There's just something about the combination of zombies and video games that simply works. It's like peanut butter and chocolate. Why do two distinctively different flavors blend so well to make a mouthwatering blend of deliciousness? There's probably some sort of science behind it, but I'm not a scientist, so I'm going to have to blame witchcraft for this one.
Either way, zombies have been shambling across our screens since the early days of video games. Remember Zombies Ate My Neighbors? If not, look it up. It's a classic.
I would argue that the zombies + video games thing really came into its own with the Resident Evil series way back in the mid 1990s. Even though the early entries in that series don't hold up all that well today (containing godawful controls and some of the worst voice acting in video game history), RE was revolutionary back then. Not only did it coin the term "Survival Horror," but it showed many of us that a video game could truly do horror without resorting to those pop-up "boo!" moments. I mean, it's one thing being startled, but feeling the fear of being overpowered and underequipped is a whole different ball game. Resident Evil proved this by giving us a very limited supply of weapons and ammo. In fact, even our saves were limited, costing us an "ink ribbon" every time we wanted to save our progress. Scary stuff.
Video games have come a long way since the original Resident Evil though. Still, zombies remain as popular as ever. Left 4 Dead and Call of Duty: World at War's Nazi Zombies mode have done a lot to keep zombies in the forefront of our minds. In fact, Resident Evil 6 is due out later this year, proving that even the RE series has managed to survive the zombie apocalypse.
But with the popularity of the genre come the dozens of rip-offs. Everywhere we go, we see yet another zombie game. Can this trend continue to survive, or are gamers getting sick of it all, ready to move onto the next big thing?
Well, I have a feeling zombies are wearing out their welcome. But that's not saying I think the genre needs to retire. Not at all. I just wish we'd see less second-rate zombie games and more blockbusters that provide unique experiences.
In my opinion, the "unique experiences" thing is really the key here. The zombie games we love the most are unique. They have at least one element or gimmick that makes them stand out. For example, Left 4 Dead pioneered the four-player co-op FPS trend. Nazi Zombies showed us that even a series that took itself as seriously as Call of Duty (believe it or not, CoD actually took itself seriously at one point) could deliver a concept as bizarre as Nazi Zombies and be successful at it. The recently released Lollipop Chainsaw has that distinctive Suda51 flavor that definitely keeps it from feeling like anything else on the market. Even Plants vs. Zombies brings some great tower defense gameplay with a zombie twist (and a gigantic helping of botany to boot.)
What I'm saying here is that zombies can't be the game's central gimmick, because that's been played out far too many times already. Give us a clever gimmick, and then throw zombies on top of it. That's how to keep the zombie genre interesting.
Personally, zombies themselves were never really the main draw of zombie games for me in the first place. What I find fascinating is the post-apocalyptic world they tend to inhabit, as well as the different ways in which human survivors cope with that world and interact with each other. This is why Naughty Dog's The Last of Us is so exciting for me. I would implore fans to take a serious look at this title before simply writing it off as "just another zombie game."
My prediction: The zombie genre is incredibly popular, but it's not hard to believe that a lot of people are starting to grow tired of it. While I doubt it will go away anytime soon, developers need to be more careful with what they do with zombies. Otherwise, people are just going to play something else.
As I said before, give us something to care about. Something that isn't undead. Once you nail that down, then see how well the zombies work in conjunction with that idea.
I'd love to see the zombie genre continue to thrive; I just hope we'll see more truly creative efforts from talented studios rather than just the same old zombie schlock time and time again.
Editor / News Director
Date: June 14, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*