Games that didn't need zombies

What the game called them: "Husks"

How the game tried to explain them: They're not zombies! They're… synthetic shells of former human beings, who were impaled on spikes and slowly drained of organic material by a hive of artificially intelligent machines. Plus, they have glowing blue eyes – that's different, right?

Why the game didn't need them: Same reason as Halo – this is science fiction, not survival horror. I'm the captain of a shiny, state-of-the-art spaceship with a crew of highly exotic, highly intelligent and highly diverse aliens at my command, not some depressed widower searching for his dead wife. I'm exploring the farthest reaches of the universe, not looking for a rusty key in an abandoned hospital. Most importantly, I'm playing a goddamn BioWare game – the masters of originality in storytelling – and I shouldn't be encountering anything close to a zombie anywhere in this entire experience.

Oh, the writers and designers did their darnedest to make these clichés interesting. The Husks are made of wires, tubes, lights and circuitry rather than rotting flesh; they can discharge bursts of electricity that disable shields; and they were created with technology that is millions of years old. But in action? During gameplay? They shuffle slowly, they tilt their heads at awkward angles, they stare with blank expressions and they grasp uselessly at the empty air in front of them. They are zombies. And worse yet, so are the Thorian Creepers you fight halfway through the first Mass Effect.

Seriously, BioWare? Two types of zombies? From you, I expected better.

Example of tedious zombie gameplay:

What the game calls them: "Undead Nightmare Pack"

How the game tries to explain them: No explanation necessary! Red Dead Redemption is the only game on this list that doesn't try to disguise its zombies with fancy new nicknames or convoluted back stories. The press release for the planned DLC is straightforward: "Ghost towns and cemeteries come alive in a West gone horribly wrong. 8 new multiplayer zombie characters."

The truth is obviously welcome. The zombies, though? Not so much.

Why the game doesn't need them: I don't have a problem with zombies in Red Dead's multiplayer. They can go ahead and moonwalk to Thriller if they want – that's a separate mode with separate rules and, presumably, a separate reality. What worries me is the other line from Rockstar's email: "Brand new single-player adventure, challenges and quests."

Uh oh. I do have a problem with zombies in Red Dead's campaign. For me, the title's biggest strength is its authenticity – the story and characters may be fictional, but the world and the historical time period they inhabit are remarkably accurate and very carefully researched for a videogame. By the end, your heart aches at the thought of losing America's wild frontier to the inevitable approach of technology because, for 20-30 hours, you really felt like you've lived in that Wild West. Last time I checked, there were no flesh-eating corpses documented in the early 1900s… not even in ghost towns like Tumbleweed.

I'll reserve final judgment on the Undead Nightmare Pack, however, until I've actually seen what Rockstar has planned. After all, the press release also promises "additional animals unleashed in the world"… and if that translates into "zombie grizzly bears," sign me up!

Jul 27, 2010

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