You are currently viewing an archival version of GF!

Click here to return to the current GamesFirst! website.

Questions? Suggestions? Comments?
Contact us at:

Logo.gif (6874 bytes)

star06.gif (4104 bytes)star06.gif (4104 bytes)star06.gif (4104 bytes)

by Empire Interactive / Sega

Screenshot9-01.jpg (6782 bytes)While typing tutors aren’t often criticized for lacking sufficient gore, Empire Interactive nonetheless corrects this long-standing omission with the release of The Typing of the Dead. And it’s about time. But figuring out what prompted the world’s only first person typer (FPT), and putting a finger on the exact source of its appeal, are no easy tasks. One thing’s for sure; with a tag-line reminiscent of an early nineties Bruce Willis movie—"TYPE OR DIE"—this game can’t possibly take itself seriously. Good thing it doesn’t.

Screenshot3-01.jpg (6819 bytes)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.

Screenshot6-01.jpg (7145 bytes)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 world’s best typing teacher.

Screenshot14-01.jpg (9089 bytes)Once you’ve learned and practiced the proper finger positions, it’s time for carnage. Imagine House of the Dead 2, complete with references to the infamous Curien case, only instead of a gun you’re armed with a keyboard (attached to a "Dreamcast" battery backpack). That’s 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 zombie’s 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 sounds.

Screenshot15-01.jpg (8065 bytes)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 doesn’t 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 isn’t nearly as pretty to watch, and which often necessitates looking at the keyboard. Even though I type the "wrong way," though, I’m 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.

Screenshot11-01.jpg (9022 bytes)Typing zombies to death, then typing their level bosses to death—that’s pretty much how Typing of the Dead goes. There’s a rudimentary storyline concerning good old Goldman and his nefarious, corporate-sponsored schemes (this time he’s pissed about humans tampering with nature, and he aims to stop that nonsense for good). However, the storyline isn’t what sells this game. Nor are the graphics, which improve nothing upon contemporary console games. And although I don’t know how the voice acting here compares to that of the House of the Dead series, I can say Typing didn’t blow its budget on top quality actors. If anything, the voice actors here are doing dead-on impressions of the world’s worst performers. Yet, ironically, this is where the game starts getting good.

Screenshot7-01.jpg (8239 bytes)You see, it’s 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. There’s the typing-tutor level, which appeals to people who want to learn touch-typing but don’t 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 there’s 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 Leppard’s 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 you’ll be able to both laugh at The Typing of the Dead and enjoy it on its own terms.

Screenshot4-01.jpg (8670 bytes)And the game is ultimately quite enjoyable. There’s 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 Dead’s less obvious strengths. When people ask why you waste so much time playing video games, now you can tell them that you’re actually learning to type. Then you can ask when was the last time they learned a new skill.

Screenshot5-01.jpg (8886 bytes)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 you’re 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. It’s probably good for at least a month of on-and-off play. And it’s a pretty good month. The graphics and voice acting might make Typing of the Dead a guilty pleasure, but ultimately it’s still a pleasure.

Paul Cockeram   (10/14/2001)


Ups: First Person Typer; makes learning fun; great tongue-in-cheek attitude; surprisingly satisfying.

Downs: Well, it's a game about typing...

Platform: PC