The many faces of videogame zombies

Zombies and videogames go together like parasitic viruses and juicy human brains. Especially in recent years, we've had an almost ridiculous glut of zombie games, each one providing its own take on the living dead. While you may at first think of zombies uniformly as mindless flesh-eaters, you'd be surprised at what a wonderfully diverse bunch of characters they can be. Sure, the mindless flesh-eating part still stands, but there's a lot more to your average ghoul than that.

Above: Possession would have given you your very own army of undead to command, but the game itself died before being released. Ironic, no? 

From the axe-wielding maniacs of House of the Dead to the classic rotters found in Resident Evil, there's a surprising amount of variety and depth to the common garden zombie. Read on and celebrate the diversity of animated cannibalistic corpses in all their decomposing finery.

Resident Evil

It's surprising to think that at the time Resident Evil was released, zombie games weren't exploited to even a fraction of the degree that they are now. Zombie games took an astonishingly long time to become saturated, and back in the nineties, Resident Evil was one of only a few such titles available. It also gave us one of gaming's very first classic zombies.

These creatures are crafted from true George A. Romero stock. Slow-moving, dim-witted, but unflinching, single-minded and relentlessly hungry, the common enemies of Resident Evil are everything one has come to expect from the archetypal undead flesh-eater.

Resident Evil still boasts some of the scariest zombies in the business, and part of that is due to the retrospectively inferior graphics of the PlayStation. Everyone knows low-budget horror movies are always creepier than polished Hollywood flicks, and the same holds true for PlayStation-era zombies. The jerky animations and low-fidelity squelching noises are still spookier than almost anything cooked up by today's Triple-A master craftsmen.

House of the Dead

House of the Dead made fast zombies cool before anyone had ever heard of the film 28 Days Later. While they are not the archetypal "Infected" popularized by Danny Boyle's classic film, they have all the speed and viciousness of a Rage victim, coupled with the undeath of a stereotypical Zack (“zombie”, if you haven’t read World War Z). If they have a movie equivalent, it would be the sentient, brain-starved zombies from Return of the Living Dead.

Unlike your average animated cadaver, House of the Dead's zombies display more intelligence and wit. They're able to wield weapons or throw projectiles such as knives and barrels. In some of the games, the zombies are also capable of following directions, although how those in charge are controlling them never seems to be revealed.

Isle of the Dead

These guys were some of the first videogame zombies to ever stalk the Earth. They were also among the most absurd. Overly muscled caricatures that attempt and fail to look like humorous stereotypes mindlessly growl at the player and occasionally eat him in a poorly animated cartoon. It's also worth noting that one of the zombies doesn't even look like a zombie at all. He just looks like Duke Nukem in underpants.

Terrible zombies, they were. Let us never speak of them again.

Plants vs. Zombies

These colorful characters made for far more endearing and likable monstrosities than we're used to, although they still maintain many classic zombie traits. Slow, shambling, marching ever onward with grinding inevitability, their cartoon aesthetic does nothing to remove the very real terror that comes with any undead threat.

These zombies, unlike their Romeroian counterparts, come in a variety of distinct flavors and seem to use memories of their former lives in order to aid combat situations. Armored Football Zombies, jumping Dolphin Riders and sneaky Balloon Zombies are just a small fraction of the various tricky ghouls you'll be facing. They may not be the smarter than the average human, but these particular zombies are strategic nightmares.

Somewhat tragic, too, that they cling so desperately to what they once were. If you're feeling pretentious and artsy and sensitive about it, we mean.

Dead Rising

In many ways, the zombies of Dead Rising aren't very different at all from the archetype put forth in Resident Evil. Where they differ isn't so much in their aesthetic appearance or mannerisms, but in their purpose.

The zombies of Resident Evil are supposed to be a nightmarish threat at all time. Ammo needs to be conserved and these tough bastards can appear at any time. In Dead Rising, however, the zombies aren't so much a threat as a blank canvas upon which one paints their most sadistic fantasies.

Whether you're smashing them in the face with a dumbbell or shredding them to ribbons with a lawnmower, these lurching fiends are mere dog toys - rotting lumps of flesh to be played with at one's own vicious leisure. Sure, unprepared players can still become overwhelmed, but these zombies are mostly there for fun. Good for them.

Left 4 Dead

One of the most famous zombified foes of recent videogame memory, the "Common Infected" of Left 4 Dead are a true representation of what some call the "Super Zombie" or "Runner" - a speedy, angry, more brutally violent version of the common garden zed-head.

These guys are less resilient than the average Zack, but they're quicker, they climb, and they attack in hordes that will make short work of any solo player. When Left 4 Dead released way back in 2008, I believe it made zombies scary again. This generation had reduced the terror of the living dead to saturated, manufactured gimmickry. Valve brought it back by creating a panic-inducing game in which rushing waves of former humans caused disarray and good old fashioned terror.

You can't say fairer than that.

Sep 21, 2010

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  • Metroidhunter32 - September 25, 2010 4:13 p.m.

    Sonny from the flash game of the same name is still my favorite zombie. Such wit, and in such a good game.
  • OHMYGODIMONFIRE - September 23, 2010 3:12 a.m.

    Woah woah, what was that game mentioned at the very beginning of the article? the ironic one? I've never even heard of it and I'm already sad it was cancelled.
  • philipshaw - September 22, 2010 11:28 a.m.

    Nothing beats the oringal RE zombie
  • chrisbg99 - September 22, 2010 10:34 a.m.

    That first zombie you run across in RE was one of the creepiest things ever. That image stuck with me for a pretty long while.
  • Clovin64 - September 22, 2010 5:43 a.m.

    I think you're right Jim, the old PS1 Resi does make zombies scary. They look so blocky and move so creepy, and the squelchy noises are bloody terrifying, plus the camera angle in Resi 1 was absoulute pants so you never knew if a zombie was standing two inches in front of your face just out of the camera angle.
  • WereWolfAstronaut - September 22, 2010 5:14 a.m.

    No Stubbs: The Zombie mention? I am seriously disappointed in you Jim.
  • onewingedantista - September 22, 2010 3:59 a.m.

    World War Z references for the win!
  • Jesse1066 - September 22, 2010 3:11 a.m.

    No headcrabs?
  • alexbirchard - September 22, 2010 2:15 a.m.

    What about the zombies in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion?
  • gmknoble - September 21, 2010 11:49 p.m.

    The first picture in this article looks like a zombie version of Techno Viking.
  • Vulneratus - September 21, 2010 11:01 p.m.

    When hell is full... modern videogame clichés will walk the earth. Nah just kiddin'. Ya gotta love some brain-blastin' zombaction! STOP!... Don't open... that door!
  • 12quad - September 21, 2010 10:40 p.m.

    Speaking of World War Z I hear there's a movie coming out of it:

Showing 1-12 of 12 comments

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