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Monday, January 11, 2021

Fresh Brains: The Best Playable Zombies in Video Games

Who would want to be a zombie? It’s not as cool as a vampire or werewolf, and you’re kind of, well, dead. But what about zombies in video games, you say? Well, that’s a different story.

Not content with just lumbering around and eating brains, video games can do so much more than follow the trope that George Romero popularized. Much like we did for vampires and werewolves, here’s a selection of video games where being one of the walking dead isn’t so bad. In fact, it’s downright fun.

Keep in mind that these games are ones where you play as a zombie, rather than ones where you face zombies (we do have standards, after all).

Romulus, Remus, or Sylvia – Undead Knights

When Romulus Blood, head of the House of Blood, questions the loyalty of his Queen, the conniving Fatima, to King Kirk Gladys, Gladys orders his men to slay the entire family of his loyal knight. Romulus, his younger brother Remus, and Remus’ wife, Sylvia, make a pact with a demon known as The Beast to return to the land of the living infused with the unholy power of necromancy. Playing as one of the three, players must convert foes into zombie slaves, which can be used to attack, defend or overcome obstacles in your way.

Borrowing mechanics from Dynasty Warriors (large groups of enemies for you to mow down/convert into zombies), Devil May Cry (soul collecting to spend on upgrades) and Overlord (commanding your zombie hordes to combat enemies, break down structures, etc.), Undead Knights seems to have a nice setup, but ultimately falls apart once it’s put into practice. The main mechanic is to grab enemies and hold them while a meter builds up for you to finish zombifying them. However, your already-converted minions will tend either to get in the way of your attempted converting (resulting in you throwing them instead), or pile up on an enemy, resulting in you taking them out if you try to attack. Frustrating matters is the fact that you need to focus on an enemy for it to be targeted, all the while you’ll be attacked by other enemies, which leaves you defenseless.

As for the zombie abilities, you do have some variety in your zombie ranks, as well as the ability to turn larger enemies into undead units to work with you. But apart from that, Undead Knights lacks charm, utilizes frustrating controls and camera, and features derivative combat that devolves into the same routine of walking around and slashing enemies and zombifying them to solve an obstacle/puzzle. You’re better off playing Overlord, despite it lacking in controllable zombies.

Stubbs – Stubbs The Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse

Set in a retro-futuristic city of the future, Edward ‘Stubbs’ Stubblefield was a traveling salesman in the 1930s who got himself killed after an encounter with his girl Maggie Monday’s father, Otis, who dumps Stubbs’ body in the wilderness. Flash forward to 1959 where the world’s richest man, Andrew Monday, has built his dream city, Punchbowl Pennsylvania, on top of Stubbs’ grave. Not one to lay down, Stubbs digs himself up, and proceeds to claw through all of Punchbowl’s citizens as revenge.

If there was ever a game that got being a zombie right, it would be Stubbs The Zombie. Not only does Stubbs take the idea of brain-munching and leading a horde of the undead fun, but the presentation and humor make it all the more enjoyable. Admittedly, there’s not much depth to the combat, but where else can you find a game that has you farting to daze an enemy before munching on their brains? Stubbs does have some unique abilities, such as the ability to detach his hand to run ahead as a scout, or use it to possess enemies to turn their weapons against them.

Like Destroy All Humans!, Stubbs has that 50s aesthetic to it, but it’s also that retro sci-fi theme with flying cars and all. And much like DaH!, Stubbs has a humourous streak to it that while it doesn’t hit the mark all the time, it doesn’t become painfully unfunny (even if you do get the obligatory “Thriller” moment). Contrasting the humor is the gore, which is what you’d expect from a game about zombies. No matter their condition, zombified enemies will follow you, regardless of how intact their bodies are. Apart from the thin combat, the game isn’t particularly long or difficult. Though to be honest, if the game were any longer, it might start to wear out its welcome. Still, it’s an absolute shame that there wasn’t a sequel to this one. It’s also sadly no longer on Steam or the Microsoft Store, meaning you’ll have to track down an original copy to get your zombie fix.

The Infected – Left 4 Dead 2

Set in the aftermath of a worldwide pandemic of an infectious disease known that rapidly transforms humans into zombie-like creatures, the Civil Emergency and Defense Agency (CEDA) and the U.S. military create safe zones to attempt to evacuate as many survivors as possible. You play as one of four Survivors: Coach, Ellis, Nick, and Rochelle, who are immune to the disease, and must make their way through the Deep South of the United States to New Orleans in order to reach the safe zone.

Left 4 Dead 2 is awesome, no question about it. Playing with your friends and trying to survive the zombie onslaughts is one thing, but to play as one of the Special Infected can be just as fun. Though you’re restricted to playing as the undead in four modes, being able to be the annoyance for once to other players does have its charm. Being that it’s up to the AI Director as to what Special Infected you play as during a round, you have to cross your fingers as to what Special Infected you spawn as. Though unlike the first game, the Infected team won’t be relegated to two Hunters, a Smoker, and a Boomer.

Also, unlike in single-player, the Special Infected do receive unique adjustments to their attack mechanics to make it more fun or challenging for players (depending on which side you’re on). For example, The Boomer can aim upward to let its puke fly in an arc, splashing the Survivors from a further distance. And in the interest of fairness (and because it’s so damn fun), spawning as a Tank is random (though the player’s score can be a factor), and you can only have it happen once per level. But really, with the game enduring ten-plus years now, no matter who/what you play as, you’re going to have a blast. Plus, with the numerous graphical mods, you can quite easily turn a Smoker into Yoshi, or even have Terry Crews as the Tank.

The Infected – Dying Light

In the city of Harran, a mysterious viral outbreak has turned most of the population into zombies, forcing Harran’s Defence Ministry to quarantine parts of the city. The Global Relief Effort (GRE) assists survivors still trapped in the city by regularly airdropping supplies. Players take on the role of Kyle Crane, an undercover GRE operative sent to infiltrate the quarantine zone to find Kadir “Rais” Suleiman, a rogue political figure who has a file that could destroy the organization’s reputation. However, upon arrival, Crane must decide between completing his mission or helping the survivors evacuate.

One of the many DLCs for Dying Light is Be the Zombie, which is pretty self-explanatory. Originally a pre-order bonus, Techland made the mode available for free, which if enabled, allows other players to invade your game as a Night Hunter. As a Night Hunter, you’re equipped with an unlockable skill tree, and are tasked with defending your nests (which serve as spawn points) against up to four-player survivors. You’ll also have to kill said attacking player survivors until their limited lives run out.

As a member of The Infected, you’re extremely weak to UV lights, both from flares, traps, and the UV flashlight. If an attacking survivor casts it on you, your stamina will be lowered, leaving you unable to retreat as quickly, and therefore vulnerable to attack. However, a Night Hunter isn’t without advantages. You’ll be able to use your tendrils like hookshots to swing across buildings, and if not detected, you can kill a human survivor instantly with a grab. Much like in Left 4 Dead 2, you also have abilities such as a Ground Pound to disorient and even flip over player vehicles, or use your spit to attract a horde of Infected or incapacitate them. Hey, after five years, and close to 40 billion zombies slain, it’s about time you got some revenge for the living impaired.

John Marston – Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare

In this non-canon expansion to the original game, seemingly overnight, an undead plague has ravaged the Western American Frontier, decimating the landscape and reawakening the dead. In towns, settlements, and outposts throughout the world, the uninfected citizens are left to fight for survival against waves of the undead. John Marston must ride out, and survive long enough to find a cure.

Admittedly, Rockstar kind of made the cover art for the standalone expansion pack a bit of a spoiler. However, to counter all of this, they made it so John doesn’t become a zombie right away. But that’s not the point of this expansion. Switching things up from the base game, ammo in Undead Nightmare is scarce, meaning you’ll have to either be good at headshots to definitively kill zombies, or you’ll have to rely on Torches to set zombies on fire. You can also use explosives, but again, it’s probably wise to be frugal in your usage. And yes, depending on what decisions you make during the campaign, at the end of it, John will be a zombie, allowing you to roam around the world as a member of the walking dead. Other than the aesthetics, Marston sadly doesn’t gain any new abilities (which would’ve added another awesome dimension to an already great game).

Along with a single-player campaign, Undead Nightmare allows access to the base game’s multiplayer modes, which is where you can initially play as the undead. And, as is kind of the norm with these sorts of things, several of the zombified characters in the open-world mode are references to real-life horror personalities such as Edgar Allan Poe, Wes Craven, Sam Raimi, and more. A new multiplayer mode, Undead Overrun, is a sort of survival mode, where you and a group of friends battle endless waves of zombies for XP.

Sir Daniel Fortesque – MediEvil

In the year 1286, Sir Daniel Fortesque and his soldiers fought against the evil sorcerer Zarok, who raised an army of demons, intending to conquer the world. Sir Daniel was hailed as a hero after the battle, supposedly having been mortally wounded during it, taking Zarok with him. However, a hundred years later, Zarok reappears, robbing people of their souls to build an army of undead. Unleashing waves of necromatic energy, Zarok inadvertently revives Sir Daniel as well. Now a skeletal corpse, Sir Dan must correct the mistakes of the past and defeat Zarok once and for all.

Okay, so we might be stretching it a bit when it comes to labeling Sir Dan a zombie. But, he technically was dead and was reanimated. And sure, the game has its flaws, whether it be the recent remake or the original. But like a couple of games on this list, there’s some lightheartedness running through it, which is part of the charm. Where else can you get a redemption story as a corpse that can use his own arm as a weapon? Sadly, that’s about the extent of his “zombie” abilities.

Then again, this is coming from someone who enjoyed playing the original. Yes, the awkward 1998 combat still remains in the 2019 version, and the fact that Other Ocean didn’t bother to add checkpoints to the remake is ridiculous when you compare it to modern standards. And much like other games in the late 90s, you do have the collect-a-thon aspects that pad the game’s length. However, if you’re able to accept a bit of nostalgia, including the warts, the game is still quite entertaining. The design of the characters and the levels, regardless of which version you choose, add a lot of appeal to the game’s gothic setting. And recalling the lightheartedness point, the game has some humor to it (though it might be unintentional if you’re looking at the 1998 cutscenes). Of course, there are other games, both modern and classic, that do things better than MediEvil. But then again, none of them are MediEvil now, are they?

You – Zombie Night Terror

A mysterious plague has erupted from a mysterious source, turning you into a zombie. Your mission is to spread this pandemic to wipe out humanity by “recruiting” victims into your army. But the undead are quite dumb. You’ll need to help guide them through obstacles using special mutations to make your zombie troops evolve and fulfill their appetite for flesh.

Think Lemmings, but with zombies. That’s really what Zombie Night Terror is about. That, and paying homage to the original Night of the Living Dead and other zombie films. From the black-and-white aesthetic (apart from the blood), the lumbering walking dead, to the source of the plague (a street drug is known as “Romero”), you can get where this game is going. As you make your way through the game’s numerous levels, you’ll have to command your horde to perform certain things in order to advance, which is where the Lemmings aspect comes in. You can command one zombie to stay put to prevent your horde from walking into certain doom, or order them to rush forward a la a swarm of Rage zombies from 28 Days Later to decimate your foes in front of you. Plus, you can stack mutations on top of one another, creating more variety.

Graphically, the game utilizes its pixel presentation perfectly, conveying style and aesthetic while having just the right amount of detail. It also helps that the only colors apart from black and white are the bright green of the DNA vats you use to replenish your power, and the bright red of arterial sprays. The score is also top-notch. Consisting mainly of synth, it screams 80s horror, and accentuates the action. About the only misstep for the game is its difficulty. Things get really tough after the first 10 missions, when you have snipers taking out your hordes. Combined with the potential micromanagement and the need to react quickly, this potentially can be more frustrating than fun for some. But, if you’re willing to persevere, there’s plenty of enjoyment to glean from this one.

You – Dark Souls 2

Long ago, before humans existed, the world was ruled by dragons. However, when humans arrived, the dragons were all but wiped out by mighty god-like beings known as the Four Lords. A golden age for humanity known as The Age of Fire began, but soon a curious affliction has started to appear called the Darksign. Those the affliction brands are cursed to become immortal undead, forever returning from death until they ultimately lose their minds. It is said that one day, a Chosen Undead will appear, and a great change will occur in the world.

Yep, you knew this one was coming. As is the norm in the Souls series, at a certain point, you’ll end up dead. But, lucky for you, you’re the Undead Chosen. You’re cursed to never die, but at the same time, you’re doomed to eventually become a Hollow, a zombie-like being with no memories or purpose. As in the previous game, a Hollow is a degenerative state which limits your abilities and possible scenarios in the game each time you die. Not only does each death reduce your max HP in increments of 5%, but your appearance will also gradually become more corpse-like. To top it off, you’ll not be able to use Summoning signs.

So, what’s to do? In order to reverse Hollow, you’ll need to grab a Human Effigy and burn it at your bonfire. Doing so not only restores your humanity, but also decreases your world priority in the invasion selection process. However, you still won’t be able to summon other players (except NPCs) until the Effigy burns out. Of course, since actually acquiring a Human Effigy can be difficult (read: you’ll need Souls or luck), there are other ways to restore Humanity, such as being summoned to another game and completing your task, or finding an item such as a Ring of Life Protection or a Ring of Soul Protection.

C-Virus Zombies – Resident Evil 6

Jake Muller, the son of Albert Wesker, is on the run with partner, Sherry Birkin. Jake is linked to a bioterrorist attack and has fled with Sherry to become a mercenary of the South-Slavic Edonian Liberation Army. Sherry is there to ensure that Jake escapes as his blood holds the antibodies needed to cure the newly developed C-virus bioweapon. Chris Redfield leads a team of BSAA agents as they battle against a new threat known as the J’avo, a new virus strain that awakens within the host via physical trauma and turns them into animalistic beings.

Why it took this long for Capcom to allow players to be a zombie in a Resident Evil game, who knows. Anyway, a new multiplayer mode known as Agent Hunt allows players to invade other players’ games as one of the many zombies/J’avo/creatures in the base game. Sadly, you’re limited to the lesser J’avo, and not any of the bosses or mini-bosses. And much like Left 4 Dead 2, which creature you spawn as is completely random. That’s all fine, as the scary part is that you won’t know what type of creature those who invade your game will be. Even scarier is the fact that after you manage to kill another invading player, they will respawn elsewhere in control of another random creature that you won’t know about, either.

In Agent Hunt, the strength, speed, and stamina of the creature that invading players control vary, depending on the current campaign’s selected difficulty, There are also Skills that are exclusive to this mode which can toughen up your creature’s stats, including offense, defense, health, and stamina. Apart from earning medals, boosting your stats and achievements, there’s sadly not much more to this mode, which, like much of Resident Evil 6, is frustrating and disappointing. The more-recent release of Resident Evil Resistance brought a sort of return to playing as zombies, but sadly that couldn’t generate as much excitement as one would hope, either.

Zeds – Killing Floor 2

Taking place a month after the first game, the Zed outbreak fashioned by biotech firm Horzine has spread beyond Europe, causing governments to collapse and communication systems to fail. You play as a member of a group of civilians and mercenaries who have banded together to combat the outbreak. Upon tracking specimen clone outbreaks, players will descend into Zed-laden hot zones and exterminate them.

One of the additions to Killing Floor 2 includes Survival VS, which pits up to six players as the humans against up to six human-controlled Zeds. Added as part of the Revenge of the Zeds update, Mercs will have to battle their way through multiple waves of Zeds all the way up to the Boss. Zeds that are controlled by players are paler, with different abilities assigned to each particular Zed. Should a Zed-controlled player die, they respawn as a different Zed as long as there are still Zeds left to be spawned for that wave. Sadly, you’ll never spawn as a Cyst, nor will you spawn as any of the enemies added to the game after the Revenge of the Zeds.

If the Mercs team does make it to the boss wave, a player on the Zed team will be selected to play as the Patriarch. The other players on the Zed team can spawn as other Zeds periodically during the wave, but eventually the spawns run out, leaving the Mercs to battle with the Patriarch. Once the round is over, the two teams switch sides. After all that’s said and done, the two scores are totaled, and the team with the most points wins.


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