Zombies seem to be very in-vogue in video games, particularly in recent years, we’ve seen a real glut of living dead titles on the 360, perhaps too many? Dead Rising, Dead Island, Left 4 Dead and countless other games have entertained those who enjoy the thrill of despatching decaying, walking corpses in the messiest ways possible. But whether the decapitation and dismemberment is taking place in a shopping mall, or a derelict spaceship, all the zombie games boil down to the basic premise of killing hordes of undead.
Epic Games are the latest developer to jump aboard the cadaver slaughter-wagon with Fortnite, is there really space for another zombie-basher? Do we even really want another zombie-based game, or has undead apathy hit all but the most stalwart of slayers out there? Personally, I’ve had enough of zombies and I’ve probably only played a fraction of the titles that are available as full retail titles, XBLA, or Indie games.
But what is our fascination with zombies, why do the developers see the genre as a dead-cert (no pun intended) with their customers and what is the fascination with a reanimated rotting human corpse?
When you actually consider a zombie on an individual basis, they’re generally a fairly innocuous threat, a brainless lumbering and drooling slab of meat that simply has one prerogative – to eat your face. They will blunder toward you relentlessly, regardless of what threat you may pose to them, whether you’re wielding a rubber duck, or a high-pressure flamethrower, their reaction will be always be the same. Zombies don’t do tactics, or strategy, they merely seek one goal; to sate their blood-lust with the flesh of a living, uninfected human.
Writers of films, books and games are at liberty to create the circumstances of how the zombies come into being, but the formula usually comprises of a few individuals coming into contact with some type of mutated strain of infection that brutally converts fully functioning humans into undead monsters, along with the capacity to infect other humans via blood transfer. Upon infection the victim is normally afflicted by violent vomiting of blood and severe convulsions, death follows thereafter. Following an unspecified duration, the corpse then becomes reanimated with impaired movement and a complete loss of upper brain function, all that remains is a basic instinct to hunt and kill uninfected humans. Invariably what starts out as a small outbreak cascades into a full-blown epidemic threatening the very existence of mankind should it not be contained.
What strikes me as a bit obscure about the zombie-type infections, is that typically it renders the host as an uncontrollable carnivore, however when you analyse the construction of the human jaw, we’re not really suited to tearing raw flesh with just our teeth. That said, it would somewhat ruin the atmosphere if all zombies ran around with a steak knife and a fork. Also, why do zombies always end up as meat eaters, why not break the mould and create vegetarian variations? Just imagine crazed and frenzied undead laying waste to allotments across Britain. Possibly this is only a nightmare for gardeners and not video gamers though.
The main threat from a zombie is generally not the individual, but the sheer volume of numbers that tend to appear in this genre, a singular undead can normally be despatched with relative ease, be it with a blunt object of some description (no, not a rubber duck), or the zombie-slayers favourite, the pump-action shotgun. The widely accepted manner of despatching a zombie is through decapitation, this results in a severing of the spinal column and main nerve that links the brain to the body. Almost unanimously, this seems to be sufficient to cease the primeval motor functions. However, limb dismemberment, or severe injury to the body only seems to slow the pace of the advancing corpse and even makes the zombie a little more aggressive.
Of course the games developers have cottoned onto the limited behaviour of your common, or garden zombie and added variations such as super-zombies and gross mutations on the basic model, but there are only so many ways you can skin an undead cat. But needless to say, a mega-zombie with eight, or more heads provides a stiff challenge when you’re attempting a decapitation takedown.
Weapon loadouts have become ever more inventive as the genre has matured, we’ve seen high-tech plasma cutters that can be used for strategic dismemberment, to motorbikes bristling with revving chainsaws that can cut massive bloody swathes through crowds of undead. Undoubtedly the prerogative of the zombie slaying weapon is that it must cause massive damage to ensure copious blood leakage from the target.
As an alternative to standard projectile, or melee-based weapons, there’s the old horror movie favourite – fire. Flames can often be used to great effect against zombie hordes, or even individual super zombies. What always strikes me as somewhat uncanny, is the large number of highly combustible barrels that always seem to left with wanton carelessness about the landscape. Still, a well-placed shot with a gun is usually sufficient to detonate these barrels and result in a hugely damaging blast with a decent radius of effect. If you’re lucky, a few victims caught in the fringes of the explosion will emerge from the fireball screaming in agony as the remnants of their decaying flesh melt off them. Nice.
So if I were to ask you which game I could have been describing, would you be able to identify a particular title? No, because I could equally be describing Resident Evil, or Call of Duty, yes, a zombie mode in a military shooter! Is there no end to the spread of reanimated corpses?
I’d like to see a little more imagination from games developers, the zombie genre has a super-zombie sized tick against it, we need to see something new, something that’s not been done before. And just assigning a different moniker isn’t acceptable either, it may be called a “Necromorph”, but it’s still a reanimated corpse – zombie in other words.
What really riles is how endemic zombies are in video games as a whole, even when the title is supposedly nothing to do with the genre; consider the Flood in Halo, the Husks in Mass Effect and the Lambent in Gears of War. These games are definitely sci-fi, but yet they couldn’t resist the pull of the having zombies in their games. Why? It makes my blood boil when I’m playing a sci-fi game that doesn’t need the walking dead and then make it the big surprise of the game; the bad guys are converting humans into zombies for their own needs, or release some infection to kill and then re-animate the human race. Why? If the invading aliens turn up with massive planet destroying spaceships, why not just blow everything up instead?
On the flip side, I can’t deny that I have enjoyed games and films that feature zombies. There is undeniably a built-in revulsion to the prospect of being horrifically mutilated and instead of finding peace in death, to only suffer the nightmare of becoming the living dead. How much of your consciousness would remain if you met this fate? A thought that I’m sure you’ll agree sends a chill down your spine (shortly before it becomes severed by a shovel-wielding survivor). The only thing is… I’ve now seen it a bazillion times before! When I now see a zombie, the consideration of that individual’s fate and my own survival doesn’t frighten me, I just think that I need to club it in the face.
Of course my rant is somewhat simplified and not everyone is guilty of falling into the same trap. However, I think that developers need to be aware that a state of apathy and saturation is either current, or imminent when it comes to zombies in video games. We don’t want to have to play hardcore military sim games or sports games if we want to avoid zombies. Let’s have a different tact, one that does genuinely surprise and excite at its inclusion in a game, rather than inducing a groan not to dissimilar to the one that the wretched creatures themselves make. Zombies are dead, please, no more reanimation, or the devs just may find hordes of angry fans invading their forums, with teeth gnashing and slavering after blood.
For now we have to accept that Epic’s so-called “new I.P.”, Fortnite, is a zombie game, at least it’s not pretending to be anything else. How many more can we take? We’d love to hear your views, please feel free to weigh-in on the issue below, even if you’re one of the stalwart zombie fans, let us know what it is that about the genre that hits the spot for you.