Zombies – A Kill That Lacks a Thrill?

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It’s happened. Zombies are everywhere. Groaning, moaning, calling for brains. They’re hungry. Time to pack down into the emergency shelter and ready your shotgun, the end is finally here… Ok. Maybe it’s not the apocalypse quite yet. At least, not in a sense of world devastation. No, the fear I’m here to discuss today, is this ongoing cultural apocalypse.

I don’t know why, but in the past year or so, the world has become obsessed by zombies. They’re everywhere. In our books, our TV shows, music and retail, and, of course, in our games. People just love them! What is it? The rotting flesh? The slow pace? Their tendency to devour your loved ones? The obviously intelligent dialogue? I mean, who could forget “Uggnn gurr blarr,” quoted by a zombie in Dead Island. Best line in the game. Someone give that dead-man an Oscar.

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Yes, I’m getting sarcastic. Just like I’m getting sick of zombies! Its been years now since this trend began, and yet still game developers are throwing them out at us, trying to claim the original success as the first game that started the fire. They never do. All that happens is a flurry of mediocre zombie games all copying the other, leaving no room for new, innovative, unique games we actually want. There’s only so many times a subject or topic can be used before it becomes overdone and clichéd, and zombies have far surpassed this limit.

It happens all the time. It happened with vampires as of the (questionable) success of Twilight, suddenly the world was writhe with them, and it happened with Flappy Bird, with the App Store just cluttered with knock off’s trying to claim a similar success. If you look at this list, which shows the release of zombie games around the world, you can see just how bad it has become. So many games, all zombie orientated – and this list does not even mention all of them, there’s even more out there!

 I like to see it as a cultural wave, as one wave crashes, a dozen more splash from its source onto our shores. 

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And the danger of waves? They drown people. And, in this sense, zombies are drowning originality and creativity.

So why do they put zombies into our games? It’s simple. Because they are easy. Forget hiring skilled writers to design and develop interesting, unique antagonists who possess a complicated and intriguing back-story to explain their malicious intentions! No, just throw in monsters who don’t need to explain themselves or ever need to seem different from the other. It’s easy to do, and cheap, so many gaming companies snatch it up as a business scheme. Anyone could write a zombie story. You don’t need any explanation, any back-ground or any specially created basis – zombies are zombies. That’s enough for consumers, so why would they need to spend money on inventing anything better?

It’s a real shame. Companies are putting out these zombie clones again and again, for the easy gain and the easy development, instead of putting the time and funding into designing clever and intricate stories and characters that can make truly brilliant games. There are a dozen of examples. A story with time and effort put into its narrative, like Far Cry 3, with the depth of the group’s relationship, the unique air of the island, Vaas’ insanity and his relationship with Citra – all new, all innovative, and creative. Then look at Dead Island. It’s an island. With zombies. Great. Didn’t see that coming. Sheer popularity should not be enough to base a game on.

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Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many games that feature zombies that are true brilliance, The Walking Dead, The Last of Us, for example. Fantastic games, with my pet peeve zombies swarming at every turn, but I still loved them. What these few games have that many zombie clones do not, is what they lack in the antagonist originality, they make up for in every other aspect. The zombies may not be interesting, but Lee is, Ellie is. A zombie apocalypse may have been done before, but never in a way where every step is a heart-wrenching decision of survival, or a mission of intense stealth. They put the time and effort into finding their own unique corner of the zombie world.

But, even with these few games and with their evident brilliance, I’d still argue they’d be better off stretching out from the zombie cult universe, and clinging onto stronger branches. TellTale Games, all though they are producing Season 2 of the Walking Dead, also produce The Wolf Among Us and are in the process of a Game of Thrones game, both original and interesting ideas and games many will be after once the zombie obsession crashes and burns. Which will inevitably happen. My fear for The Last of Us is that it will face the front of this downfall, unable to escape the zombie genre as it falls.

My issue is that zombies are no longer interesting, they are overdone, unoriginal and stifle creative invention. In many ways, I feel that after so many games, they have become a cop-out of sorts by gaming companies, who no longer strive for ingenuity. Zombie games provide an easy kill, but not so much a powerful thrill. So let’s make like Joel and Clementine, and get rid of them all! Down with the zombies! Shoot them in the head and get them out of our games!

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