I’ll get this out of the way first; I love zombie media. This article is in defence of the poor shuffling dead guys, and anyone making games featuring them. Over the past year or two we’ve seen a backlash against anything with zombies in it. There have been people calling it a fad, unoriginal, boring.
They’re wrong. Zombies hold a valuable place in gaming, and shouldn’t be so easily dismissed.
Zombies in gaming are NOT a fad.
Since the release of Left4Dead particularly, a lot of people have talked down at zombie games. Just look at the comment section on any post related to any given title. It’s true to say that until L4D’s release there had been a bit of a lull in zombie games, but they aren’t exactly new. Zombies have been around in gaming since the the mid eighties. Horror Zombies From the Crypt, Wolfenstein 3D, Zombies Ate My Neighbours, Zombie Apocalypse, Resident Evil, House Of The Dead, etc. The list is very long if you include games that involve zombies but don’t centre around them. Castlevania always has it’s fair share of the living dead, as well as any other games with a broad horror theme.
Now, as gaming grows it only makes sense we’ll see more of everything, so lets get this out of the way too. If zombies are a fad – how come so many zombie movies have been coming out since Romero’s original (1968) masterpiece? Many cities have yearly zombie film festivals showing at least a couple of new films alongside the classics. For whatever reason – zombies are a popular theme and they allow for a lot of interesting stories. Loss, disease, war, love, famine, pressure, madness, government interference and conspiracies, you might think zombie movies are throwaway horror, but they can cover a lot of ground. There is unarguably great of depth to the genre (if you could even call it that) and that depth can also apply to games. They’re a goldmine of story ideas which is nowhere near being exhausted in any medium.
Zombies are creatively not a lazy addition to a game.
One angle the protesters often bring up is how lazy zombies are as an enemy choice. I’ve never seen them offer reasonable alternatives, but it doesn’t take a genius to see how this is a completely bogus argument.
Zombies can be incredibly varied and offer loads of creative potential for artists. Games mix things up massively when it comes to zombie body type and function. Given that there are dozens of different takes on zombies in movies alone there’s really no reason to think they would all look, behave, sound or otherwise be similar to one another in games.
From a gameplay perspective zombies are (almost) irreplaceable.
Back in the 80s games could get away with having mindless enemies piling onto you, often shooting continuously and not taking cover. Now, if you need a horde of many enemies, realistically, what are they going to be? Zombies give the designer a legitimate excuse for quite rudimentary AI – which in turn can mean larger groups of enemies. If you were to have a horde of realistic human, or even alien opponents you’d expect more intelligence, at least for the narrative side to hold up. Robots can work okay for this if they fit the game-world, but often they don’t. Sticking crappy AI on enemies like, for example the Xenos in the 2010 Aliens Vs Predator completely breaks the immersion – these are supposed to be efficient killing machines, not glitchy cannon-fodder!
Obviously there are genres where logic is thrown to the wind, or where thousands of fighters will line up to be eviscerated. Generally not in the genres that zombies feature stongly in.
Zombies as a choice for thrillers, horror games and FPSs though are a no-brainer. They enable a whole lot of experiences that would be difficult without them.
Zombies are flexible (and still scary)
Zombies can still be shocking, and play to various deep-seated fears. Disease, being eaten alive, social breakdown, destruction of infrastructure and communications. We’ve got cute, comical zombies, strong ones, fast ones, ranged ones.. About the only we don’t have many of is flying ones. Some games even give us gun-weilding ones. They may deviate from what many would consider zombies but lets be honest, most of the necromorphs you meet in Dead Space are just messed up zombies with a different origin story. Likewise – Silent hill is crawling with zombie-like creatures. Are those games inherently better for having slightly different creature names and backstories? Why are they suddenly exempt from the anti-zombie-brigade’s ire simply because they have different names?
Next time, before you start insulting zombies in games, think of all the good times zombies have brought you. I, for one am looking forward to playing The Last Of Us, Left4Dead 3 (you know it’s coming) Resident Evil 6, All Zombies Must Die, more COD zombies, more Dead Island and anything else besides. I’m happy that they’re not a fad and that are here to stay.