One thing I have found in a few places in comments about the new game Left 4 Dead is disappointment that the zombies are fast zombies instead of slow zombies. Sure, Dead Rising had slow zombies and it worked fairly well, but then again it was also an entirely single player game with a storyline that lasts for many many hours of game playing time. Each of Left 4 Dead’s scenarios can be completed in about an hour (more or less depending on your difficulty setting and the people you have chose to play with). I’m not sure I’d want to play Left 4 Dead in a story that lasted for twenty hours of play. I mean, the story as it is is “four people wound up hiding together and have decided to make a run toward [insert possible rescue destination here]”, and it works for the time it takes to play it. Dragging out a single run to rescue for twenty hours would likely be horrendously repetitive and tiring… just like Dead Rising is if you choose to just hang around for the helicopter, killing zeds and run none of the missions and stories (heck, even with the missions, sometimes Dead Rising is kinda dull… but I still love the game).
But could a Left 4 Dead style game work with slow zombies?
I think it could, however, it would require a number of mechanics changes. For one, little piles of ammo, guns and grenades would be out. As would the unlimited ammo pistols. We wouldn’t have to remove guns, but we would absolutely need to slim down the supply of them. We’d also need to add in melee weapons, real ones, not just pushing zombies back with your gun, but bats and shovels and other things. Each melee item would have a power rating and a weight, swinging one would cause you to get tired. The more you swing, the slower you swing, unless you rest up. These things combined would allow for the encounters with slow zombies to be more tense. If you have unlimited ammo, you can just shoot them all and walk your way to the end (if you have never seen the remake of Night of the Living Dead, one of the major changes from the original is Barbara actually putting to use the idea of “they are just so slow, you could walk right past them” and she leaves the house on her own with a pistol and walks to safety while everyone else dies inside the house), while the “tired bar” makes you sometimes choose to use your limited ammo over your melee weapon in order to survive. The game would also need more “monster closets”, because as is Left 4 Dead avoids the monster closet by having hordes of zeds randomly show up climbing over fences and whatnot. In order to maintain a level of creep and dread with slow zombies, you’d have to play up the idea that meeting them in large numbers is dangerous by occasionally forcing the players to deal with large numbers of them… open a door and wham, twenty five zombies are in that room you need to walk through. Oh, and all zombies must be killed by removing the head or destroying the brain, shooting one in the leg just makes him limp when he walks, shooting both just makes him drag himself along the ground. Did I not mention you’d need to watch out for zombies pulling themselves around at ankle level? In fact, the game might be more focused on avoiding the zombies instead of Left 4 Dead’s plow through attitude.
While fighting slow zombies might still be made fun, I’m not sure that playing one could be. You’d stumble around, you’d be slower than the players, and your only method of attack would be to get close enough to grab at them and bit them. And if the players shot off your legs, you’d essentially be spending the entire rest of the map dragging after them with little hope of catching up. However, without the obstacle of the special infected running around and keeping the game entirely co-op, you could have infection. A player who gets bit is infected. They will die, and they will become a zombie, how fast that happens depends on how badly they get hurt. The game would have no health bar and include no healing, so that even the infected himself couldn’t warn his teammates. So the other players in co-op would need to decide… shoot the infect guy now or wait until he turns? Sure, killing him now makes you safer since you don’t have to worry about him turning, but killing him now also means that you are going to be short one gun or club as you move forward. You start the game with four and it tunes for four, so if you have to off one of your own, you are down to three playing a map tuned for four. Or two on map for four… or all by yourself. To ease the sting of that, I’d probably keep Left 4 Dead’s survivor closets where you can recover a fallen friend, and from map to map within a scenario all players would get put back in.
Slow zombies in a first person shooter could definitely work, but it wouldn’t be the same game at all.