What is it with zombies? I know it’s been said before and it’ll probably be said again but I really can’t figure out what’s going on with them. I’m not talking about survival horror titles, to me it’s obvious why there’s love for the undead there, it’s the rise of the action zombie title I’d like to consider.
It’s not just the rise of games like Dead Island, Dead Nation or Left 4 Dead (I’m detecting a pattern here) where the zombies are the star of the show, it’s the titles like Black Ops or ArmA II where they’re putting zombies into a game which generally has no relevance to zombies at all. I suppose in the case of Black Ops there may well have been a zombie invasion of the White House with an elaborate cover-up, but that’s beside the point really.
It’s hard to argue that there isn’t a public appetite for zombies though, they may have dipped out of film a little recently but when their inclusion can increase your game’s sales by nearly 500% you’re not likely to ignore them. Even if they don’t fit with your game’s central ethos (and given ArmA II is a tactical FPS it seems like they’re not the most natural of fits), they can probably be squeezed in somewhere as an extra mode.[drop2]The reasoning behind the love for undead hordes from the development community is quite obvious, beyond the fact that they sell that is. Look at zombies from a development stance, they’re remarkably simple aren’t they? Whilst you may have some slightly complex character AI for a few of your zombie types, in general all you really want is zombies that swarm towards the player. Sure, you need pathfinding, but things like taking cover or making a tactical attack fall by the wayside in favour of sheer weight of numbers.
What I really wonder about is why we as consumers and gamers seem to love shooting reanimated corpses so much. Whilst developers may love their simplicity in terms of implementation, I find them hard to really find all the compelling as an enemy. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy battling zombies, I thought the zombie mode in Black Ops was very well crafted, but for me they don’t really compare to enemies that really think before they come at you.
I mean yes, fighting your way through wave after wave of zombies that hunger for your brains is fun, but it seems a bit trivial at times. In my experience all they’re doing is trying to swarm you, and that just doesn’t compare to enemies that try and out think you.
Look for example at more tactical FPS titles for example, games like Rainbow Six or Ghost Recon. Enemies will duck behind cover or try and outflank you. They may well use superior weight of numbers to their advantage, but it’s not just a blind scramble to eat your brains; in a great tactical title you can almost see the enemy trying to out think you.
Perhaps the answer is simple, and lies with the success of movies like Transformers or Battleship. It’s not about being particularly challenged on an intellectual level, it’s more about blowing stuff up and having fun.
Maybe there’s something I’m missing though, I’d be keen to hear what you think about modern zombie games. Are they just almost mindless killing, or is there something deeper there that I’m overlooking?