Zombies aren’t always the slow, droning, brain-hungry creatures that we know from the likes of Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Throughout the years, zombies have taken on different forms across all of horror media, whether clawing their way up from six-feet under, or manifesting from top-secret government experiments gone wrong. Modern horror has had a heavy fixation on zombies, and for good reason—the zombie trope is very versatile.
Given the many iterations of zombies that have appeared in video games over the past couple of decades, there are certain types that stand out from the rest in how they’ve innovated what exactly the creatures are and their capabilities. These iterations still retain the staple aspects of what we know as zombies (humanoid in figure, animalistic in nature with an intent to kill), yet elevate past the traditional mold of simply being dull-witted and physically impaired. Zombies like this are typically the most memorable, and have become the most iconic in gaming.
Left 4 Dead: Witches
Witches in the Left 4 Dead series are among the most infamous enemies that players can encounter in each campaign. Appearance-wise, they’re quite simple. It’s the behavior of Witches that make them so iconic as zombies. Unlike their bloodthirsty counterparts, Witches do not wish to be disturbed, and only attack when approached or startled. When they do attack, they’re abnormally fast. Instead of a classic low moan, they let out a shriek as they rush toward players. The concept behind them isn’t over the top by any means, yet they instill dread into the hearts of every Left 4 Dead player every time they hear the crying of a Witch from the darkness.
Half-Life: Head Crab Zombies
The concept behind the Head Crab zombies in the Half-Life series is genuinely chilling. Starting from the head of their hosts, the Head Crabs clamp down and take control of the hosts, slowly mutating the rest of the body. The end result is a human body with giant claws and a gaping mouth on the abdomen, ready to pounce on its prey. Their design is humanoid enough to still be called zombie-like while being mutated enough to give them a very distinctive look.
House of the Dead: Axe-Wielding Zombies
The House of the Dead series boasts a wide cast of mutated creatures ready to kill, from frogs that leap up to take chomps out of you, to chainsaw-wielding giants that sprint towards you. The typical zombies that players encounter in the series look the part of traditional zombies: fleshy, rotting, and sometimes missing limbs—however, they also tend to proficiently use actual weapons. They’ll throw axes, barrels, and anything they can to make the player go down. However, in cutscenes, they’re shown to do what zombies are usually trademarked to do: feast upon the corpses of their victims.
Draugr are powerful, undead Nordic warriors that players encounter frequently in dungeons and crypts across Skyrim. Though they are rotting, reanimated corpses, they do seem to possess some cognitive function—enough to still be able to use bow and arrows when attacking. They are also hinted at still being able to understand human language. Despite this, their empty, glowing eyes, hostile behavior, and tendency to rise out of the ground or out of coffins definitely still calls for the zombie label.
Resident Evil: Plaga
Similar to the Head Crabs of Half-Life, the Plaga is an infectious parasite that slowly takes control of its victims. The Plaga takes many forms as it sprouts from where the head of its victim should be, sometimes violently causing it to explode. Even if there isn’t a human head left to eat its victims, the Plaga can get the job done and chomp the head off of its prey in one swift swoop.
The Last of Us: Clickers
The Infected appear in many shapes and sizes throughout the series of The Last of Us. Before mutating into forms that no longer resemble humans, The Infected appear as Clickers—a state in which cognitive function has completely ceased and animal instinct has taken its place. Similar to bats, Clickers use echolocation to determine where their next victims are, substituting the traditional low moaning of zombies with an eerie, cacophony of loud gurgles, groans, and “clicking” noises.
Dying Light: Volatile
The Volatile in Dying Light seem to take every traditional aspect of zombies and completely flip them upside down. They are extremely strong, take many hits to take down, and are agile enough to climb to the top of buildings and leap across one from the other. Their glowing, beady eyes, and razor-sharp teeth read like a traditional zombie, but they aren’t nearly as simple to escape from or take down as running away or shooting them in the head.
Splicers are unique to this list in that for the most part, they have still retained a level of humanity. However, their minds and bodies have become so warped due to the use of the drug ADAM that their genetic makeup has been deformed beyond repair. As a result, their behavior is so centered around addiction to the drug that it completely clouds their judgment, causing them to be hostile to anyone that may appear to be between them and their fix. The side effects of ADAM cause the users to strongly resemble zombies as well, with skin lesions, bleeding, and other deformities.