This… this has got to be the most crassly humourous game ‘with educational intent’ that I have ever seen.
Take a ’70s action flick, an classic cops-versus-mafia premise, a good-ol’ zombie outbreak in the American South with conspiratorial bioweapons, and a numbing amount of swearing and gore and strippers, then you have a first impression of Typing of the Dead: Overkill.
If this sounds like a game that has absolutely nothing to do with typing, then you would right. Everything in the menu page, from the glitzy background to the busty female characters, from the sleazy background music and the flamboyant costumes, all made the game feel like it was something you probably could have found in a 90’s arcade machine. Even the artwork for chapter selection is done in a over-saturated, pin-up style, ready for the player to pick up a shotgun and shoot up zombies like fish in a barrel. But instead, when you load up the game and gets through the expletive-filled beginning cinematic, you are faced with… this.
And that picture, in its essence, sums up why this game is so familiar and so completely alien at the same time. The game is a homage to many classic zombie games that any fans of horror games would recognise – Typing of the Dead: Overkill makes no pretences about referencing the Left for Dead and Resident Evil franchises straight out of the box. The first level feature a staircase and main hall that would not look out of place in Resident Evil 2. There is a swamp map and the only thing missing was the Witches and the Spitters. The default dictionary also has plenty of nerdy references, with classics such as ‘All your bases are belong to us’ that the player will have to type to kill the undead enemies. One gets the feeling that the game is acutely aware of its position as a parody, as well as an acknowledgement of franchises that defined the modern zombie genre. And yet, there was the typing – kills are made not with bullets, but with the keyboard.
The typing, which may sound absurd on paper, actually works very well in the game’s favour in terms of mechanics. I have a more or less mechanical keyboard, and the haptic feedback I get from my fingertips are insane. The sound effect also adds significantly more impact to increase immersion in the shooter genre. Every correctly typed letter is accompanied by the sound of a gunshot – and when the typing gets fast and the words get long, every downward movement of your finger actually feels like another fatal tap on the trigger. And to make matters more realistic, an incorrect letter input is accompanied by the ‘click’ of an emptied magazine. I have found myself in a momentary panic as I faced a boss and heard the telltale sound of having ran out of ammo, and in that brief moment of confusion and powerlessness, it was no longer just a ‘typing game’ – the speed and accuracy of your typing became truly the only things keeping you alive.
The typing also necessitated another innovative and foreign game design that terrifies players – the absolute lack of control of the camera for a first-person-shooter game. As the camera pans over a narrow corridor and the zombies start to press their hands through the bars, there is an overwhelming urge to reach out for the mouse, to turn the camera, to scan your surroundings – but you can’t. The player has to keep both hands on the keyboard and type furiously, leaving the movement of the camera completely at the developer’s mercy. This is specifically scary at traditional choke points for a zombie game – such as stairways, tight corners, and small rooms with smaller windows. This lack of control, this sense of powerlessness in a zombie-infested environment, added sufficient tension into a game that is otherwise full of crack jokes and cult references.
As for gameplay, there were a few changes that had to be made to accommodate the hand-off-mouse playstyle that typing dictated. Collectibles, healing items, and boosts are scattered throughout the game world just like in any other shooting game. However, the player has to press the TAB button to pick these items up when the item is present in the forever moving camera view. Since many of the items are hard to see (particularly the healing items, as they appear as nondescript green first aid boxes), I found myself madly tapping the TAB key whenever I wasn’t typing. There were other gameplay decisions that added depth to the typing, such as thrown projectiles that require just a single letter to take down, but are guaranteed to hit you if ignored. There are also instances when the player can choose to shoot down shop signs, which then falls on the zombies below and crashes them. In those moments, the game truly felt like a shooter – only difference being that you don’t shoo bullets, but words, effectively integrating the monotonous task of typing into a fast-paced, unpredictable environment of zombie shooters.
When the gameplay and the design were already doing a great job at keeping typists on their tones, the story became more of an add-on than an essential feature. In fact, the entire plot and characters seem to be crude caricatures at first glance. Cops vs mafia – check. Skimpily dressed females – check. A mole in the forces of good and a top-secret military virus gone rogue – check. In fact, the first chapter’s story was so shallow that I almost gave up on the game for good there. It was a good thing that I didn’t, though. The final chapter offers an interesting and almost spontaneous challenge that not only test your word association skills, but also was a tongue-in-cheek trick to see whether you’ve actually been paying attention to the game’s characters (regrettably, I wasn’t, and I paid dearly for it). Not the mention the game blatantly breaks the fourth wall and openly admits the caricature nature of the plot and the characters, in a way that brings a conspiratorial smile to the player’s face. Had I been offended by the early crude humour and mindless stereotypes, I might not have stuck around to realise the nature of the parody.
On a more practical, educational, and fun level, Typing of the Dead: Overkill successfully combines the potential for customisable, repeatable exercises with the joy of being able to fiddle with the game. The presence of the Steam Workshop offers customisable dictionaries for this game, as well the game having official DLCs that offer different dictionaries such as ‘Shakespeare’, which allows the player to test their skills typing sonnets while aiming at shambling zombies. Fiddling with difficulty levels also gives a new feeling to the game, as higher difficulties results in much longer phrases needing to be typed to kill a zombie. There is also ‘Hardcore’ mode, during which a mistake in typing results in a new word or phrase being offered for the zombie, instead of being allowed to attempt the previous phrase again. Hardcore mode is certainly a much more different experience, and if one isn’t very careful or a great typist, most times you will be just barely managing to go through a level, making what could be a tedious game to re-play have much more re-play value.
Typing of the Dead: Overkill is definitely a unique beast in the world of typing games. It is a tongue-in-cheek creation that tips its hat to the most popular works in the horror genre, and also manages to maintain a novel kind of tension while testing the player’s typing speed and accuracy. It was an amusing to play, and can becomes a serious test for your typing – the hardest difficulty, combined with hardcore mode, is no easy walk in the park. I can certainly see this game being an introduction for those who have qualms about whether typing games can be fun. For the soul of serious games is not merely about game play or an achievement board, but the capacity to engage and excite – even with such a small amount of context as the ones here.