Zombies are the quintessential enemy in video games that, much like Nazis, free us from the guilt of slaughtering hundreds upon hundreds in creative ways. They’re that rare type of monster that can jump genres with little problem at all, as zombies have made their way into class-based shooters, horror, action, RPGs, and even puzzle titles. The zombie craze is in full effect and frankly it may be time for the ghouls to take a bit of a break.
Don’t get me wrong; zombies, when used right, can really enhance a video game and stand in for a larger message that the narrative is trying to tell. On the other hand, zombies also serve as a nice catalyst for players to just kick back and mow through dozens upon dozens without a shred of remorse. Yet, zombies really haven’t added anything new or interesting to the gaming space in ages. Sure there have been some interesting additions such as Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare’s colorful rendition or Dying Light’s Volatiles, but it’s incredibly rare to get unique renditions. Perhaps it’s time we really reflect on the undead as a whole and really see if they need to be as overwhelming a force in video games.
Let’s face it – zombies haven’t offered anything really new in years. While they can be a good support monster for a game with a larger roster of unique enemies, they hardly have been able to stand on their own two feet in years. With the exception of a game like Dying Light, almost all zombies fall into the same design and archetypes we’ve seen time and time again. There’s always the bloated ones, the big bullet sponge ones, the ranged ones, and the especially fast ones that are meant to chase you down. We’ve seen these special variants pop up quite a lot lately, and while I understand the need for a zombie game to have different types, they always end up falling under these categories.
It doesn’t help that the zombie as a base foe are rarely as threatening as they are depicted in any other medium. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but in the broader scope of gaming, zombies aren’t a threatening foe in almost any way. This falls into the fact that there is really only so much you can do with a traditional ghoul. At least, at first glance. The basic ideas around the zombie leave a lot of room to experiment with and design their features around. The Clickers in The Last of Us are a great example of this with the introduction a more plant-based appearance and acts. Sadly, the rest of the monsters really don’t capitalize on the foliage angle, with this one monster being the sole exception to the rule.
With dozens upon dozens of big Triple A titles releasing every year, swapping out our perception of what a zombie is could really help a game stand out among the rest of them. Though it would be nice if zombies were actually more than just another mob of creatures standing in our way.
They Don’t Stand For Anything
At first glance this may seem like an odd complaint as the very idea of a zombie is that they are essentially a very faceless antagonist. Hordes upon hordes descend upon us and it’s very rare a game will stop and take into consideration that these are our former friends, neighbors, and family we’re slaughtering. What’s rarer is if the video game will have the a zombie horde meaning something beyond scary monsters that want to bite you again and again. In film, they are used to represent everything from consumerism to racism, to our own obsession with being lost in technology. Why don’t we don’t see this anymore?
Dead Rising 2 is one of the few zombie games in recent memory that really used them to tell something more than beyond face value. Do the monsters in Dead Island, Dying Light, or Resident Evil represent anything that helps give the narrative more weight and substance? Now there is a very good argument to be made that not all games need a deeper story, which is very true. Sometimes I don’t want to get as heavily invested into a story or world if I am just trying to kill an hour or two. Yet, this idea seems to heavily outweigh a deeper analysis of the undead, as those types of games are few and far between. This isn’t asking for the abolishment of mindless shooters or that all games need to have seventeen different meanings, but a few more would be nice.
Zombies need to evolve just like the video game industry’s ability to tell stories. There is no doubting just how complex and thought-provoking gaming has gotten, so seeing our antagonists represent something outside of just another enemy to cleave in two could be interesting.
Time For New Blood
So let’s say in the extremely rare chance we do away with zombies for a few years, what then? If you’re looking for classic monsters, werewolves and vampires haven’t really been shown a lot of love lately. While games like The Order 1886 attempted to bring Lycans to the forefront as our prime foes, they were too few and far between in the entirety of the campaign. Vampires have had even less of a presence, despite being some of the most interesting and dynamic monsters ever conjured up. Sure, they appear in games such as The Witcher 3 and any Elder Scrolls title, but we rarely get to explore the world these creatures inhabit. Both of these gothic baddies could really offer up some unique and terrifying moments we have yet to ever experience.
However, there is a way to have our cake and eat it too. See, our representation of ghouls is usually the western one that George Romero inspired thanks to Night of the Living Dead, but there are so many different variations of what we know as zombies. From the Chinese jiangshi to the mind-controlled people of Hati, there are a plethora of zombies we haven’t explored. Yes, the western zombie is by far the most well-known, but it would be interesting so see something new. Horror games are growing increasingly stale as we strip mine the last nuggets of ideas yet to be explored within western horror. Perhaps it’s time to turn our eyes elsewhere for scares.
Obviously, the chance of zombies going is pretty low, but it would be interesting to see a game industry without them for a little bit. Everyone loves killing zombies, it’s basically become a staple within the medium itself and there’s nothing wrong with that. It just seems like they hog all of the spotlight, acting as a knee jerk reaction for a game that just needs to fill the screen with a bunch of foes for the player to kill. Perhaps it’s time we send zombies on a much-needed vacation.