While typing tutors
arent often criticized for lacking sufficient gore, Empire Interactive nonetheless
corrects this long-standing omission with the release of The Typing of the Dead. And
its about time. But figuring out what prompted the worlds only first person
typer (FPT), and putting a finger on the exact source of its appeal, are no easy tasks.
One things for sure; with a tag-line reminiscent of an early nineties Bruce Willis
movie"TYPE OR DIE"this game cant possibly take itself
seriously. Good thing it doesnt.
Typing classes used to
consist of a tightly wound old man or woman standing in front of a gloomy high school room
filled with old typewriters. You sat rigidly in the hard plastic chairs, fingers properly
positioned on the keys. You kept one eye on your prompt and the other on the thick ruler
wielded by the frustrated typing maven, who could turn violent quicker than a rabid skunk.
Once in a while, when you paused to crack a knuckle or flex your aching joints, your
fingers would be whacked by that ruler. You learned to just keep typing.
The Typing of the Dead faithfully recreates this pressure to learn while going
a long way toward making it fun to type. The game contains a number of tutorials and
typing drills designed to teach you the basics of touch typing and to offer plenty of
practice for the main event. Your coach is James, the AMS Special Agent you play in the
game itself. Although he lectures you on proper finger positions and what-not like any
good teacher, all of his speeches can be cut short with a tap of the Enter button. This
feature alone makes James the worlds best typing teacher.
Once youve learned and practiced the proper finger positions, its
time for carnage. Imagine House of the Dead 2, complete with references to the infamous
Curien case, only instead of a gun youre armed with a keyboard (attached to a
"Dreamcast" battery backpack). Thats right, in the cut scenes you and your
fellow AMS teammates are shown packing keyboard-guns. When the game gets going, you revert
to first-person point of view, and as the zombies shuffle forward, you have to type a
random phrase in full before they get close enough to eat you. Each correct letter you
type is a direct hit, which means that as you type the zombies arm explodes, then
its chest caves in, then its head bursts, until finally you finish the phrase and the
zombie melts into a puddle of green, bubbly slime. This is even more satisfying than it
The levels become progressively more difficult, with opening levels marked for
"absolute beginners" and the finale for "typing prodigies." The game
itself has an options menu in which the overall difficulty can be set anywhere from Very
Easy through Very Hard. The number of baddies doesnt change, but the phrases get a
lot more complicated. I personally learned to type the "wrong" way, which is a
modified form of hunt-and-peck that is often as quick as touch-typing but isnt
nearly as pretty to watch, and which often necessitates looking at the keyboard. Even
though I type the "wrong way," though, Im not a bad person, and I can hold
my own on practically any difficulty setting. The game itself always encourages
touch-based typing by subtly changing traditional phrases ("One tough kookie")
or sprinkling in rarely used words ("Hopping hydrangea"), making it difficult to
look back and forth between keyboard and screen. At the highest levels on the highest
setting, it would be impossible to beat the game without almost exclusively touch-typing.
Perfect keystrokes are further encouraged by the bonus system, which awards extra lives
for typing a lot of phrases in a row without missing a letter.
Typing zombies to death, then typing their level bosses to
deaththats pretty much how Typing of the Dead goes. Theres a rudimentary
storyline concerning good old Goldman and his nefarious, corporate-sponsored schemes (this
time hes pissed about humans tampering with nature, and he aims to stop that
nonsense for good). However, the storyline isnt what sells this game. Nor are the
graphics, which improve nothing upon contemporary console games. And although I dont
know how the voice acting here compares to that of the House of the Dead series, I can say
Typing didnt blow its budget on top quality actors. If anything, the voice actors
here are doing dead-on impressions of the worlds worst performers. Yet, ironically,
this is where the game starts getting good.
You see, its just impossible that the people at Empire Interactive
accidentally put graphics this bad together with voice acting this horrible in a game
about typing zombies to death. The Typing of the Dead effectively functions on a few
different levels. Theres the typing-tutor level, which appeals to people who want to
learn touch-typing but dont want to sit through tedious classes. This is the same
impulse behind a grammar book I read once that used sentences about macabre sex to
illustrate all its points ("The vampire licked her chest clean, he savored every ruby
drop of her blood" is a comma splice). And then theres the level of pure kitsch
appeal, requiring players to read this game as they would watch The Rocky Horror Picture
Show or listen to Def Leppards Hysteria. The kitsch appeal relies on audiences
accepting the notion that bad acting, mediocre graphics, and quirky game controls are
artistic forms in their own right. If you think like this, then youll be able to
both laugh at The Typing of the Dead and enjoy it on its own terms.
And the game is ultimately quite enjoyable. Theres something liberating
about killing zombies not with guns, not with ingenuity nor puzzle-solving skills, but
with words. It invokes mythological concepts of gaining power over things by knowing their
true name, or cliches about the pen being mightier than the sword. Killing zombies with
words provides the illusion of an intellectual exercise, and this is one of Typing of the
Deads less obvious strengths. When people ask why you waste so much time playing
video games, now you can tell them that youre actually learning to type. Then you
can ask when was the last time they learned a new skill.
So the game will appeal to the kitsch crowd, to people looking for a good
excuse to play video games, and to people who want to learn to type but also have fun. But
how much staying power does Typing of the Dead have? The answer depends largely on
why you pick up the game in the first place. If youre looking for a unique playing
experience, an FPT is surely going to provide it. And the novelty lasts a lot longer than
you might think. Long after beating the game, I find myself starting it up just to see if
I can save more civilians and follow the different paths they provide, or if I can type to
death that one zombie who always steps off the elevator and kills me. Its probably
good for at least a month of on-and-off play. And its a pretty good month. The
graphics and voice acting might make Typing of the Dead a guilty pleasure, but ultimately
its still a pleasure.