Like the creatures themselves, the zombie phenomenon in pop-culture is hard to kill -- especially in video games, where the undead frequently shamble across our gaming consoles. With the “Call of Duty: Black Ops’” zombie-map only Rezurrection Pack out this week and the much-hyped shooter “Dead Island” coming next Tuesday, we thought we’d take a look back at the most influential and brain-munchingly awesome zombie titles in gaming history.
Resident Evil (1996)
Critics and fans tend to speak about “Resident Evil 4” with a kind of holy reverence, but we miss the slow moving suspense of the original “Resident Evil.” If RE4 was the “48 Days Later” of the series, an action-packed game that featured speedy, sprinting zombies -- the first game was a classic with shuffling zombies moving at tortoise speed like in “Night of the Living Dead.”
Sure, it had cheesy dialogue (“Jill, the master of unlocking” anyone?) and the controls were frustratingly archaic, but the first "Resident Evil" almost singlehandedly created the survival-horror genre and it still holds a certain kind of spooky power. And who didn’t nearly piss their pants the first time the zombie dog jumped through the stained glass window?
Dead Rising 2 (2010)
Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Zombies are often props used for dark laughs in movies and games, and "Dead Rising 2" was certainly more spoofy-comedy than a straight jump-out-of-your-seat horror game. There are buckets of blood and gore oozing out of every pore of the game, but it's hard to take your character's plight too seriously when he's dressed in a waitress outfit or bikini and tossing a bowling ball to knock down hapless zombies like pins.
There’s also lots of weapon customization that enables DR2 hero Chuck Greene to play MacGyver and craft some truly creative zombie slaying weapons like a chainsaw and a boat paddle or power drills fused with a helmet. If you can look past the game's slightly frustrating save system and perfunctory story -- "Dead Rising 2" is a ridiculously fun way to spend a zombie apocalypse.
Call of Duty: World At War – Nazi Zombies (2008)
Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Nazi Zombies is arguably the most important addition that developer Treyarch brought to the Call of Duty experience, as evidenced by the popularity of the zombie maps in the downloadable content for “Call of Duty: Black Ops.” The new maps are growing increasingly elaborate and complex (Need proof? The featured map in the new Rezurrection Pack takes place on the moon!) but the zombie mode in Call of Duty began with relatively humble origins.
Nazi Zombies was a throw-in bonus mode that you earned for beating the single-player campaign in “Call of Duty: World at War.” In it, one to four players worked cooperatively to combat waves of undead Nazis that grew in population and speed until the humans are overwhelmed.
Teamwork is key, as you had to help each other nail boards on windows and doors while shooting the heads of incoming zombies to survive. We can’t count how many times we’ve yelled “You take that side of the room, we’ll take this one!” to our friends while frantically looking for a new gun to buy.
House of the Dead: Overkill (2009)
The Nintendo Wii has a strong reputation as a family friendly gaming system full of cuddly games involving Mario and Kirby, which is possibly why a violent, foul-mouthed zombie shooter like “House of the Dead: Overkill” got overlooked by most Wii-owners when it was released.
Overkill kept the on-rails arcade style gameplay of its predecessors, but added a ’70s B-movie grindhouse aesthetic with a ridiculously over-the-top sense of humor. In it, you played as two detectives -- one an African-American with a penchant for language so bad, it’d make Samuel L. Jackson blush -- who had to blast their way through countless zombies and grotesque boss characters. It became a cult-classic and we’re happy that an HD remake with Move-compatiblity is coming to the PlayStation 3 this fall.
Left 4 Dead (2008)
Xbox 360, PC
It’s difficult to talk about zombie games and leave out “Left 4 Dead” -- Valve’s undead-hunting masterpiece. In gaming’s past, zombie games tended to be a lonely affair, but L4D popularized cooperative gameplay at about the same time as Call of Duty’s Nazi Zombies and also introduced competitive multiplayer to the genre. While the single player mode is pretty standard Zombie-Apocalypse-Shooter, joining with three of your friends to play online on Xbox Live turns “Left 4 Dead” into some of the most fun you can have on a console.
Instead of one long story, there are several hour long episodes each ending in a dramatic escape. You and your survivor comrades had to wander dark sewers, abandoned hospital halls, and a destroyed airport, while fending off zombies the whole time. “Left 4 Dead 2” is fine, but it’s more of the same. For our money, we’ll take the original cast of characters, especially the curmudgeonly Bill whose famous cry of “Pills here!” still rings in our head.
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