There’s an argument, a perfectly valid argument, that certain video games glorify war. Video games like Call of Duty and Battlefield where you actively participate in war and kill (virtual) humans, can be criticised by this argument but they are acclaimed by game critics and defended by those who enjoy them, which is a sizeable number of people. Personally, I find it difficult to play such games as I can’t find a strong argument against those who damn them. Can I really justify enjoying participating in a simulation of something that I would be opposed to in real life? It’s a modern moral dilemma. I have no qualms, however, about blowing the head off a zombie.
Perhaps it is this destructive freedom that makes zombie games so appealing. We are absolved of responsibility when the enemy is the mindless killing undead. Zombies also present the challenge that gamers seek, essentially having the abilities of humans but with fewer weaknesses and self preservation instincts. And there is room for flexibility when it comes to developing zombie games. We all know the standard zombie model but games like Left 4 Dead and Dead Nation (both of which I recommend) have added variations and just look at the plethora of creatures spawned by the Resident Evil franchise. So while your basic zombie hoard offers a decent challenge, developers are free to add challenge by changing (mutating if you will) the enemies in the game. This is not true for games where humans are the enemy and there are greater restrictions to their abilities. Endless story possibilities exist in the zombie world and this in part contributes to the large number of these games that exist.
A problem arises, however, when the zombie apocalypse gets over used. Innovation and challenge are craved by gamers and too much of the same results in a loss of interest. I love zombie games but I look at the games I own and see very few in my collection. This is because, while zombie games have been done to death (pardon the pun), they are not often done well enough to warrant me parting with cash. Technical issues aside, zombie games can often be repetitive (within themselves and in reference to other games) in gameplay, cliché in storyline and badly written. The announcement of a new zombie game is therefore often met with groans amongst gamers, and this can lead to the view that we’re fed up with this format all together. But that’s not true; one of the most anticipated games of 2013 is Naughty Dog’s The Last Of Us, a post apocalyptic game where at least some of the enemies are zombie-esque. The demand and love of such games is there but they have been done so badly in the past that excitement for The Last Of Us comes almost entirely from the reputation of the developer.
While there is room for flexibility in zombie games, there are a few things that help make it good. Survival against the odds is a theme that should be included but, more importantly, the player needs more objectives than “kill as many zombies as possible”. Killing zombies is fun but killing just for the sake of it gets old fast. I for one am very excited about The Last Of Us and I’m interested to see how ZombiU turns out too. Zombies don’t appear to be leaving the games industry any time soon and I cannot express how happy that makes me.