The undead are the one thing that never dies in video games. There are more Zombie games than there are Zombies in the average horde. Some are central to a game’s story; some are added as additional features. They are so prevalent that new types of Zombies are regularly invented, often with new names – Infected, Freakers, etc. Call them what you like, Zombies have spread across gaming time and space.
It seems incredible to me, the fact that we have yet to experience Zombie fatigue. Game innovation and variety can keep an idea fresh, and gamers still have time for the Baddy That Shambles. Devoid of personality, limited in challenge unless they are in large groups, and usually lacking the ability to spread the zombie infection as with most movies, they nevertheless remain a constant in the gaming world.
There are lots of reasons why zombies in games work so well, and there are also plenty of reasons for why zombies should probably be given a rest. Are you tired of zombies? Leave your comments below.
No Need for a Villain
However Zombies are portrayed, or labelled, they have the very instant effect of removing the need for an antagonist. In most undead escapades, their presence as a malicious and destructive force is more than enough to fill the need for a villain. Why include a maniacal foe pulling the strings when a deluge of Zombies provides the conflict?
Whether this is a good or a bad thing is a point of discussion. On the one hand, a lack of villain is usually accompanied by a lack of urgency, and in some cases, an absence of story. Very often the entire plot of a Zombie game can be summarise in one sentence: there’s undead here, deal with it.
On the other hand, without a villain (and the subsequent adventure to beat that villain) the story can focus on the Player Character(s) and their companion(s). In fact, the vast majority of zombie games and movies often focus on the personalities and social dynamics of the survivors. In some cases this focus is so distinct that at times you’d be forgiven for forgetting the Zombies were somewhere nearby.
The Ultimate Fodder
When creating any form of game that requires a target for the gamer’s wrath, the Zombie is an ideal choice. Whether they’re at a long range on up close, Zombies offer a satisfyingly squishy target. Seen as their only dangerous in large numbers, and relatively simple to design, a player can be treated to a giant, rambling horde to be mowed down.
On the downside, Zombie games can quickly fall into a pattern. Keep away, hold down button to fire, repeat. A dozen good goons with guns can take cover, strafe and dodge in away that Zombies could not fathom. Cutting down a wave of undead minions can be very satisfying, but the variety in combat can be very limited.
This is alleviated somewhat by specialised Zombie mixed in with the horde. These special usually only have a single extra ability, made apparent by their obvious size and shape. Bigger zombies will hit harder, fat zombies spew or burst in some way, and so on. These elite Zeds develop the variety and mix up the challenge, though they do highlight how monotonous regular Zombies can be on their own.
What’s the Alternative?
Few enemy types could truly fit the role that Zombies take on. A guilt-free target that works better in huge numbers that don’t hog the story.
Robots make for good target practice, but they can never really replicate the fleshy, rolling mass that is a Zombie horde. Games sometimes make villains out of evil aliens or humans (Nazis are a go-to group) but they must rely on weapons to be a threat. Plus, more sentient foes take a greater share of the limelight, as discussed earlier. If there’s an insidious organisation, there’s a boss with ideals, a master plan than needs to be exposited… a Zombie is a Zombie and that’s all you need to know.
The use of Zombies, or something Zombie-like, can be a sign of laziness or a tacked-on gimmick in a video game. On the other hand, walking corpses can allow for greater storytelling and immensely satisfying gameplay. For me, if a game is introduced as a Zombie-killing extravaganza, I’m less and less inclined to give it a go. Weirdly, if a game presents itself as ‘X with zombies in it’, I’m more likely to give it my attention. In other words, if the game sets itself up as an elaborate undead shooting gallery, I’m out, but if it’s a survival game with zombies as the background threat I could be convinced to play.
Are you fed up of Zombies? Or do they still have their place in gaming? Do you think enough has been done to keep the undead interesting? What are the other alternatives? Leave your views below.
Thank You For Reading
Written by Rufus Scott.