Zombies are arguably the most iconic monsters of horror. With their decaying appearance and desire to eat flesh, zombies may be simple-minded, but they are deadly. They also make great cannon fodder for gamers. Whether it’s Resident Evil, Call of Duty, or Dying Light, gamers enjoy smashing and blasting zombies, but rarely do we get to play as the undead.
Playing as a zombie has so much potential, but it’s been largely ignored. When it is done, it is relegated to a multiplayer mode and is not the core of the game. The sole exception is 2005’s Stubbs the Zombie: Rebel Without a Pulse. Developed by Wideload Games, Stubbs takes the idea of being a zombie and runs with it (or rather, shuffles).
Let’s explore why Stubbs the Zombie is it’s the best zombie game you’ve never played.
Revisiting Stubbs: The Premise
Set in the fictional town of Punchbowl, Pennsylvania, the game follows Stubbs. In life, he was a traveling salesman. In death, he was buried six feet under the burgeoning metropolis. Stubbs suddenly awakens from his dirt nap and sets out to find the truth. He also tries to reunite with his former flame, Maggie. Stubbs’ adventure turns the glistening utopia into a post-apocalyptic wasteland as he eats the brains of everyone in his path.
Stubbs the Zombie is lite on the story but heavy on the slapstick. It’s a comedic adventure about rekindling love and the joys of brain eating. The writing is brilliant. Taking a page from Destroy All Humans, the game is set in a satirized version of the 1950’s, an era of prosperity and the Atomic Age.
Punchbowl is the creation of Andrew Monday, a wealthy industrialist who envisions the city as a beacon of the future. A place with no gods or kings, only man. Monday’s glistening utopia becomes a hellhole not because of splicers, but because of a corpse who will stop at nothing to reclaim his girl. At the end, the city is in ruins, and the few survivors are overwhelmed by the return of the living dead.
All of this is played for laughs and ties back into the game’s slapstick. It’s very gory but also very funny. Stubbs is like a ghoulish Buster Keaton. He has a knack for getting himself in and out of comedic situations. His vocabulary may only consist of “Brains!” but his physical comedy makes up for it. Plus, for a rotting corpse, Stubbs is a spiffy dresser.
Stubbs the Zombie is a third-person action game with gratuitous brain eating. As Stubbs, you claw, chew, and maim your way through Punchbowl. The game’s premise could easily be a one-note novelty, but it isn’t. The gameplay goes all in on the idea of being a zombie.
Stubbs’ movement speed starts as a slow shuffle but becomes a light jog. Eating brains turns Stubbs’ victims into zombies, which he uses to distract enemies. For weapons, he doesn’t use guns, but his various organs, appendages, and bodily fluids.
After a lengthy tutorial, Stubbs is let off the leash. Because the game uses the Halo: Combat Evolved engine, it retains that game’s sandbox-like design.
There are various ways to confront enemies. You may use Stubbs’ hand to possess a cop and thin the numbers of attacking policemen. Need some space? Unleash a sickening fart to leave enemies vulnerable to head chomping.
Stubbs has four abilities, including gut grenades and using his head as an explosive bowling ball. Each ability is designed to be useful. As mentioned, the severed hand is good for thinning out enemies, while gut grenades are great for crowd control. Eating brains not only eases the pain of being dead, but allows Stubbs to use his powers. Plus, watching him chomp down on grey matter never gets old.
What’s most surprising about the combat is the amount of strategy. Charging into encounters will get Stubbs killed. Knowing which powers to use and when is essential, especially in the later levels. At first, Stubbs only worries about the local constabulary, but soon he’s facing shotgun-toting rednecks, killer barbershop quartets, and the military.
A handful of one-off segments breaks up the action. These include driving vehicles, stealth, and a dance-off. Moments like this highlight the game’s silliness.
The Halo Factor
Stubbs the Zombie utilizes the Halo engine, and you can see Halo’s DNA permeated throughout. Several enemy types and vehicles are modified from ones seen in the sci-fi shooter. Cowering scientists run around and flail their arms like the grunts. The angry police captain’s name is Chief Masters, a not-so subtle reference to everyone’s favorite space marine.
It’s crazy to think such a silly game runs on the same engine behind one of the most iconic shooters. However, Stubbs inherits one of Halo’s problems, a finicky checkpoint system.
Autosaving occurs irregularly, sometimes in the heat of combat. If you find yourself in a compromising position when the game saves, expect to die over and over as you try to beat said section. Perhaps the biggest flaw besides the checkpoints is the lack of music.
Much of the game takes place in silence, save for hilarious one-liners like “Oh no, I’ve been disarmed!” The game features covers of famous 50’s songs by alt-rock bands like the Raveonettes, but you only hear a snippet of them during the dance-off. Stubbs needed a B-movie inspired soundtrack, but all we get is a catchy title theme and not much else.
Revisiting Stubbs: Conclusion
Stubbs the Zombie comes from a time when developers could take a bizarre concept like playing as a zombie and make a quality, mid-tier experience. This game isn’t a 10/10 masterpiece, but it’s a quirky, memorable adventure equal parts violent, campy, and touching. Once an Xbox exclusive, Aspyr Media resurrected the game for modern consoles and computers. This spooky season, instead of playing the usual Resident Evil or Five Night’s at Freddy’s, sink your teeth into Stubbs the Zombie. It’s a no-brainer.