Attack of the Zombie Games

Pandemic warnings. Entire towns shutting down. Subway riders donning surgical masks. The end wasn't coming with a bang, but with a sneeze and a fever. Last week's news cycle--or the precursor to a zombie apocalypse? Watching TV, it was hard to tell. (Ask the prankster who doctored a BBC News page, or Mike "The Streets" Skinner, who created the mock music video "He's Behind You, He's Got Swine Flu.") I don't know about the flu, but after years of reading horror books, watching twisted flicks, and playing the splatterfest video games they inspired, I'm ready for the walking dead. One thing I haven't prepared for, though, is the sheer number of zombie games rising.

Here's what I'm wondering: Have we officially hit the zombie-meme overload point? I decided to find out--in between bouts of Left 4 Dead and Resident Evil 5 (both great titles)--by playing the latest dead-centric games roaming stores.

Where the Ghouls Are...

In a quick search on the iPhone App Store, I count at least 50 offerings that have something to do with zombies. Seriously. Go see for yourself. How many of those games are actually good? That's a whole other question.

7 Days Apocalypse
7 Days Apocalypse (iPhone)
Last week, at the height of the mainstream-media panic attack, 7 Days Apocalypse came out, putting you in the position of slaying victims of the "S-Virus" (S...swine...get it?). I don't know whether that was intentional, but my hat's off to you, sirs, for jumping on the panic wagon and poking fun at it. As for the game itself, it's a run-and-shoot quick hit like iDracula--use one thumb to control where you move, and use the other to aim the shot--that has you gunning down countless waves of foes.

Two ways 7 Days stands out: A "Story" mode throws a couple of curveball scenarios at you (escort and defend a fleeing scientist, for instance), and an over-the-shoulder camera mode makes for some interesting screenshots...but also makes the game tough to play. Given an update spit shine, this game could be fun. For now, it's a good work in progress.

Kids vs. Zombies
Kids vs. Zombies (iPhone)
In horror movies, only the spunky kids have a shot in hell of surviving (spoiler: I'm screwed). Enter Kids vs. Zombies. This polished spin on tower-defense games is a little finicky to control, but it's a blast. Actually, it's probably more accurate to call this an Alamo-defense game.

You're barricaded in, aiming and shooting at anything that comes your way. In this case, three kids hold down the fort: One has a Nerf-style machine gun, another has a slingshot, and the third lobs explosives--and you're able to switch between and control all three at the same time.

Between rounds, you rearm and upgrade your weapons while patching up the walls. You can also boost the smarts of the AI so that the kids you aren't controlling can more effectively watch your back. Kids vs. Zombies is hardly the first game to try this approach, but it certainly has plenty of flavor and minimal frustration compared with the slightly buggy Attack from The Dead that's also available on the iPhone. (Oh, and if you want a free taste of the game that inspired both, play The Last Stand Flash game.)

The Tapping of the Dead
The Tapping of the Dead (iPhone)
And then there are the zombie games that should go straight back to hell. Someone has a lot of guts to try charging $4 for The Tapping of the Dead. It's a terrible, sad game on just about every level. The art looks like something I doodled on a notebook in the sixth grade. (Okay, and maybe last week. What of it?) And here's the game in a nutshell: You tap the screen. Quickly. That's it. You're punching holes in stupidly drawn, static faces.

You know who you should buy this game for? Someone you hate. Or yourself, if you're compulsively twitchy and you want to test your reflexes. Otherwise, let this one die. Apple, I'm giving you fair warning: How about a little quality control on the crummy games? Though it's great that you have a bajillion apps in your store, I think you need to start investing in a game czar or something. But that's a rant for a different column.

Burn Zombie Burn
Burn Zombie Burn (PlayStation 3)
Have I mentioned Left 4 Dead and Resident Evil 5 enough lately? While I wait for Dead Rising 2 (2010), I can still fire away some aggression on the PS3 before some other zombie apocalypse strikes.

Y'see, when Geometry Wars (think an old-school arcade game that's a cross between Tempest and Robotron) came out a couple years back, I thought, "Someone needs to make that game, but with zombies." Many have tried--and this is another attempt. The difference is, some of the team members behind Geometry Wars banded together to create Burn Zombie Burn, a goofy, over-the-top shooter. Right now it's available for download only on the PS3, but man, this game is surprisingly charming and fun. And, yeah, a little bloody as well.

I also caught wind of an update coming in May and a bundle pack hitting in June for Burn Zombie Burn. After that, keep your eyes peeled for yet another expansion in July. And, of course, a PC version is in the works. You've been warned.

Plants vs. Zombies
Plants vs. Zombies (PC, Mac)
Yeah, the whole veggies-versus-the-undead feud is one of the less publicized eternal grudges. It sounded too goofy to be true. A joke. My initial thought: This is either going to be horrible or horribly awesome. Fortunately, it's the latter. After installing Plants vs. Zombies (currently only for Mac or PC), I'm staring into my screen--not unlike a zombie.

It's the latest in a series of addictive titles from the folks who brought you Bejeweled and Bookworm. In this twisted tower-defense game, you place pea plants and cherry blossoms strategically to take down waves of suburban zombies (more Abercrombie and Fitch than the yokel undead). The dead--and the foliage--become odder as the game goes on. At one point I started seeing Michael Jackson "Thriller" zombies. Nice! The icing on this kooky cake is a set of 20 unlockable minigames that give you more than your 20 bucks' worth. This is definitely one must-download game.

Zombie Shooter
Zombie Shooter (PC)
From the company that brought you such creatively named titles as Alien Shooter and Alien Shooter 2 comes Zombie Shooter. I'll give you two guesses what the game's about. Yes, there are zombies. And you shoot them. How's that for a review?

Seriously, though, the Shooter games from Sigma Team aren't about conserving ammo or carefully creeping around corners--they're balls-to-the-wall versions of Diablo. The titles have some role-playing elements (you level up your stats and weaponry), but gameplay-wise, they're about as deep as a kiddie pool. And I'm okay with that. This game revolves around sweet graphics and satisfying sound blasts, and then the ride is over. You could probably power through it in a couple hours and walk away happy if all you're looking for is a straight-up shooting game (other, less engaging modes exist if you're still hungry for blood).

The Shark Jump vs. Zombies

Zombie games aren't dead quite yet, but we must be vigilant. A lot of me-too developers are slapping on a zombie theme and hoping for the best. If this keeps up, my undead brothers in arms run the risk of jumping (some of them do jump, right?) the proverbial shark. Go ask a ninja--they've started slipping back into the shadows. And pirates? After the recent dustups off the Somali coast, a pint o' grog ain't what it used to be. And the second the two started clashing, the end was near. But so long as there are enough good zombie games that people will want to play, the dead will keep rising.

And I'll keep knocking 'em back down.

Need even more nerdity? Follow Casual Friday columnist and PC World Senior Writer Darren Gladstone on Twitter (gizmogladstone) for game-swag giveaways, odd links, and time-wasting tips.

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