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.

How to survive the zombie apocalypse

On Monday we looked at why zombies remain so popular in video games. The reason which resonates the most with me relates to the ‘uncanny valley’ concept: the more something resembles a human, the more it provokes feelings of eeriness.

Continuing the celebration for Zombie Awareness Month, it’s now time for another undead subject. A study by the University of Leicester a couple of years ago worked out that it would take only 100 days for zombies to take over the planet, and a mere 300 people would be left alive and uninfected at the end of this period. Video games have taught us well when it comes to making sure we’re one of them, and here’s some of the best advice for ensuring you’re prepared for the apocalypse.

Don’t rely on the UK government

Did you know that the Pentagon has a military response plan to protect humanity from the walking dead? There’s no way the UK government are so prepared though. Based on recent behaviour, it’s obvious what they’d do: deny the apocalypse until increased zombie sightings meant they had to come clean about what was going on, then order a series of knee-jerk reactions to the horror of scientists while maintaining that everything is under control. It’s probably best if we don’t rely on them to get the situation sorted.

Ignore the general press

It’s wisest not to listen to the general press either. Regardless of the undead threat level, you can guarantee that reporters everywhere will over-hype every little development to get as many views as possible. Seeing as a lot of people believe everything they read in the newspapers, the result will be widespread terror, panic-buying of toilet-paper and the breakdown of society. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stay informed however; just choose your courses carefully and stick to reading updates from the bloggers you trust.

Pack a survival kit

Days Gone, video game, zombies

If your local area becomes overrun and you need to skip down, don’t leave home without a survival kit. Grab some fresh water, cans of food, a knife, string, a first-aid kit – treat your rucksack as though it was a point-and-click inventory system so you’re prepared for anything. A 2018 survey found that nearly 25% of the British population have a plan to survive the zombie apocalypse and one in six have considered putting together a bug-out bag to see them through the first 72-hours.

Don’t go it alone

Although many video games have shown that it’s often riskier leaving with others, there’s a lot to be said for not going alone. Being part of a group increases the skills and knowledge available to you, has the potential for better decision-making, means there’s always someone to back you up in case of injury and keeps loneliness at bay too. Just make sure they’re likeminded people you know you can rely on, and only consider leaving on your own as a last resort.

Get out of the city

Dyas Gone, video game, zombies

The biggest tip we’ve learnt from zombie stories: get out of the city as quickly as possible because the odds are stacked against you from the start. Not only will urbanised areas end up having the densest populations of the undead thanks to the number of people who live in them, they won’t be habitable once the technology that supports them disappears. Head for isolation and stop by a camping shop on the way for supplies; and don’t rely on smartphone maps, because you’ll lose signal once the power-grids go down.

Find weapons as soon as possible

Video games have taught us that the most effective weapon against the living dead is a bullet straight to the head. But guns can be difficult to get hold of depending on where you are in the world, so what should you consider using instead? Remember that anything can be a weapon if you combine it well. Take inspiration from releases such as Days Gone: a baseball bat and nails, a table-leg and nails, chemical fertiliser and nails… basically any object and nails.

Track down food and water

Your bug-out bag may get you through the first few days but it’s not going to keep you alive for long. Assign members of your group to scavenge for food and bottled water in supermarkets and petrol stations as you leave town, while the others keep watch; and build the biggest stash you can once you find somewhere suitable to ride out the apocalypse. You’re not going to be able to get your hands on any KFC for a while so you want to make sure you’re not worrying about where your next meal is going to come from.

Build a good barricade

Once you’ve got your new base set up, consider reinforcing it with a strong barricade to keep those pesky zombies out while you sleep at night. You’ll need heavy items for this to work effectively so you’ll be grateful for those extra pairs of hands here if you took the advice above about not leaving down on your own. Get windows and glass fronts boarded up quickly so they can’t be smashed open, and avoid staying above the ground floor without an escape route in case the building is overrun.

Create an infection plan

Days Gone, video game, zombies

How are you going to respond if any member of your party becomes infected? This is something you need to discuss as early as possible and get everyone to agree on, because tough decisions need to be made for the good of the group. Will you selflessly search for a cure, try amputating the limb that was bitten, chain them up before they turn or just put an end to their existence immediately? Be prepared for a late night and a few arguments – you’ll be glad you saved that coffee from your bug-out bag.

Remember that the zombies will keep on coming

If zombie video games have taught us a single useful lesson, it’s that the living dead will never stop coming. The sooner you come to terms with that, the quicker you can get on with surviving and making sure you’re one of those last 300 humans! Take the advice given in today’s post on board, get as far away from civilisation as possible and find somewhere safe to live out your last days in peace. Just remember to pack a console and power supply before you leave home.

Thanks to video games, we’re more educated than ever about survival during a zombie apocalypse. If there’s any advice I’ve missed, please feel free to leave it in the comments below so we have a comprehensive survival guide in case of the end of the world.

Zombie Awareness Month 2021: life left in them yet

It’s Zombie Awareness Month. Running since 2007 and coordinated by the Zombie Research Society, this annual campaign is designed to raise awareness and prepare us all for the apocalypse which is inevitably going to happen.

It’s often mistakenly thought that the first zombie movie was George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead back in 1968. It was actually Edward Halperin’s White Zombie almost 40 years earlier in 1932 – but even that was based on a book published in 1929, The Magic Island by William Seabrook. The undead have therefore been shuffling around in our nightmares as well as our media for over 90 years and it doesn’t look as if there’s any sign of them stopping yet.

It’s believed they made the transition to video games in 1984 when Sandy White created Zombie Zombie for the ZX Spectrum. Forget the usual advice of shooting them in the head though: the player had to use a helicopter to build platforms and then fool the living dead into falling to their doom in this isometric 3D-adventure. Both technology and story-writing have improved and become far more sophisticated since then, but developers and gamers still regularly turn to the undead to get their digital kicks today.

What do you think of when you hear that word? The image we usually conjure up is that of a horde of reanimated corpses, dragging their decaying limbs towards us in the overriding desire to munch on our flesh. This traditional view has been depicted in video games with apocalyptic settings such as Dead Rising and Dying Light, along with lighter-hearted releases such as Plants vs. Zombies. They may be slow, but they have all the time in the world while you only have so much energy and limited ammunition.

The living dead don’t always fill this role in their current interpretations, however, and over the years creators have experimented with their forms to challenge players in new ways. We now have runners, crawlers, screamers and exploders among others; consider all the various types used in titles such as Left 4 Dead, World War Z and Days Gone. This variety is good because it keeps players on their toes – but it also means that aiming a gun at the skull might not be enough to save you any longer.

Then there are releases where the undead appear almost out of the blue. They ambushed Drake and Elena in the underground cavern in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune; were used by Eva to terrorise Neil in To The Moon; and stalked the player in the mines during The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. Whether their presence has been introduced to cause excitement, humour or fear, it’s usually more welcome than other enemy types and our obsession with them continues.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, video game, zombie, face

So why is this? I’ve been doing some digging around in the graveyard for and I think I’ve found a few possible answers. Several online sources discuss the fact that developers like using the zombies as non-player characters (NPCs) because they ‘cover a multitude of programming sins’. We expect them to have a low mentality and therefore be oblivious to the impact of bullets, and so we usually put their inhuman movement down to them not being alive rather than poor code.

Programmers aren’t the only ones who love the shuffling corpses: they’re a goldmine for writers too. They can be used as a narrative element to tap into many of our fears – violence, cannibalism, and infectious viruses for example – and then taken even deeper to look at subconscious terrors including mindless consumerism, the loss of the people closest to us and confrontation with our own mortality. The living dead have got you covered If you’re looking for an enemy which can be used as a metaphor.

You can’t overlook the fact that the undead are almost guaranteed to make a profit also. Game development is an expense business and publishers are usually very risk-adverse; why chance losing all the cash you stumped up when you can go with something you already know will be popular with your consumers? Zombies are a proven commodity, so much so that themed downloadable content (DLC) has been created for titles where there were no living dead in the first place to make a bit more money.

That’s the game industry but what about the players themselves? Well, it could have something to do with what’s referred to as the ‘uncanny valley’. The concept suggests that the more something resembles a human, the more it provokes feelings of eeriness and revulsion in observers. I remember a sensation like this when visiting the AI: More Than Human exhibition at the Barbican a couple of years ago and coming face to face with a robot called Alter 3. I wasn’t sure whether to be amazed or hide in fear.

Left 4 Dead 2, video game, zombies, clown, gun

I think it’s a similar sensation with zombies. We view them as a threat because they’re so much like us – indeed, they once were us before everything went to hell – but there’s something not quite right about them and it puts our senses on high alert. Our reaction is to stop them by whatever means necessary, but there’s no need to feel guilty about our actions because they’re already dead. This means we can continue firing without feeling guilty or having to question the morality of the gameplay.

We’re not just fighting to stay alive though. There are bigger consequences at stake: we have to stop ourselves from turning into a mindless undead thing like those who form the shambling horde in front of us. Transforming into the living dead is usually depicted as something worse than death in any media, and it’s during those scenes that we’re asked to consider how much courage we have. Would we be brave enough to end it all if we had been infected?

Let’s sum up our fascination with the undead with a quote from Simon Pegg. In an article for The Guardian in November 2008, he wrote: “Zombies win out over vampires and werewolves when it comes to the title of Most Potent Metaphorical Monster. Where their pointy-toothed cousins are all about sex and bestial savagery, the zombie trumps all by personifying our deepest fear: death. Zombies are our destiny writ large. Slow and steady in their approach, weak, clumsy, often absurd, the zombie relentlessly closes in, unstoppable, intractable.”

It’s the primal nature of the zombie which fascinates and scares us in equal measure. It’s safe to say there’s plenty of life left in them yet.