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Zombies in games: is it time to kill them off?

Tuesday, 16 October 2012 06:44 GMT By Dave Cook

Zombies, zombies everywhere. You can’t stop them, you can’t hide from them, and they aren’t going away any time soon. Dave Cook’s bored of the outbreak.

Monday mornings are ace because they mark the start of another week of news, full of new things to write about and shifts in the industry to keep an eye on. It’s exciting, and I was particularly looking forward to the announcement of new Sleeping Dogs story DLC.

The announcement came out of New York Comic-Con, and as it happens, the ‘Nightmare in North Point’ DLC is a zombie expansion. Now, don’t get me wrong here, I really enjoyed Sleeping Dogs a lot, and I sunk mad time into it, but more zombies? I’m not so sure about that.

Do we need more of the brain-chompers glutting up our screens? Is this one zombie too far? The DLC will probably be a lot of fun, and hey, I like fun as much as the next person, but isn’t it time that the industry found another trend to bleed dry?

“They’re combo fuel, letting players rack up silly kill counts with minimal effort for our amusement. That’s also why they aren’t scary any more.”

Back in the day zombies were something to be feared. They were shuffling, unfeeling, emotionless husks that couldn’t be reasoned with, and don’t forget that they were once people too.

The original Resident Evil gave its zombies a modicum of humanity through hidden journals written by victims, tomes that would become more incoherent as the days wore on, charting their descend into the zombie fraternity. That was kind of creepy back then, and lent the horde some narrative weight.

Now they are just easily defeated, faceless fodder for whatever weapon your character happens to be wielding. They’re combo fuel, letting players rack up silly kill counts with minimal effort for our amusement. That’s also why they aren’t scary any more.

Anyone remember when this used to be scary?

Resident Evil 5 tilted the genre on a downward slope by ramping up the guns and ammo count – as well as Chris’s forearms, which he uses to punch a boulder at one point – and that really started to take the edge off the zombie menace.

Why fear what you can easily vaporise with some well-aimed buckshot? Zombies have lost their teeth by being over-used and being turned into a comedy side-show in bonus modes and other brainless exercises.

But take something like DayZ instead, and you can actually see where the line is drawn between survival horror and the great fad that is zombie culture. I’m not saying we should kill off zombies entirely, but personally, I’m dead, dead bored of them when they’re just fodder waiting to be killed, rather than a deadly force out for your hide.

In that culture, zombies used to be your friends, your neighbours, or even loved ones, so it’s kind of jarring to see a brash hero cutting through hordes of them with a nod and a wink, sexual innuendo, and little in the way of thought for what they’re doing.

”The days of the dead will probably recede over time and new fads will surely rise, so long as it’s not vampires, pirates, robots or ninjas, I’ll be happy.”

Another great example of zombie themes working well in games is Half-Life 2′s Ravenholm. Sure, the head-crabbed populace of the dilapidated town aren’t zombies, but that whole section of the game has most definitely been inspired by zombie fiction and culture.

The whole population has been wiped out save for Father Grigori, and it really gets you wondering what the hell happened that things could become so bad. The shuffling head-crab victims aren’t easily defeated, they are used sparingly in parts and are more disturbing for the experience.

But today there are countless zombie modes in games, and a slew of games focused purely on the undead menace. It just smacks of a lazy attempt to ride a trend, but when zombie culture is presented well – as in, a proper survival experience – then I think the genre starts to become interesting.

The days of the dead will probably recede over time and new fads will surely rise, so long as it’s not vampires, pirates, robots or ninjas, I’ll be happy. Oh sod it, it’s probably going to be one of those things isn’t it?

Sigh.

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29 Comments

  1. Nath_gamer

    Are you kidding me? We need a shit load more Zombie games, Name more than 2 First Person Zombie games on the PS3 and I’ll give you a shirt that says “I was Right, and he was wrong” I have a total of about 4 zombie games and I can’t seem to satisfy my need to hack/slash/bash/drill and shoot the living dead out of them.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Dave Cook

    @2 what do FPS zombie games on PS3 have to do with the wider genre? There are way too many zombie games out there – in my opinion of course – as this is just an opinion blog that I hope will spark some friendly debate among the VG247-ites :)

    I’m saying that I prefer zombies when they force you to survive, not when they’re just some lazy fodder there just because they make money. Left 4 Dead is a good example where you feel outnumbered and forced to flee, Walking Dead is full of ace survival themes, DayZ is pure survival.

    I just think its now all too easy for developers to justify making a zombie game or DLC to make a fast buck. That’s uninspiring to me.

    Just my thoughts though, I’m keen to see what everyone else thinks.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. ItsFade

    Not until I get a good open world zombie game akin to GTA. I feel that there haven’t been an ultimate zombie genre game yet. Just a lot of first person shooters mostly and an occasionaly decent third person one (Dead Rising, RDR: Undead Nightmare etc).

    Sure there is Day-Z but that is online only and it has perma-death but it’s also a glitchy as hell and super clunky on the Arma engine. Where’s my open world single-player zombie games at.

    I’m talking full fledged game not some half assed DLC. Open world with vehicles, scavanging, a conversation system similar to Mass Effect, shooting zombies in the face, small settlements around the world and classic shuffling zombies (not headcrabs, not special infected, not running zombies just slow moving dumb as a stick zombies) with the survivor aspect from the Walking Dead comic (that it’s the other survivors you should fear, not the zombies). Now this is a game I want to see, until that time, keep bringing on the zombies.

    The upcoming Class3 is probably what looks like it’s going to come closest to that but we’ll see.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. Giskard

    Dave, you better not play the new Borderlands DLC. It has pirates, robots AND ninjas!

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Dave Cook

    @4 I reviewed it for VG247 :) see the front page.

    @3 yes! Now that I like, an actual survival experience, not some slapdash, fast buck DLC. You should pitch that to someone.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. Christopher Jack

    There are too many military shooters, too many alien games, too many sports games, too many racing games, the ‘too many’ argument could apply to any popular genre. Frankly, I think we need a boom to the survival horror genre, not exclusively zombies but the only popular horror games I can think about are aliens or mutants, no zombies. Frankly, I want dinosaurs! Can’t think of a good dinosaur game since the first 2 Dino Crisis games in the PS1 era & Capcom seems reluctant to bring the series back after the god awful second sequel so I hope someone is working on a true dino survival game.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. Telepathic.Geometry

    @Dave: I think you’ve touched on a bigger issue here where game publishers see games like Biohazard 4, Walking Dead, Dead Space, Left 4 Dead and they say “they’re all good, and what do they have in common? ZOMBIES! Conclusion: Zombies sell!”

    They don’t look at why those games were so good. Not because they had zombies, but because they were atmospheric and exciting, made you think and make important meaningful decisions, had compelling atmosphere, story and gameplay and because they were an interesting twist on the zombie apocalypse thing with multiplayer at their heart.

    I generally agree with ya Dave, we definitely have too many zombies being thrown cheaply into games just for the hell of it. But, I don’t think we need less zombie games. I think we need less cynical zombie games, where the zombies are thrown into a game like so much sugar or MSG.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. Telepathic.Geometry

    Sorry, I didn’t really explain that well. I wanted to say that the bigger issue is marketing types deciding what ingredients will make a good game and then commissioning it, rather than nurturing great devs with vision and an understanding of what makes/made their games fun.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. Digital Bamboo

    Zombies, in general, are getting pretty out of hand in terms of their popularity. Games are just another form of media riding the wave of liquified flesh.

    +1 for more dinosaur games.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. Dave Cook

    @8 no, no dude it was a good post, I got it :)

    Yeah, less cynicism and more survival is what I want. The industry has a chance to really deliver some ace zombie fiction – image World War Z as a game for example!

    I just want to see developers stop jumping on trends on the hoof, and do more with the possibilities.

    #10 2 years ago
  11. Telepathic.Geometry

    Oh good. Recently I feel like my English is turning to shit, it’s been so long since I’ve spoken to a native speaker.

    I wonder if the rating’s board is a factor. Killing people? M rated. Change the skin and blood colour palette to mauve and green – bingo! You brought your rating down, vastly increased your potential user base, and gave a good explanation for why the enemies AI is so bad.

    #11 2 years ago
  12. GwynbleiddiuM

    I believe Zombie games can continue to exist, the thing is we have a lot of zombie games very few of them are fun to play. Up until DayZ no one really thought of a zombie game that had a really good concept. Individual survivors that were trying to survive in harsh and unforgiving world, they could either band together or kill each other off for goods. Reminded me a lot of “The Road”, although the road had no zombies, it was about a man desperately trying to protect his son. I think that grim and bleak aspect was never explored in any games. Maybe a bit in Silent Hill (Original) and The Walking Game adventure game (as far as I know).

    IMO the horror genre needs to reinvent itself, something more than shooting zombies or paranormal beings. Something that really depends on what kind of a character you’re going be and what kind of character people around you are going to be. Something with this concept of live together die alone.

    Zombies or not, most games are following a very tired recipe, in some you shoot hordes of zombies, in some you shoot swarm of armed soldiers, in some locusts in some extraterrestrial, but non of them are that different from one another.

    #12 2 years ago
  13. TheBlackHole

    There are more generic fantasy games than there are zombie ones. Should we stop generic fantasy?

    Gotta say, I love that VG247 is allowing the editorial to become more opinion-based, but my god do I disagree with Dave on SO many areas.

    Almost every article makes me wince. Keep it coming ;)

    #13 2 years ago
  14. SameeR_Fisher

    @Dave Cook: I signed just to reply to this post since you are talking with other people :D

    anyway this “The days of the dead will probably recede over time and new fads will surely rise, so long as it’s not vampires, pirates, robots or ninjas, I’ll be happy. Oh sod it, it’s probably going to be one of those things isn’t it?”

    Vampires ?!, really ?!, I love vampires, tell me the last time you played a really good vampire game, and Vampire Rain doesn’t count, I want some good old vampire games, did you try out Legacy of Kain series ?!, that franchise is simply amazing, did you play Vampire The Masquerade Redemption ?!, it was over the top and awesome game.

    I loved those days where I could have a vampire game that I play and enjoy, I was so happy in 2007 ((or 2009 can’t remember))when Harker was announced, it was like my dream vampire game, but it is either cancelled or in limbo, so sad and frustrating, it was just recently that Castlevania Lords of Shadow came out, but still way too few vampire games.

    I want some of those old awesome vampires, not the sissy vampires we see in Twilight or True Blood.

    Same goes for Ninjas, come on be honest, don’t you miss Tenchu ?!, I can’t find any ninja game like Tenchu nowadays, really stealth, challenging, and more or less realistic.

    #14 2 years ago
  15. absolutezero

    I want an expose into ramming awful RPG Mechanics into genres in which they do not belong.

    Or generic military FPS.

    Or Colour filtration and over saturation.

    #15 2 years ago
  16. Da Man

    Amidst the sea of Left for Bored and Bored Rising, Deadlight was the Fez of zombie games.

    #16 2 years ago
  17. Dave Cook

    @6 except it ran out of ideas about half way through. The opening half was, however, awesome.

    #17 2 years ago
  18. Dave Cook

    @14 yeah I really miss Tenchu, but I can’t see them bringing it back any time soon. Man, I really, really like those games.

    Vampires could be coming back if rumours of Crystal Dynamic’s Soul Reaver reboot are anything to go by :)

    Thanks for signing up, hope to see more comments from you later.

    #18 2 years ago
  19. Dave Cook

    @13 hehe :P At least it’s healthy disagreement and debate, not because I’m writing stuff that sounds like the by-product of a foaming at the mouth fan boy, that shit just doesn’t fly with me :)

    Cheers for reading again.

    #19 2 years ago
  20. SameeR_Fisher

    @Dave Cook: you know regarding zombies, I wish Capcom would test the water of hardcore players, just re-release Resident Evil Remake on PS3/X360/PC, and see how it fairs, being the best in RE franchise according to alot of people, I am pretty sure Millions would buy it in a heart beat, including me who didn’t have the chance to play it back in the day.

    I heard about Crystal Dynamic’s Reboot, not going to lie, I am excited but worried, Defiance ended in a cliffhanger, I was hoping to see a finale title before the reboot, cause really I spent alot of years playing LoK, but if that will never happen, then I will sadly settle for a reboot.

    and hey thanks for replying, I will hang around in the comments more, I love discussing stuff and debating, and you are doing a great job responding to alot of guys/gals, so salute to you ;)

    #20 2 years ago
  21. Dave Cook

    @20 thanks, loving the feedback :)

    Yeah it would be nice to see them actually resolving the plot from Defiance. But I don’t know whose responsibility that is these days.

    #21 2 years ago
  22. deathm00n

    My hope for a good survival zombie game is in The War Z, it’s like DayZ but it actually looks like a world where Zombie Apocalypse happened, everything is abandoned, and etc…

    I agree with the ones who say we need a great survival game, not these cheap things we have. Dead Rising and Left 4 Dead for me killed the idea of horror zombies. They are fun? Yes! For the first 2 hours then it gets boring.

    #22 2 years ago
  23. YoungZer0

    I’m just gonna copy what i wrote in the last newscast:

    I can’t stand Zombies in videogames anymore. It’s just so boring. Zombies are the new Nazis, the new Terrorists. It’s shit.

    The only game that gets a pass is The Walking Dead.

    I think it’s funny how the market is flooded with Zombie games and yet none of them seem to get it right. Killing Zombies shouldn’t be the main selling point about these games.

    A mix between Dead Island, GTA IV, The Walking Dead and XCOM would be nice. With a lot of attention to the story and the characters, so you might actually care about what’s happening. Where your decisions have a huge impact on peoples lives. For example: save the asshole so he can help you protect the camp, or help the nice kid, but don’t get any benefits. You also would have to look out for resources, food, fuel, etc.

    Man, that would be awesome. But it seems no developer really sits down and decides to make ZOMBIE game. It’s always some kind of addon, never really fleshed out, always there to be kind of funny.

    #23 2 years ago
  24. zinc

    It’s not just Zombies that have been throughly sanitized, all our monsters have been made user friendly.

    From Buffy, through Tru Blood & ending in Twilight, Vampires now sparkle & Werewolves are grumpy, till you rub their belly.

    And that’s the real problem.

    #24 2 years ago
  25. ManuOtaku

    Well for me this generation zombies were handled in a good way, i mean with a great approach in the scary department which is the tradional archetype of the zombies per se, and also in multiple types of genres like in left for dead, deadlight, the walkind dead, condemned (more or less) etc, i think because resident evil right now is more action oriented than anything else, and because of that they change the original archetype of the zombies, we shouldnt said zombies need to rest on games, i mean if they are handled in a good way, and with different approachs in gaming genres, i dont have any qualms having them on an X number of games, i say keep bringing on, although i grant an open world survival zombie game will be great IMHO.
    p.s lets hope the last of us game will use the zombies in a good way, i think they wont let people down.

    #25 2 years ago
  26. deathm00n

    @25 Well, so far in The Last of Us they did something that differs from the rest, they changed zombies to somekind of Fungus Men, this caught my attention, it’s like they said : “We are going to do a zombie survival game, but people should look at it differently, they are not zombies”. It’s a good thing to do, what we have too much is the “virus zombie”, I would like to see more of this creativity to explain why people became mindless.

    #26 2 years ago
  27. Gadzooks!

    If they look like zombies and act like zombies then it doesn’t matter what they are called, for all intents and purposes they are zombies.

    The zombie fad outstayed it’s welcome years ago. Long dev cycles mean that a lot of games missed the boat but still need to be released.

    #27 2 years ago
  28. Nath_gamer

    The Last of Us will be the first actually GOOD proper zombie game, I think that if developers want zombies to be in their game I say why not, if you think they are over used then you don’t buy the DLC or the whole game, but they shouldn’t stop adding in zombies because of the simple fact that they are overused, they are used as much as they are because they are a good thing.

    #28 2 years ago
  29. Gheritt White

    Hey, it’s not actually zombies in the Nightmare in North Point DLC pack for Sleeping Dogs, just so you know – it’s Jiang-Shi and Yaoguai; two traditional Chinese demons/monsters of folklore that bear only a surface-level similarity to the vampires and zombies found in Western mythology.

    #29 2 years ago

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