Where Have All The Zombies Gone?

The Infected. Los Ganados. Majini. Parasite hosts. Some of the biggest "zombie" games in recent years don't feature the undead. Why can't we call a spade a spade, burying it in the neck of a good old-fashioned undead zombie?

This is a conversation we've been having fairly often lately at Kotaku Tower, mainly due to the release of the film The Crazies, which we'll be reviewing here next week. The Crazies (seen above) features a small town plagued by a mysterious toxin, which turns humans into violent maniacs before eventually killing them.

While the Crazies aren't technically zombies, they do share traits similar to other zombie-alikes found in recent games. What's interesting here is that the 2010 film The Crazies is a remake of 1973's The Crazies, written and directed by one George Romero, five years after the release of Night of the Living Dead.

So if Romero, the king of zombie horror himself, strayed from the zombie formula so soon after Night of the Living Dead, perhaps it's no wonder that our video game maker's opt for other explanations for why people are shambling about eating each other.

Take for instance:

Resident Evil

Didn't Resident Evil originally have zombies in it? Sure, they were really just humans infected with various viruses, but I'm pretty sure they were still called zombies, up to a certain point. In Resident Evil 4 the zombies were no more, replaced with Los Ganados, Spanish for The Cattle. These non-zombies (nombies?) were faster and more intelligent than those in previous games in the series. In Resident Evil 5 they became the Majini, which is Swahili for not-zombies, or more accurately, evil spirit. They were smarter, faster, and still not zombies. Boo.

Dead Rising

Frank West has covered wars, you know, and he's also covered hordes of non-zombies invading a mall in a small town. While the shambling hordes in Dead Rising were indeed dead, they weren't really undead, their bodies controlled by a parasitic insect nesting in their brains, taking control after killing the hosts.

Left 4 Dead

Despite looking the part, the creatures in Valve's Left 4 Dead series are victims of a rabies-like virus that causes psychosis. Perhaps they are more like the people in The Crazies than any other video game zombie-alikes.

Dead Space

No, not space zombies, as amazingly cool as that would be. Just Necromorphs, which sounds to me like the worst Power Ranger spinoff ever.

So what qualifies as traditional zombies? In our eyes, there are two main types. Voodoo zombies, which have been seen in games like Akuji the Heartless and Shadow Man, and the mysterious, unexplained zombies. The latter are the sort of zombies you'd see in a George Romero film, the product of some mysterious plague that brings corpses back to life, or perhaps hell overflowing.

The key is that we either don't know why the zombies are back, or they are the product of voodoo. They also have to actually be the dead, brought back to life. None of this rabies, virus, iPhone app made them crazy nonsense.

There are a few games that have done it right lately. For example:

Call of Duty: World at War

While it's hardly a zombie video game, the zombies in Call of Duty: World at War's zombie maps are never really explained. The dead have risen, you have to kill them, end of story. Considering it takes place in the middle of World War II, I'm going to assume hell is overflowing. War does that.

Plants Vs. Zombies

Indie developers don't seem all that hesitant to throw about the word 'zombies' whenever possible. Perhaps they feel they are below the radar from the imaginary zombie police, or maybe you don't really need to know where the undead in Plants Vs. Zombies come from in order to have a good time with it.

With those criteria in mind, what are your favourite zombie video games, and do they actually contain zombies? Be wary! Even the most convincing shambling, brain-munching creature might simply be a guy with a really, really bad cold.


    Burn Zombie Burn on PSN calls it like it is.

    I miss the old shambling zombies. I understand that running 'virus zombies' are the necessary evolutionary step for zombies but....it doesnt make them zombies. Truley undead zombies have decaying bodies and wouldnt be able to run. I think shambling decaying groaning zombies from the first few Resident Evils scared me more than the fast Los Plagos or 'rabies' style zombie. Its become more action shooter than traditional survival horror.

    This different zombie versions are pretty easy to explain. When a certain genre becomes popular as zombie films certainly are people look for different spins and interpreations upon the classic.

    So yes, they obviously all contian zombies. They are just different takes on the genre. I don't think anybody has really sat down and nutted out the rules for the original alpha zombie, and if they attempted to I imagine they would find differences right from the beginning.

    Imagine a Zombie War, whith all the different breeds of zombies fighting it out with eachother. Who would win?

    I was beginning to think the word 'Zombie' was copyrighted and users had to pay royalties or something.

      Yeah, i was starting to think that too. You rarely hear someone (in either games or films) directly refer to them specifically as "Zombies". It's usually "those things".

    we cant forget warcraft :) they have some zombies in the undead.

    Also, in House of the Dead overkill, agent G insists that they be called Mutants.

    All this item is about is the rise in EXPLANATIONS of zombieism. In Romero's zombie films there is never any explanation of the why nor how that zombies walk the earth, they simply do, and I'm pretty sure the word "zombie" is never actually uttered in any of the films.

    Saying a Fast Zombie isn't really a zombie is just zombism. While the Ganados are not traditional zombies they share the main traits we've come to expect of them: humanity incurably erased; mindlessly aggressive (if tactically smarter); under the control of another being with powerful magics/science.

    While we never see Ganados eating, given the bones everywhere it's not a stretch to imagine them eating tourists.

      Romero's films and Res Evil games never refer to the monsters as 'zombies' per se. As a rule, zombie genre flicks and games exist in a world where there is NO zombie movies/games/popular culture.

      Perhaps we should start up an anti-zombism fund. Looking towards a world where Majini and Ganodos are treated no differently from their slower, black-n-white, Barbara-eating brethren. Shaun of the the Dead already had ZombAid. Which by extension makes our next Coldplay-headlined event Zomb8.

    I did a bit of research on zombies for a project last year so I have to add my piece to the zombie classification issue.

    I came across this wonderful site that does a good job of classifying the myriad of zombie types. You'd be hard pressed to find a type outside of what they've outlined:


    As for the word 'zombie' perhaps people have moved away from the word because of all the recent comedy horror zombie movies.

    Oh and also the fact that biological diseases (war and natural) have become a lot more prevalent in this day and age.

    The husks from the Mass Effect series act suspiciously like zombies. So do the Feral Ghouls from Fallout 3.

    It seems this article only really defines a zombie as being zombie if it is not explained how it came about. Whether a supernatural force, or a virus, makes no difference - other than the fact that 1 cause is much more realistic - if you're going to complain then complain if the game is bad, or if you didn't like the zombies, complain about them, I don't see a valid case in saying something isnt a zombie because it's creation has a rational explanation, and that's regardless of whether or not the creators determine what name they give the creatures - call them a cultural zombie.

    "Considering it takes place in the middle of World War II, I’m going to assume hell is overflowing. War does that." ~ Soldiers don't go to hell.

      Yes... Umm... Soldiers don't go to hell?... Because killing for your countries political agenda is different than killing for personal reasons...?

        in a word: yes.

          Oh... So your saying when a soldier is killed at war, it doesn't matter because he's government condones it??

            Not at all. It does matter, to him, his family, his friends. But it *doesn't* mean he goes to hell.

              I'm not saying all soldiers go to hell, I'm just saying killing is killing, and just because a soldiers government tells them they are killing for a just cause, doesn't make it so.
              Both sides of every war believe they are the 'Good Guys', even terrorists think they are killing for the right reason.

    Zombies are as described in "The Zombie Survival Guide". Other creatures can be 'infected' or even undead, but they aren't zombies.

    Mouldy STD... Mouldy STD... (I really hope someone gets that...)

    If some aspect of the individual is now dead, they could be considered a zombie. It's preferred that their skin rots and that they consume the flesh of the living... but I think the term "zombie" is pretty broad.

    I think dead rising and dead space are perfectly legitimate. Their corpses might now be controlled or their dead tissue re-arranged, but their death has been undone, so that makes them "un-dead".

    Left 4 Dead plays with the most realistic instance in which zombies might grace our world. They might not have died, but if the disease is incurable they may as well be "dead" in that regard...

    I read somewhere about an actual RL case of zombies... where abductees where exposed to this poison by witch doctors that brought their bodies to the brink of death. But when they revived they were almost mindless husks that were then sold off as slaves.


    Deadly Premonition has zombies.

    One story I'd like to see as a game is World War Z. I've heard there was some game in the works but the way the book imagined swarms of zombies walking around on the ocean floor and stuff is great.

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