Although other years have been filled with more exuberance in zombie fandom, 2013 has been a remarkable year. One thing in particular it has done is created resurgence into the zombie genre among the general public, which could mean that the genre is evolving again, for better or for worse, but only time will tell.
Now since I’m a self-proclaimed zombie aficionado, I thought it would be a great idea to break down the year into the Top 5 Best, Disappointments, and Things to Looks Forward To. (NOTE: The Walking Dead had a big year throughout several media outlets, so expect to see that title prominent throughout the lists; also some parts have limited spoilers, nothing to detrimental but its still worth noting.)
Top 5 Best of 2013
5. State of Decay (Video Game)
In a sense, State of Decay is a mixture of DayZ and Dead Island and operates like a third-person version of how many expected Dead Island to be. The game, while having a linear storyline, does seem to make you focus on survival more than the actual plot— gathering supplies, saving other survivors, fortifying the homestead, conserving weapons and ammo— and by that notion it becomes an effective zombie survival simulation.
Unfortunately the art esthetic, glitches and bugs can bog the enjoyment level down if you focus too much on it, but it is an Xbox Live Arcade title and is a fairly new type of genre game at that, so it can easily be forgiven. It may not be the best zombie game, but it is surly the step in the right direction. Perhaps with patch updates or possibly a next-gen sequel, State of Decay could rise to the top. From what I’ve played myself (and what I’ve seen in Rooster Teeth’s Full Play on the game), State of Decay may have its imperfections, but it can be a wildly entertaining game experience.
4. Warm Bodies (Film)
So it may not be zombie canon, but what is these days? All in all it was a decent film, and proof that you can make a PG-13 zombie film well (I mean there was more gore than World War Z in the first three and a half minutes). A lot of zombie movies lately, especially comedies, feature zombies having slight relapses of memory or maybe doing menial tasks such as mowing the lawn, pushing a shopping cart, or carrying weapons; Warm Bodies attempts to explore that a little deeper from the zombies’ perspective because obviously there has to be at least some spark in their brain, and if so, why? While doing that, the film also turns into a teen romance but not to the level of Twilight.
It’s rather adorable and the inconsistencies with traditional zombie canon aren’t all to disconcerting since it is in fact a comedy and doesn’t take itself to seriously. Also they covered for themselves by having skeletal creatures nicknamed “Boneys” that are essentially what zombies would eventually become when they have lost all humanity. That was brilliant because the characteristics of a fast moving zombie were essentially transferred into the Boneys while the classic slow moving zombie has some slight emotional alterations. The film was more of a fun fairy tale than a realistic zombie simulation and succeeded at that.
3. Dead Rising 3 (Video Game)
I have a love/hate relationship with the Dead Rising franchise. Killing the zombies and aiming hasn’t been the most fluid thing and the time limits they like to set are frankly annoying as it plays as open world game even though it’s really not. Dead Rising 3 is a complete improvement— especially now that you can save anywhere, the zombies don’t look to be copies of each other, and the shooting/melee is a lot cleaner (even if the weapons are easy to break like in Dead Island, at least there is a mass quantity of unique and different weapons in any direction).
The story isn’t particularly amazing, but the way you interact with other characters, engage in coop or just zombies in general enhances the experience. Zombie butchery isn’t fun when it gets repetitive and fortunately with this game, you can change it around and all the killing animations spice things up. As a Dead Rising title, this is probably the best one to date.
2. V/H/S/2 (Film)
V/H/S/2 is a lot of things, but one thing it that it became is a completely better film than its predecessor. Instead of trying to be something more than unique, it went back to horror’s basics which includes segments on ghosts, aliens, a demonic cult, and, of course, zombies. That move was absolutely brilliant because it then allowed filmmakers to figure out creative ways to make them found footage films without simply copping out to the Blair Witch Project method of carrying around a camcorder in every segment.
In the segment A Ride in the Park, a biker attaches a GoPro type of camera to his helmet to record his adventurous and on his way he meets a sick woman vomiting in the forest. Eventually he too would turn into a zombie and attack the living, with his camera still firmly attached to his helmet to document the series of events that would follow. Along with the 2008 Australian short film I Love Sarah Jane, this had immediately become one of my favorite zombie short films to date. Watching this gives hope to the zombie genre because it is visually something more than just blood and guts and quite frankly succeeded more than George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead in achieving a unique fusion of a zombie and found footage film.
1. The Last of Us (Video Game)
Named one of the best video games of the year, The Last of Us is exactly what the critics say it is. The game starts off with limited zombie interaction, but makes up for it as you play and realize the complexity of the created world. One of the reasons this game is so awesome is because it is essentially Splinter Cell with zombies; most zombie games go with the run and shoot tactic while The Last of Us has you thinking more about conserving bullets— especially when you come across human enemies.
The other reason the game is amazing, with regards to the zombies, is that the creators of the game had invented their own lore where a mutated strain of the Cordyceps fungus was the culprit of the zombie epidemic. Playing the game, this notion isn’t farfetched at all (not quite like the “killer plants” plot of The Happening) and we accept it. The character development, storyline, mechanics, look of the game and how they handle it as a zombie game is incredible and definitely deserves a play-through or two.
Honorable Mentions: DayZ (Video Game).
Top 5 Disappointments of 2013
5. Dead Island: Riptide (Video Game)
When the original Dead Island game came out in 2011, many people were fooled into believing it was a revolutionary open world zombie RPG or even a revolutionary survival apocalypse game, but instead we were met with clunky mechanics, easy to break weapons, too much a focus on online play, and an experience that was simply utterly confusing. Once you get a hang of it, the game isn’t that bad, it just simply didn’t live up to what it was hyped up to be— or even what it promised to be. Making a continuation of this was a mistake.
While it did add to the game a bit, and make things easier, it didn’t change anything or be something other than a generic zombie game with gore. There is a reason the title has been being sold at a discount. With Riptide you get more of the same and Dead Island, as I mentioned before, isn’t a terrible game and can prove to be fun, it’s just not as good as other zombie games nor was it as we hoped it to be.
4. The Walking Dead Television Series (Fall 2013 Season)
I know I’m going to get backlash criticism for this, but here me out. Each season up until now has had a driving force behind it, whether that be looking for a lost girl or dealing with The Governor, but this season seems to lack direction. It appeared like it was going to follow a virus and then The Governor, and instead we were met with lack of action or much of anything until the midseason finale.
However, the season did very well with character development and the last couple episodes were possibly the best episodes the show has had in a while (especially after an anticlimactic season three finale). Don’t get me wrong, it was still an enjoyable season, and perhaps George A. Romero’s “soap opera” comments were getting to me, but I just expected more from it.
3. The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct (Video Game)
A video game based in the world of The Walking Dead comics was hugely successful, so why wouldn’t a game based in the world of the television show— and a prequel featuring fan favorite Daryl Dixon at that? It’s simple: it was rushed. To say that the voice acting was probably the best thing from the game isn’t stretching the truth all too much.
Disappointments hit you right in the face as you load up the game and see the graphics which look as if it was designed for consoles in 2006, and then when you get to actually playing the game you’ll notice that there isn’t any coop (even though you’re playing as the Dixon brothers), it’s stringed together with a subpar plot, and while they want you to go somewhat stealthy, it’s much more easier to just shoot and run to the next checkpoint or even climb up on top of things and stab the walkers failing to reach you.
If you like the show or getting achievements/trophies, play the game with caution because while it is a relatively quick game to beat, you won’t exactly have a fun experience with it.
2. World War Z (Film)
As a standalone action virus pandemic film, World War Z is actually tremendous film; however as a zombie film and an adaption of Max Brooks’ novel, it is undeniably a poor attempt. It is a disappointment on several levels, and I’m willing to put aside the notion that it has basically nothing to do with the book or even Brad Pitt’s lazy acting, but I can’t look away from the fact that while there were millions of zombies, it wasn’t until the very end that you actually believed it. Most of the zombies just appeared to be crazed people running around tripping all over the pace— not eating people, not explicitly biting people, and with very restrained violence at that. Director Marc Forster had specifically limited the amount of blood and cut away from almost every action in order to receive a PG-13 rating.
Pitt wouldn’t have even “faced off” to a zombie one on one if it weren’t for test screenings that called for a reshoot that altered the ending into what it is now. So to zombie fans I say: don’t go into this film assuming to get scared by zombie carnage and gore, go into it thinking it’s a more action-packed version of Contagion if you want to salvage any enjoyment from it. The one good thing that the film did was that it brought zombies into the summer blockbuster field, which has never really been done before.
With a bit more guts, Forster could have made a remarkable action packed PG-13 zombie film, but instead we got way less zombie screen time than deserved and a visual edit that was afraid to show even the slightest bit of blood— even though there have been far bloodier PG-13 films in the past (including Warm Bodies). Although I like his other films, Forster wasn’t the best choice to helm this project and fortunately the sequel in works has a brand new director— Spanish director J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage)— and with his horror background, hopefully he is less reserved.
1. Zombieland: The Series (TV Pilot)
Opposite to World War Z, the issue with this series had nothing to do with the portrayal of zombies but rather everything else. It’s sad to say, although the zombies were the best part of the show— they weren’t enough to save it. Writer/Producer Rhett Reese had tweeted, some time after the pilot’s premiere on Amazon Instant, “I’ll never understand the vehement hate the pilot received from die-hard Zombieland fans. You guys successfully hated it out of existence.” What I’ll never understand is why Reese will “never understand” the hate towards the pilot. The 2009 film was originally pitched as a television show and to be honest it could have worked if they got enough backing for it (especially with the “Zombie Kill of the Week” implemented in there).
Since they made it into a Hollywood film, we’ve gotten used to the actors, the characters, and the flow of the comedy; so when they decide continue the story of Tallahassee and company by recasting them and altering the mood into a sitcom with zombies, nobody was happy. The pilot was poorly written, predictable, and virtually unconnectable. The only decent part, dreadful dialogue included, was two coworkers complaining about meaningless things unbeknownst to the zombie apocalypse happening outside the glass window behind them. From then on it just felt like they were trying too hard to recreate the magic of the film.
Maybe if they followed a different group and possibly give the original actors cameos or if they wanted to keep the survival rules in play, maybe have Jesse Eisenberg be the narrator or something, it could have been better. It was a missed opportunity that was completely mishandled; rarely can viewers accept recasted characters (unless it’s M*A*S*H) and a zombie comedy that’s a sitcom had very little hope from the beginning.