to escape on a smaller spaceship but one of the aliens makes it out with her so she has to push them both out into space! Someone eventually finds the lady and she makes it back home, but she doesn’t find her missing mummy. So it’s actually a very sad story.

Blair Witch

A man who used to be a policeman goes into the forest with his brave dog Bullet to search for a missing boy. He feels very guilty because he shot the boy’s brother when he was trying to steal something, so the man wants to find the boy more than anything in the world. But he can hear things whispering in the trees and so he gets very scared, then monsters made from leaves appear and the witch makes him go down into the basement of her old house. Bullet tries to stop him because he’s such a good boy, and what happens to the man depends on what he does. But all you need to know is that the brave dog doesn’t get hurt and he makes it home, where his warm basket and plenty of treats are waiting.

Project Zero

A girl has to go to an abandoned mansion after her brother goes missing there. So she explores all the rooms and finds out that someone has cast a spell to keep horrible ghosts from another world from coming into our world. But the spell went wrong and now all the ghosts have escaped! It’s ok though, because the girl has her magic camera with her and the ghosts don’t like having their picture taken at all – they’re so scared of it that they run away when she tries to take a selfie with them. She manages to find her brother and together they cast the spell properly, so the mansion is made safe once again and the ghosts are all sent back home. So it has a happy ending and it isn’t that scary at all.

Shivers

A crazy professor decided to build a strange museum in America so he could show off all the weird things he found in countries across the world to people who wanted to buy tickets to see them. But he disappeared before it was finished and nobody knows where he went! So you go to the museum because you really want to know what happened. You find out that many years before you got there, two teenagers managed to get into the building and opened a set of pots that contained ghosts. Because you’re so big and brave, you manage to put all the ghosts back into their prisons, and you cause a big explosion before you leave so you know the horrible ghosts can never leave again.

SOMA

A man needs to have a brain scan after he is hurt in a bad car accident. But when he wakes up, he has travelled back in time to a place that’s like a space station but underwater and the world has been hit by an asteroid! There are lots of computers there that think they’re human, and they ask the man to help them upload their brains onto a hard-disk and fire it into space so they can escape. He tells them he will do this and he finds a huge cannon that will do the trick. Just before he pushes the button to send it out of the water and up into the stars though, the man decides that he would like to join the computers so he puts his brain on the hard-disk too. When he wakes up again, he is in a world that looks like paradise so he has a big party with all the computers.

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

A man goes into an old house because he’s looking for his missing wife, but the family that live there have been turned into zombies! It’s ok though, because a lady calls him on his mobile phone and says they’re going to make a special medicine together which can turn them back into people. While they look for the medicine, the man finds out that it’s a little girl who has been making the zombies because she’s lonely and wants the man and his wife to be her mummy and daddy. The man tries to save her because he feels sorry for her, but then she reveals that she is actually a bad monster who’s trying to trick him! So he contacts the army and they capture the monster, and the man escapes with his wife and the lady that called him.

Rhiannon: Curse of the Four Branches

When your friends want to take their daughter on holiday to cheer her up, you go to their home in Wales to look after their farm while they’re away. A strange voice tells you about something that happened there a very long time ago: a heroic king and evil wizard got into an argument and fought a huge battle. The wizard’s ghost still lives at the farm and is very angry bout losing, so it’s up to you to calm him down again. You take his shopping list – which is full of weird stuff like a piggybank and chocolate fountain – and search the farm until you find them all. Once you deliver his shopping, the wizard decides that he can now go to sleep so the house is safe enough for your friends and their daughter to come back.

Until Dawn

A group of selfish teenagers decide to have a big party at a lodge on top of a snowy mountain. The person who actually lives there isn’t happy about this at all because he just wants some peace so he can forget about all the sad things that have happened to him. He decides to teach the kids a lesson and asks some friendly creatures who live on the mountain to help him scare them away so they leave. But one of the teenagers has done a very stupid thing: they left the gas oven on so it causes a massive explosion! Police come in helicopters to rescue everybody but it’s import to remember the moral of this story: never have big parties that disturb an adult’s peace, and never leave the oven on.



How did I do? Hopefully I managed to convince you that these horror games aren’t really that scary and some of them even contain useful life lessons – such as not going into abandoned mansions to search for missing family members. If you fancy attempting to explain video game plots to a child, give it a go!

Resident Evil 7: ‘fleshing’ out a story

There’s a while to wait until the next Steam sale at the end of October which means we’ve got time to work through the new titles we picked up (or leave them languishing in our backlogs). I bought 13 games myself including Mainlining which I’ve already completed, and Virginia which was recommended to me by several bloggers here on WordPress.

My other-half didn’t buy as many but, as most of the titles on his wishlist are big-budget releases, they didn’t come in as discounted as the indie titles I tend to go for so he’s holding out a little longer. He did however purchase Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. Pete has had his eye on this one for a while because he loves a good horror; and it was hard for him to resist after Nathan told us it was one of the scariest games he has ever played.

I myself am bad at playing horrors because I’m just too much of a wimp. I’d much rather watch someone else take over the controller while I sit beside them on the sofa, hiding my eyes behind my hands or a cushion. I really enjoy a creepy storyline – I’m a sucker for a Stephen King or Dean Koontz book, for example – but when I’m responsible for taking the actions, I fall to pieces and start acting like a terrified idiot.

That’s why I (and my cushion) have been watching Pete play Resident Evil 7 for the past week or so. At the time of writing, we’ve only got through around four hours so far but the plot is pulling me in. Players step into the shoes of Ethan Winters, a civilian who has fewer combat skills that most previous protagonists in the series, as he looks for his missing wife Mia. His search leads him to a derelict plantation mansion, the home of the Baker family – and let me tell you, they’re not the sort of people you want to drop in on for a cup of tea.

Over the past few years there has been much discussion around whether cutscenes damage video games by breaking immersion. Your character suddenly becomes unplayable so new pieces of information can be shared with you, and to some extent this makes sense; after all, if titles want to tell a story, they need to have some kind of narrative mechanic to enable them to do that and cutscenes by far are the most straightforward.

However, the purpose of a video game is to play and interact with the digital world you find yourself in: to feel as if you’re in control of your character’s actions. Movie-like moments have the potential to detract from that feeling, particularly when they’re used far too frequently or are too long. Just take a look at Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. It holds the Guinness World Record for the longest cutscene, coming in at 27 minutes; and four separate scenes in the game’s finale total 71 minutes.

Resident Evil, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, video game, zombies, family, Bakers, dinner, dinner table

Cutscenes are still used by developers but they’ve fallen out of favour with a lot of gamers in recent years. They’d rather skip through these sections to get back to the gameplay rather than put down their controllers, even if it means missing out on a vital piece of information or clue. Releases that allow us to experience the storyline at our pace, where plot elements are revealed through exploration and discovery, are generally much more positively accepted.

Resident Evil 7 utilises flashbacks to flesh out its story but it’s not as simple as sitting back and watching a cutscene. Ethan comes across VHS tapes that can be played using VCRs around the Baker family’s plantation; and ‘played’ is exactly what I mean, as you’re able to relive and control the events of the footage you witness. This mechanic not only offers insight into people other than the protagonist and reveal sinister secrets about the Bakers, but also provides some excellent gameplay.

It’s possible to interact with the environment shown in some of the tapes in a way that leaves an impact on Ethan’s own adventure. For example, unlocking something seen in the past footage will cause it to remain unlocked in the present, even if you’ve already seen it locked; this does cause some time-travel paradoxes but who cares if you can get your hands on a new weapon? While you’re in one of these VHS sections, the graphics change: they become grittier and slightly blurry, and static lines remind you you’re playing found footage.

Its modern first-person view in a photorealistic style may make Resident Evil 7 seem like a far departure from the original instalment in the series, but everything that made the classic game so great is here: a chilling location, a foreboding feeling, weird puzzles and terrifying enemies. There are even green herbs! As stated on the game’s Steam page, it ‘embodies the series’ signature gameplay elements of exploration and tense atmosphere that first coined ‘survival horror’ some twenty years ago’.

Cutscenes are a tool rather than a finished project. They need to assist the player in coming to the conclusion of the story rather than just giving them something pretty (or in the case of horrors, disgusting) to look at. So far Resident Evil 7 is handling them marvellously and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the title holds in store for us.

If you’re a fan of the series, why not take part in the Resident Evil Memories collaboration hosted by Brandon from That Green Dude? Take a look at this post for more details.