A History of Zombies in Video Games

Here is a look back at notable video games featuring the undead over the past 25 years, including absolute train wrecks like Land of the Dead: Road to Fiddler's Green and ground-breaking horror games like Resident Evil.

Zombies in Video Games

In light of Capcom's Dead Rising 2 releasing this week for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC, we look back at notable video games featuring the undead over the past 25 years, including absolute trainwrecks like Land of the Dead: Road to Fiddler's Green and ground-breaking horror games like Resident Evil.

Zombies are some of the most common -- some would even say generic -- enemies in video games. And while "zombie themed" games didn't really exist until 1996's landmark horror title Resident Evil, the undead have been shambling around in games since the ZX Spectrum. In view of Dead Rising 2's release, we've put together the following timeline that examines the most important titles depicting zombies from the last 25 years .

1984: Zombie Zombie

  • The First Zombie Game

Quicksilva's redundantly titled Zombie Zombie releases on the ZX Spectrum. It's considered the very first zombie video game. Featuring a disclaimer by Designer Sandy White that reads "Due to strong personal convictions, I wish to stress that this game in no way endorses a belief in the occult," Zombie Zombie drops players in the middle of a city overrun by the walking dead. Instead of using axes or shotguns to dispatch zombie hordes, players knock enemies back with bursts of air from a rifle.

1988: Super Mario Bros. 3

  • Dry Bones

Though never referred to as "zombies," Super Mario Bros. 3's unintimidating skeleton turtles (aka Dry Bones) feature zombie-like characteristics. They're fleshless, and like traditional zombies, they're nearly impossible to kill -- Dry Bones resurrect themselves a few seconds after Mario or Luigi stomps on them.

1992: Wolfenstein 3D

  • Undead Soldiers

While not considered a "zombie game," id Software's Wolfenstein 3D introduces players to a memorable zombified enemy, the undead guard. Created by Dr. Schabbs, these Frankenstein's monster lookalikes have a gun surgically grafted into their chest. A year after Wolfenstein 3D's release, id's Doom shows off a similar enemy, the zombieman, which is the weakest enemy in the game.

1993: Zombies Ate My Neighbors

  • A Cult Classic Is Born

LucasArts releases Zombies Ate My Neighbors for the Sega Master System, Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. It puts players in the roles of teenagers Zeke and Julie, who must save their neighbors from flesh-eating zombies and a host of other enemies including a giant demonic baby. Censors targetZombies Ate My Neighbors, ordering blood to be changed to purple goo in the U.S. and chain saw-wielding maniacs to appear as lumberjacks with axes in Europe.

1996: Resident Evil

  • The Rise of Zombie Games

Capcom's tremendously influential Resident Evil releases on the original Sony PlayStation. Game Director Shinji Mikami sets out to create a game in the vein of Capcom's horror-themed RPG from 1989, Sweet Home. Besides taking place in an old mansion crawling with creatures, the games share little in common. In Resident Evil, Raccoon City's STARS (Special Tactics and Rescue Service) investigates reports of cannibalism and the disappearance of Bravo Team. During the next 14 years after its release, Resident Evil becomes one of the biggest horror franchises of all time with 16 games and expanding into films, comics, novels, and action figures.

1996: The House of the Dead

  • More Zombie Slaying, Less Bullet Rationing

The same year Resident Evil hits PlayStation, Sega's light-gun game The House of the Dead releases in arcades. While Resident Evil emphasizes suspense and survival, The House of the Dead focuses on action as it's presented as an on-rails shooter where players frantically unload clip after clip on swarms of the living dead. The game's followed by three sequels and several spin-offs including The Typing of the Dead, which teaches you how to type as you mow down zombies.

2005: Land of the Dead: Road to Fiddler's Green

  • Another Bad Movie Game

After Kuju Entertainment cancels their game, George A. Romero's City of the Dead, Brainbox Games releases Land of the Dead: Road to Fiddler's Green on Xbox and PC. While the movie Land of the Deadreceives lukewarm reviews, the game adaptation sees even harsher criticism. Holding a 36 percent review-score average on Metacritic, Road to Fiddler's Green is blasted by reviewers, with GameSpot's Alex Navarro writing that "every component of this game is slow to react, dumb as a doornail, and basically broken." Road to Fiddler's Green is widely considered to be one of the worst zombie video games ever made.

2006: Dead Rising

  • A Light-hearted Look at Zombies

Capcom's Dead Rising releases on the Xbox 360, taking a more tongue-in-cheek approach to surviving a zombie outbreak than Capcom's other zombie franchise, Resident Evil. Dead Rising features a premise heavily influenced by George A. Romero's quintessential 1978 zombie film Dawn of the Dead, where throngs of decomposing brain-eaters overrun a shopping mall.

2008: Left 4 Dead

  • Play as a Zombie

Valve's popular cooperative first-person shooter Left 4 Dead releases for Xbox 360 and PC. The game pits a team of human survivors against the undead. Unlike most zombie-themed video games, Left 4 Dead gives players the option to actually fight as a zombie, including one that spews bile that attracts zombie minions like flies and another with an elongated tongue that's effective at dragging victims toward it. Left 4 Dead's not the first game to let you play as a zombie, but it's one of the first games to do so effectively. Exactly one year after its release, the awkwardly dubbed but highly acclaimed sequel Left 4 Dead 2 hits.

2008: Call of Duty: Nazi Zombies

  • An Unexpected Hit

Upon completion of Treyarch's Call of Duty: World at War, a secret mode unlocks called Nazi Zombies. Despite featuring a straightforward concept -- players defend a room from onrushing zombies with guns and by boarding up windows -- Nazi Zombies becomes a huge success. Due to Nazi Zombies' popularity, Treyarch releases three separate downloadable map-pack expansions, which also introduce things like flaming canines and monkey-shaped bombs that attract undead Nazis.

2006: Plants vs. Zombies

  • Mother Nature Takes on the Undead

PopCap releases Plants vs. Zombies on the PC, a tower-defense title where players protect a home from waves of zombies with a variety of plants and fungi. The iPhone version of Plants vs. Zombies sells over 300,000 copies in 9 days, making it one of the top-grossing game launches ever on the iPhone.

2008: Dead Space

  • A New Breed of "Zombie"

Visceral Games (EA Redwood Shores at the time) releases Dead Space for the PS3, the Xbox 360, and PC. Dead Space features one of the least traditional depictions of zombies: Necromorphs, which are humans who transformed into undead abominations after becoming infected by an alien virus. Whether or not you can classify Dead Space's Necromorphs as "zombies" is debatable.

2010: Dead Rising 2

Capcom releases Dead Rising 2 for PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. Instead of taking place in a shopping mall teeming with zombies, Dead Rising 2 puts players in Fortune City, Nevada, a fictional Vegas-style city loaded with lavish casinos, undead showgirls, and inventive options for slaughtering zombies, including boxing gloves with knives affixed to them and a wheelchair armed with machine guns.

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