Posted on September 2, 2022

Return of the Zombie Salesman: A Review of Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse

Guest Post

Picture this: you are playing a video game about a zombie outbreak. Perhaps your avatar is struggling to survive as undead enemies hunt them in claustrophobia-inducing environments, like Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine in Resident Evil (1996). Then again, maybe your avatar is the one doing the hunting, slaughtering hordes of zombies with relative ease as Frank West and Juliet Starling can in Dead Rising (2006) and Lollipop Chainsaw (2012), respectively. Either way, you are likely imagining the following scenario for your hypothetical video game: a zombie outbreak has occurred, and the living must escape from, or do battle with, the undead to survive.

Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse, which originally released for the Xbox in 2005 and was re-released on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch in 2021, is a zombie video game. Yet, in a subversion of the above-mentioned scenario, Stubbs the Zombie has players take on the role of a zombie: an undead salesman by the name of Edward “Stubbs” Stubblefield to be precise. In Stubbs the Zombie, the goal of the playable character is a wholesome one; Stubbs must find a way of reuniting with his love interest, a Marilyn Monroe lookalike named Maggie Monday. Yet, despite his wholesome quest, as an undead monstrosity Stubbs is a harbinger of death.

The destructive disposition of Stubbs is made clear in the tutorial for Stubbs the Zombie. During this sequence, a recently revived Stubbs forces his way out from underneath a patch of grass in the retrofuturistic city of Punchbowl. In the process, Stubbs steals a hotdog from a young man and woman, who were sharing the food item.[1] The man confronts Stubbs, who retaliates violently by lashing out. A robotic tour guide then informs our playable character that the man he hit is experiencing a seizure. Afterward, the robot suggests that somebody should find a way of “relieving the pressure” in the man’s head. Stubbs obliges by remorselessly eating the man’s brain.

video game image of a zombie attacking a person as two people look on

Figure 1: Stubbs devours the brain of a Punchbowl resident.

Despite the gravity of the game’s subject matter (murder, cannibalism, epidemics), Stubbs the Zombie strives to facilitate a comedic experience. In fact, gameplay in Stubbs the Zombie falls neatly into the genre of splatstick. This term describes the synthesis of comedy and gore. As Bishop states, it is a genre “where blood and guts are the primary comedic medium” (2009: 18). In short, Stubbs the Zombie may be violent, yet it is through its violence that humour is expressed.

Occasionally, when assaulting humans, Stubbs can be made to pull his victims’ arms off. Adding insult to injury, players can even bludgeon non-playable characters (NPCs) to death with their own dismembered limbs. Mutilated NPCs will die eventually due to blood loss, though there is something darkly comical about whacking them with their own body parts. Furthermore, Stubbs can use his own body as a weapon, choking bystanders with his toxic flatulence and sending them flying with well-placed gut grenade explosions. The act of brain eating is also exaggeratedly bloody. Of course, one might expect such an act to be messy but the sheer amount of blood and viscera that splurges out from the heads of Stubbs’ victims is nothing short of spectacular.

In addition to attacking humans with his fists, flatulence, and explosive innards, Stubbs can remove his own head and use it in the same fashion as a bowling ball, mowing down enemies before finishing them off with a volatile blast. Humans can also be possessed by Stubbs’ arm, which when removed from his body runs around in a way that is reminiscent of Thing from The Addams Family (1991). Once a human has been hijacked the player can control them as they would Stubbs. Players can even use items that Stubbs otherwise cannot when controlling the residents of Punchbowl, such as police batons, shotguns, and even laser guns.

Killing humans in Stubbs the Zombie does not just generate macabre pleasure for players, it also provides strategic benefits to gameplay. Humans who are killed by Stubbs eventually reanimate as zombies, and as zombies they will fight alongside Stubbs. This is an exciting gameplay mechanic that often sees Stubbs outnumbered by adversaries at the beginning of a level and gradually turning the tide of battle by not just killing these adversaries but recruiting them too. The visual transformation of humans who turn into zombies is impressive. What were once relatively clean-looking character models become wound-laden, green-skinned monstrosities: a visual treat that rewards the player’s malevolent efforts.

Stubbs the Zombie has quite a steady pace, never completely overwhelming the player with enemies but offering enough friction to their traversal through Punchbowl to warrant a challenge; this is especially true of later levels when military forces are called to defend the city. The game offers the most fun during its large battle sequences, such as the fight in Punchbowl’s police station. Here, Stubbs finds himself in a sizeable room when a mob of police officers surround him. Gameplay is chaotic as the officers do battle with Stubbs and his undead army in a space that is big enough to avoid feeling cramped but confined enough to ensure rival forces are constantly in combat. Unfortunately, though, this area contrasts with many others in the game, which are impressive in scope but otherwise bland.

Too many areas in Stubbs the Zombie are barren, meaning there is little incentive to explore them. Streets and buildings are often derelict, save for a few furnishings (benches and cars in the former and sporadically placed decor in the latter). Of course, the game did originally come out in 2005, but videoludic environments were not all vacant back then. For example, the fantasy, role playing game Fable (2014) presented locations that were comparatively more detailed than in Stubbs the Zombie. Additional environmental features would have therefore benefitted the latter game; for instance, destructible scenery to make players’ chaotic romps through Punchbowl more cathartic.

Environments in Stubbs the Zombie are not all bad, though. Intriguingly, fans of zombie cinema will see some familiar looking locations in the game–notably Punchbowl’s mall, which, like any mall in zombie media, evokes that of George A. Romero’s seminal zombie film, Dawn of the Dead (1978). Although, a more sustained allusion to Romero’s work comes in the form of a farmhouse. Leading an assault on this location is like playing out the final sequence of Night of the Living Dead as the undead rather than the squabbling survivors. A subversive twist on such a recognisable staple of zombie cinema, this instance of gameplay is certainly a highlight of Stubbs the Zombie.

a zombie approaches a farmhouse

Figure 2: Stubbs leads an assault on a farmhouse.

The fact that Stubbs the Zombie can be revived after over fifteen years is testament to its continued appeal. As a fan of the original game, the revival of Stubbs the Zombie gives me hope that one day it will receive a sequel, or even a remake as opposed to a visually enhanced remaster. If the game were to be remade, more of what made the original game so wonderful would suffice–as, unfortunately, albeit fittingly, Stubbs the Zombie leaves you in a similar state to the ravenous hordes of undead monstrosities it foregrounds. That is, despite its comical appeal, the game leaves you wanting more. More humans to maim, infect and transform. More zombies onscreen. More locations to explore. More detailed environments. More bloody carnage.


 [1] To reiterate, the game’s setting called Punchbowl and Stubbs steals hotdog. Notions of food and eating are foreground here even before Stubbs’ cannibalistic killing spree begins.

Works Cited

Bishop, Kyle. 2009. Dead Man Still Walking. Journal of Popular Film and Television [online]. 37 (1). pp. 16-25. Available from:

Stubbs The Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse. 2021. Aspyr: Wideload.

Connor Jackson is a PhD graduate from Edge Hill University whose thesis examines the ways in which video games express satire. His work can be found in Romancing the Zombie: Essays on the Undead as Significant “Other” (part of McFarland’s ongoing Contributions to Zombie Studies publication series) and the Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA) Review journal. You can follow him on Twitter here and keep up with his video game related photography on Instagram here.

You Might Also Like

Back to top