A short while ago, our very own Dave Walsh wrote a piece on growing tired of what is now considered the overused gaming trope, zombies. I believe he spoke for many gamers, as the argument for the oversaturation of zombie games isn’t anything new. And how could I blame you? 2012 alone saw the releases of The Walking Dead, ZombiU, Lollipop Chainsaw, Resident Evil: Revelations, and DayZ, among others.
But, if you played those games, did you really think to yourself “gee, I’m bored of this” or “this is nothing new”? Would you call them all “the same game”? And, most importantly, are they bad video games? Of course not. Not by a long shot, in fact, as all our review scores of each of those games lie within the 4 to 5 star region.
The fact is, “zombie games” aren’t a genre. I couldn’t blame anyone who claims that they’re tired of first-person shooters. Sure, they can differ. Half-Life 2 and Call of Duty placed side-by-side would be like black and white. But the mechanics, perspective and controls are largely the same, so it’d be understandable if you needed a break and wanted something different. That’s not the case with zombie games. They are not limited to strict rules that a genre would impose, do not compete with one another and are not running thin on potential any time soon.
I’m not going to argue against the fact that this generation has seen a lot of zombies in games. In fact, there are many cases of developers dependant on the undead, churning out games with no imagination. I’ve seen far too many lazy zombie twin-stick survival games for a lifetime. However, this, too, can be a good thing. Developers are just as much aware of this overuse in the market as much as we, the players, are. And this just means that the developers who do it right are pushed further to innovate, to create something new. Because when it comes to zombies, there is so much to explore.
The stupidity of zombies can make them the funniest or creepiest thing ever, depending on a developer’s interpretation. The brain-munchers in Plants Vs. Zombies are the most lovable dudes on Earth, while in a more serious, horror-focused game, it’s horrifying to someone who was once alive and well reduced to such a primitive state.
“Who says they have to be stupid”?” cries a different developer. They can be deviously clever, working and coordinating in groups and laying out traps for feeble humans. They can be slow, shambling beasts, or they can be fast, incredibly agile hunters. They can represent death. They can develop mixed emotions in someone when turning their loved one into something that now wants to kill them. Even before that stage, they can force you into the hardest decision you will ever face: kill them now, or watch them turn. How long do they even have? How is it even spread? Is there a cure?
Like movie directors and novelists, developers create their own rules and their own world. And this is before we even touch on the gameplay aspect. Again, since this isn’t a genre, there’s nothing to restrict how you implement flesh eaters into gameplay. Shooters, survival horror, strategy, hack-and-slash, adventure, sandbox, stealth… all viable, working genres for zombies. Just one could be enough to kill you, or perhaps they’ll come in thousands as cannon fodder to your gatling gun. Maybe you’re stuck in a claustrophobic mansion with limited resources, or running and gunning through an entire city. Sometimes, the concept of zombies can change the fundamentals of an entire game, as it did in Red Dead Redemption‘s Undead Nightmare DLC.
When I set down my controller after playing The Walking Dead, I didn’t think to myself “well, we’ll call that a day”. I was, and still am, desperate for more. I can’t wait to see what Telltale does in Season 2, and to see how they explore further into the ethics, emotions and morals that a zombie apocalypse presents to survivors, and affects the relationships between them.
I cried during The Walking Dead. I laughed my arse off at Lollipop Chainsaw. I held my controller with severe tension while playing ZombiU. And this is just within the space of a year.
I can’t count the number of people, both children and adults, I’ve got hooked on Plants Vs. Zombies. For the more specific hardcore audience, even the most experienced horror veterans tremble before the Resident Evil GameCube remake. It doesn’t have to be a solo experience either; I’ve spent more than an entire summer addicted to Left 4 Dead‘s teamwork and co-operative dependence to survive. Zombies can change the fundamentals of an entire game, as Red Dead Redemption‘s Undead Nightmare DLC proves.
Oh, and if you thought zombies were a relatively new gaming phenomenon, guess again. Zombies Ate My Neighbors, the original Resident Evil trilogy and House of the Dead in arcades took over my childhood life in the ’90s. Don’t expect it to falter any time soon either, with huge new IP The Last of Us and hotly anticipated sequel Dead Island: Riptide on their way later this year.
They may want a chunk of my brain, but I’ll continue to defend them to the end. Before you roll your eyes at the next zombie game announcement, maybe I can convince you to give it a chance. Before labelling every zombie game as the same, unimaginative money-spinner, give it a try. Zombie games are far from dead. In fact, like the walkers themselves, every time you call it dead, it will get back up stronger than before. But instead of reaching for your pistol, grab that controller and embrace it.