Can A Realistic Zombie Game Work?

Last week saw the release of Axis Animation’s trailer for Dead Island, a brand new survival horror game from the guys at Deep Silver and Techland which is due to launch later this year. The blend of family unity and zombie brutality came together to create something artistic and emotional; needless to say I was most impressed. However, being the bitter-natured person I am, the very first thing I thought to myself as the trailer ended was, “there’s no way the actual game will be this gripping” and after dragging myself to the Tweetosphere and other social outlets, I could see that a large number of people agreed.

From what has been said on the gameplay and premise, it sounds intuitive and fun, especially the emphasis on visceral hand-to-hand combat. One thing that wasn’t mentioned was the actual interaction between characters, and the element of survival, both of which were focal points in the trailer. Never before have the two come together in perfect tandem, at least not in the current stream of zombie-affiliated video games. Maybe it’s just not practical? Maybe it’s just not what gamer want to play?

Here is a brief list of what’s on the market, and how they have dodged the grips of realism, yet have still flourished into magnificent games.


Though fantastic, the Dead Space games tend to focus on a strictly linear design, with jump-scares sprinkled generously throughout. They’re engaging and action-packed, though the characters are forgettable with no real bond between them, the game is centred on the beliefs of Unitology, the emergence of the Necromorphs, and the various locations in which they inhabit.

Dead Rising

Capcom’s comic zombie caper is probably the biggest winner when it comes to the survival element. With huge open worlds and so much variety in terms of weapon-choice, it has a strange sense of authenticity, though instead of survival, Dead Rising soon turns into a platform for wacky experimentation, with little focus on the severity of a zombie outbreak.

Left 4 Dead

Similar to Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead has a definite comic twist, it’s trump card being fast and frantic team-based gameplay. The characters are like-able, and there is an actual sense of realism too; you will find yourself conserving ammunition, deploy team tactics and even shelter/hide from the infected hordes. However, the experience feels far too gameplay-orientated to leave any emotional impact.

The best example for character development, Resident Evil is the biggest name in the zombie genre. The first three instalments of the series are unforgettable, not only featuring a cast of memorable protagonists but also villains. With that said, it can be argued that the over-arching plot has been somewhat diluted in recent years. Though titles such as Umbrella Chronicles have strengthened the foundations of the series, Resident Evil 4 & 5 have ditched the conventional zombie formula, in favour of other fictional viruses.

Despite all of the criticisms made above, all are great franchises; I just wanted to indicate that not even the industry giants have been successful in creating a game which depicts not only the horrors of a zombie outbreak but the emotional impact on the characters, and a more detailed outline of their survival plans.

In the second part of this article I will attempt to piece together what would be, in my opinion, the most realistic and gripping way of putting together a zombie game, whilst also trying to preserve the fun factor.

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52 Comments

  1. there’s one fault with practically every zombie game there is, everybody who gets bitten turns into a zombie, except the character you’re controlling.

    seriously, how many times do you get bitten in the resident evil games? yet you never turn into a zombie.

    look at the trailer for dead island, that girl turns in seconds, will that happen to the player character in the game?

    • There were those red and green herbs ;) if you were bitten by a zombie, wouldn’t you go in search of a cure, or some green herbs, hmm

      • there was a specific cure for the t and g virus wasn’t there?
        be a shame if umbrella spent all that money developing those when all they needing were a pair of gardening gloves. :)

        and anyway, i thought the herbs were just for healing and curing poison, and the red herbs for mixing with the others to make them more effective.

    • I’d suppose it would have to do with anti-bodies or something…

    • RE: Outbreak had it the best:
      The t/g-virus concentration is shown as a percentage (also doubles as a timer per se)
      you get bitten/incapped – the ‘virus-o-meter’ flies up.

      during the last mission you make the ‘daylight serum’ (cure) meter dissappears! maybe tied in with a stamina meter (Dead Island) so injuries/progressive infection has a detremental effect to stamina use/recovery

      and headshots/decapitation/blut force trauma to the head ONLY kill.

  2. What the games indusrty needs is a ‘Dawn Of The Dead’. A modern day believable story that is captivating, entertaining and most importantly, believable….

    • tbh we need:
      * the co-op/stamina of Dead island
      *Infection/damage related stamina use/recovery
      *REmake ‘re-deads’ from a dirty kill (no head shot/decap etc)
      *RE: Outbreak ‘virus concentration meter’
      *Dead rising style game over so you can keep dying (achievement/trophy for 1 life)
      *A realistic/pheasable story?
      *loads of the buggers (zombies)

      agree? or disagree?

  3. Lol – realistic zombie game – obviously it can’t work, if it includes zombies, it can’t be realistic. We do know that zombies don’t really exist, don’t we?

    • Phew, I was worried it was just me who thought zombies weren’t real. They’re not, are they?

    • Zombies are in the Bible, read Revelations. Even scientifically, a virus could cause a zombie-like outbreak much like 28 Days Later…you Sir, will not be prepared!

      • I never go anywhere without my trusty crowbar…

      • Yeah but scientifically you’d never ever see a zombie running. For someone to be a zombie they have to have been dead first. After a mammal ,or any organism with red muscle, dies the muscles stiffen in a process known as rigor mortis. This means that even if the ‘zombie’ came back from death it would be unable to use its muscles properly, making running impossible.

      • jaffa- Rigour mortis wears off within a few hours though at least as far as i know.and theoretically if a virus would reanimate the dead’s brain cells surely it could rebuild the muscles. :D

      • I don’t want to start any debate here, but something being in the bible in no way makes it more credible, in my opinion.

      • Seasemeseed, is go further than that mate. I’d say somethings inclusion in any book of fiction immediately lowers its believability.

      • There are bugs that can take control of other insects bodies and control their actions…

      • The whole ‘re-dead’ idea to resident evil REmake was a good concept. maybe a ‘dirty’ kill could trigger the re-dead event.

    • Zombies came from voodoo didn’t they? They were like slaves, but not actually dead.

      • Drugged to appear dead, and possibly causing brain damage. Is one popular explanation. Drugged and addicted is another.

  4. Yeah I agree with that. Instantly unrealistic even in the realms of that game’s world.
    Love Dead Space and Resident Evil games.

  5. Nazi Zombies comes to mind. I’m getting a bit sick of zombies due to them. Heck, on the Skyrim forums, it was suggested to have a Nazi zombie mode on that too :|

  6. i tell you what i’d love to see, a new version of the game zombi, it was on the 8 bits and the amiga.
    based ont he dawn of the dead, you’re in a mall and you have to survive, putting a truck in front of the doorway to stop the zombies breaking in and clearing out any that are already inside.

    that was a great zombie game, though i never did manage to finish it.

  7. Really interesting piece. I have wanted a realistic zombie game for ages now, but I do think it is achievable. Cutscenes and character building between the action is key, games like Brothers in Arms manage to balance both the exciting and human sides of war, so it is possible. I think, if one were to ever be made, it go go the Heavy Rain route for story telling, and spend some time with the characters before the outbreak occurs. The first few levels could consist of day to day activities, punctuated with news reports of attacks and riots occurring. The sense of unease could spread as more news of the chaos is reported, until you finally encounter your first zombie. They are too throw-away now, you cut through hoards in most games, so I would like to see just a single, drawn out encounter, much like the original Resident Evil, which I still remember to this day. Make a survival driven game, where you start at home building a safehouse, but venturing into infested areas for supplies, then progress the story to force you to flee to new areas, meeting new people with well created personalities and backstories and create a group of survivors along the way. And as your group increases, so can the numbers of zombies attacking you. Stick in some horrifying scenes of friends being eaten, people going mad, parents having to kill zombie children etc. Would be a winner for me!

    • sounds excellent, there was a PS2 game called ‘The Thing’ (based on John Carpenter awesome horror film of the same name) where you had to keep an eye on the mental state of your supposed allies. I would likke to see that aspect of the zombie survival horror genre explored. It was a great feature to have as you didn’t know who was infexted.

      • I loved that game! Great sense of tension as you never knew when a team mate would go mad or turn into the Thing. That would work really well for a zombie game, you could have secretly bitten people who change without much warning.

  8. I think a “realistic” Zombie game could be pretty damned brilliant.

    Dead Island appears to be set in an open world environment, and that suits the realistic approach perfectly. If the gameplay is then freeform, combined with dynamic objectives, and a sort of Game Director…

    For example, at the start of the game, the outbreak has just started, so there’s lots of NPCs still about, but things spiral, panic sets in and rogue elements start trying to do bad things, which you have to avoid, as you try and head to one of the several main exit points from the island.

    As the outbreak starts to turn the majority of the island, you’re then much less gung ho. You have to use misdirection to lead Zombies away from your route, use hand to hand combat to take out Zombies quietly, and use guns as little as possible, as you’re also limited with ammo supplies. All the while, there might be other NPC groups and singles that you have to be wary of. You can try and ally yourself with them, or double cross them. Nice bit of morality thrown in there for good measure.

    When you finally manage to get to your point of exit from the island, it’s then a crap shoot as to whether there actually is a way to escape at that point, or if you have to try and head to another place, that’s before you consider the inevitable horde of zombies that are likely to be there…

    That’s what I’d like to see.

    • Please be like this. Please Dead Island. Please.

    • this. exactly this

  9. I really am indifferent to Zombies and don’t really understand people’s obsession with them.

    However, the Dead Island trailer was different, rather than just be about ‘ooh look loads of Zombies, aren’t they scary – oh there’s so many of them surrounding us’ it brought a level of emotion rarely if ever seen in gaming to the table.

    Of course it was little more than a teaser – I’d have thought the full game wouldn’t feature a child in such a way, but it could conceivably feature a family and all the emotions that would bring if the story is done right vs the action.

    I certainly think it could work, but of course it’s not just the premise which needs to be right it’s also the gameplay. Getting the two right is a bit of a dark art, but if it happens we could be witnessing the birth of a great.

    I’d love to see it avoid the cartoon violence that Dead Rising & LfD excel at and settle into a level of realism rarely seen when zombies are involved.

    • The best part of Siren Blood Curse was when you were the little girl, the tension was unbelievably high for those parts.
      Survival horror is best when you actually feel helpless.

      • I felt helpless all the way through Siren BC – I didn’t have clue what was going on & the game felt damn near uncontrollable to me. Atmospheric as hell though

      • I don’t think anybody really knew what was going on, but that actually makes things scarier.
        The controls were strange, but did fit, but the atmosphere was the game, really.

  10. Similarly, i was wowed by the trailer – Heavy Rain with zombies? :) – but i don’t know enough about the game yet to make my mind up.

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