Unless you’ve been in a coma or trapped in a subterranean bunker, you’ve seen that zombies are a pretty big deal in games these days. Resident Evil was like Bill Hinzman in that lonely graveyard in Night of the Living Dead, the precursor to a flesh-hungry mob that’s infested every facet of gaming from cartoony strategy titles (Plants vs. Zombies) to multi-million dollar FPS franchises (Call of Duty). Except Resident Evil was far from the first…there were games that featured the living dead long before the first Playstation was every connected to that old Zenith tube in the living room. So put on your ironic black plastic glasses and take a look at these hipster zombie games…the games that had zombies before it was cool.
Halloween Harry/Alien Carnage
Borne out of the shareware boom of the early 1990’s, which gave us classics like Wolfenstein 3D and DOOM, Halloween Harry (later retitled Alien Carnage so it didn’t feel quite so seasonal) set players in the combat boots of the titular hero as he repelled an alien invasion. Of course, those aliens had to turn people into mindless flesh-munchers as part of their insidious plan (don’t they always?) and Harry had to use his jetpack and arsenal of firepower (including a super-satisfying flamethrower) to reduce the shambling zombies to piles of smoldering bones. The game was released as freeware back in 2007, so you can scratch your retro itch for absolutely nothing. Nice!
Isle of the Dead
Dead Island wasn’t the first game to feature zombies overrunning an island, but it certainly did a much better job at it than Isle of the Dead. Released by Merit Software (ironic, as the game had no merit), Isle of the Dead tried to integrate point-and-click adventure elements with FPS action…and failed at both. The 90-degree angles of the rendering engine weren’t very effective at conveying an organic environment like a tropical jungle, and the adventure elements were unceremoniously shoehorned in. In its defense, the death animations are a hoot and the zombie types are suitably gruesome (although what’s up with the bodybuilder Speedo zombie?), but the game’s music, which you’ll hear in the video below, made the Wolfenstein 3D music sound like it was played by the Royal Philharmonic.
Corpse Killer may have reared its rotting head well before zombies were in vogue, but it has the shame of being part of the most insidious trend of its time: “interactive” movies. The advent of CD-ROM technology now gave developers, who were used to cramming their titles on a handful of 3.5” floppy disks, the then-massive capacity of 650 MB to hock their wares. Unfortunately, many used this increased storage for horribly compressed digital video (another new technology of the era) and the interactive movie was born. Digital Pictures was one of the most notorious distributors of this dreck, filling the Sega CD library with the notorious Night Trap, as well as other barely-interactive crap like Marky Mark: Make My Video. Corpse Killer at least upped the interaction by making the game into a light-gun shooter, allowing players to blast their way across an island overrun with zombies (there it is again). Unfortunately, it also featured the same problems that plagued most of Digital Pictures’ output: barrel-scraping production values. You can check it out in the video below, although I would like to preface it with an apology to Jamaicans everywhere.
Keeping with the light-gun theme, Beast Busters has the infamy of being the last arcade game released by SNK before they released the Neo Geo, and it was a doozy. Beast Busters was rife with lunacy, including a knife-throwing punk zombie that mutates into a killer canine and zombie football players being carried by giant birds. The mix of fast action and splatter was a minor hit, and a Beast Busters arcade cabinet was allegedly brought on tour with video game fanatic and King of Pop Michael Jackson.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors
A true cult classic, Zombies Ate My Neighbors is easily the most recognizable title in the list. Developed by LucasArts and published by Konami, ZAMN was a top-down shooter that wore its love of B-movies on its sleeve. Players had to both eliminate the zombie threat and save their neighbors (the ones that hadn’t been eaten, I suppose), and the results were one of the best games of the 16-bit era.