Zombies are, inherently, a pretty attractive prospect in video games. They’re comparatively easy enemies to program, you don’t have to feel bad about killing them, and their rotten forms make good fodder for fantastical variants (like “big explode-y one” and “fast, nasty one”). But such a perfect setup is bound to lead to overuse. And the mountain of zombie games out there is a real coin-toss in terms of quality — ranging from all-time classics to blandest-of-the-bland shovelware. Licensed adventures of the living dead trend even further towards the latter, with the darkest chapters of several beloved franchises appearing in interactive form.
Whether because of rocky development, ill-conceived ideas, or both, these licensed zombie games really should have been consumed by a horde of flesh-eating ghouls. So of course we decided to look into them all. In the interest of science, here are the worst licensed zombie games ever made!
1. Evil Dead: Hail to the King
Here’s the deal with THQ’s Evil Dead “trilogy” from the early aughts: the third, Evil Dead: Regeneration has nothing to do with the first two games. And the first, Evil Dead: Hail to the King, is a survival horror game — rather than a hack ‘n’ slash like Regeneration, or the middle-child, Evil Dead: Fistful of Boomstick. All were developed by different studios, too. Yeah. Video games!
None of these three are particularly good to look back on. Regeneration probably fares the best, but Hail to the King takes the crown as the worst. The Resident Evil clone has all the awkwardness of tank controls and fixed-angle cameras, without any of the atmosphere and unease. You spend most of its runtime guiding an endlessly jogging Ash Williams through myriad uninspired locations and swatting attacking Deadites. All the while, the actual Bruce Campbell pops off a script that sounds like it was stitched together from smartly rejected sequel scripts.
To be fair, neither this nor its follow-ups are strictly terrible. They’re all just so uninspired! The Evil Dead movies have survived as cult classics for decades because of their anarchic, DIY quality. They’re symbols of a defiant and indie-spirited culture. These games are the opposite, feeling like exercises in adapting IP just for the sake of it.
2. The X-Files: Resist Or Serve
This, on the other hand, is a production steeped in manufactured importance. The X-Files: Resist Or Serve takes place within the titular show’s seventh season. It acts as a “lost episode” that depicts FBI Agents Mulder and Scully stopping a zombie apocalypse in the snowy town of Red Falls, Colorado. Naturally, aliens are involved, as is an old Russian monastery and layers upon layers of cover-up.
The original cast provided the appropriate voices. Even the official soundtrack was used — including that iconic theme which breaks up the game’s three main chapters. Really, Resist Or Serve is a victim of format. The Russian nesting doll mystery-box of the series’ premise would make an excellent video game. But it’s much better suited for a dialogue-driven, Telltale-style project drenched in murky ambiance and shadow-y conversations. Those didn’t really exist in 2004 (when Resist or Serve hit the PlayStation 2). And an action-adventure cribbing from Silent Hill and Resident Evil just doesn’t fit.
Mulder and Scully aren’t hard-nosed street-cops; they’re investigators. They ask first and shoot later. Somewhere between expanding the X-Files universe and the dynamic duo pumping a zombified doctor full of bullets — just before Mulder comes in with a cheesy one-liner — the entire point was lost.
3. The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct
Not to be confused with the Telltale series, simply called The Walking Dead, which is based on the comics and one of the defining long-form stories of the last decade, The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is based on the TV show. It’s also, well, complete rubbish.
It should be a home run: The player controls Daryl Dixon, a lead character portrayed by Norman Reedus, and has to batter, shoot and sneak their way through various locales. You rescue other survivors from being eaten alive and just general do The Walking Dead things. And sure enough, Daryl is the protagonist. Plus there are plenty of people to be saved using whatever means one can manage, but that’s where the resemblance ends.
If you didn’t know this was based on one of the biggest television series on the planet, it could be any generic DayZ clone. The weapons, environments, and vehicles look like stock assets. Meanwhile, the gameplay, when it works, isn’t exactly demanding. The AI is easy to fool and most of your time is spent skulking around and switching your flashlight on and off — all while occasionally taking out a reanimated corpse or three.
Survival Instinct was the last game released by Terminal Reality, a studio with a decent track record that includes Bloodrayne and Ghostbusters: The Video Game. Unfortunately, this and Kinect Star Wars were a one-two death knell for the team. The company suffered for its back-to-back, poorly received pieces of licensed tat.
4. Land of the Dead: Road to Fiddler’s Green
Dead Rising had to have a sticker on the box stating it had no affiliation with 1979’s Dawn of the Dead. That’s the George A. Romero horror classic about a set of zombie survivors taking refuge inside a shopping mall. Given the absolute trash-fire that is Road to Fiddler’s Green the first — and to date only — official Romero movie tie-in, he should have been ecstatic to have some implicit association with something of any competence.
Land of the Dead is hardly Romero’s greatest work itself. But it looks positively Kubrickian compared to this… thing. Gone is the rich, colorful decadence of Romero’s dystopia — replaced with grey and blue corridors and flat landscapes. The set-pieces are haphazardly constructed and arrive without any sort of drama. They mostly just set up fetch quests that play more like a child’s makeshift obstacle course than a hefty crawl through flesh-eating monsters. The enemies appear mostly blind and deaf, and save the satisfying crunch of cleaving one in its head with an axe, they’re just a nuisance. All of which is packaged in a milquetoast UI with the blandest text this side of an office reminder for upcoming public holidays.
Romero undoubtedly had a profound effect on horror games. His blueprint for hordes of slow-moving, humanoid pieces of rotting flesh, un-flashy heroism, and widespread desolation has been re-used and recycled over and over again. Perhaps the worst thing about Fiddler’s Green is that its poor launch almost certainly contributed to the unspoken cancellation of City of the Dead. That was a planned first-person shooter based on Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, due for release by Kuju Entertainment — they of The House of the Dead: Overkill fame.
Although his inclusion in Call of Duty: Zombies remains a worthy tongue-in-cheek celebration of his legacy. It’s just a little sad that that’s the best video games could do for George in his lifetime.
5. Shadow Man
Shadow Man is the only game on this list where you actually play as a zombie. It’s also based on a comic book called Shadowman, but spells it as two words instead of one. Sure. Why not? Shadowman was created by three white men in the early 90s and very loosely inspired by the religion of Vodou. So you just know it was handled with the utmost care and sensitivity!
The original game was a muddy, average action-adventure that had some okay ideas for its time. Although it certainly doesn’t hold up well today. It was followed by an equally unremarkable sequel for the PlayStation 2: Shadow Man: 2econd Coming. Unremarkable, that is, except for its marketing antics.
In addition to its questionable source material, and the terrible subtitle, 2econd Coming gave us one of several controversies fueled by defunct publisher Acclaim Entertainment. The company offered to pay real-world families of recently deceased relatives to advertise the game on headstones. Acclaim even said the marketing stunt might “particularly interest poorer families.” Yeesh. How very kind of them…