While it’s not a traditional zombie, none can deny that Valve’s alien head-hugging monstrosity deserves a position of honor at the table of the wandering dead. Few creations have been so thoroughly effective in so many roles as the humble headcrab. Beginning in Half-Life as a bloated, scuttling, shadow-loving nuisance enemy it only took a befuddled scientist or an under-trained security guard to transform it into a walking nightmare.
Inflicting its host with hideous mutations the resulting zombie grew enormous, skinless claws and a terrible, gaping groin-to-gullet vertical maw. Leveraging those with a bloodlust and terrible brutality the zombie would literally tear its victims to pieces.
(An aside: If you want to revisit the world of the Black Mesa Incident, or haven’t yet had the pleasure, check out the amazing Black Mesa Mod. This complete, ground-up rewrite brings the Black Mesa Incident from Half-Life up to modern graphical standards and is truly the best way to play.)
Upping the ante in Half-Life 2 we experienced new variations on the theme with the grenade-wielding zombine, the flayed fast zombie and the devastating poison zombie. We were also introduced to the diabolical ingenuity of the Combine and its population-erasing headcrab-infused bombing campaigns. Already effective with the (now) primitive graphics of the first game Half-Life 2 also upped the visual ante making playing in the dark a serious challenge.
Many of the best gameplay experiences and one of the worst nightmares of my adult life featured the headcrab zombie. So here’s to you, you shambling, flesh-ripping, parasite-controlled terror.