Zombies, zombies, zombies. It seems that whatever direction you look at the moment you'll see the shuffling undead. Whether it's the latest version of Treyarch's zombie mode in CoD Black Ops 2, or DayZ player diaries that every games review site seems to have jumped on, or new developments just hitting the headlines like State of Decay or The War Z. There's Telltale's admittedly different Walking Dead series, or the social game by the same name and the upcoming shooter in the same universe. There's the classics Left 4 Dead 1 and 2, Greenlight's newly accepted Project Zomboid – the list goes, on and on and will never stop unless you headshot it.
Theoretically this is great. Zombies are good cannon fodder, they're great catalysts for a tense environment or good story telling – but like the apocalypse that inevitably follows every zombie invasion, it's the sheer numbers of them that's proving impossible to deal with.
You see I love zombies. I think they're awesome. I've been reading the Walking Dead comics since they first came out. I've read Max Brooks' Zombie Survival Guide and the Follow up Day Z. I own copies of Dead Set, Flight of the Dead, Dance of the Dead and loads of others. I even played all the way through Land of the Dead FPS, though it was pretty poor. So when some of the real zombie survival games began to appear in the past 12 months I was pretty hyped . Finally I was going to be able to play the zombie apocalypse games of my dreams: fighting from a home base, surviving with friends and gunning down as many groaning, walking corpses as I could see.
But with these games just around the corner, months away from release, I'm not really that excited. I'm not saying I won't play them and I'll probably be writing another article afterwards telling you how great they are, but I certainly feel like my enthusiasm for the zombie genre is waning, especially in gaming, because there's just so much of it.
It feels a bit like the cover system pioneered in Gears of War. Shooting from behind a chest high concrete wall was awesome back in 2006. You sprayed bullets over the top and jumped in and out of cover, gunning down enemies. It was great. It wasn't long though before everyone was doing it and it became not only tiring but completely unwarranted in some senses.
Zombies are a little different because they're a combination of antagonist and setting, as opposed to a gameplay mechanic, but they are becoming equally tiring.
A simple solution for my problem here would be to back off from zombies for a bit. Take a break and enjoy other games – which believe me I am doing – but it seems a shame that we've reached this point. Saying that however, makes me feel like the douche that claims a band isn't cool any more just because all of his friends like it.
However underneath this somewhat selfish whine, is the fact that as usual, the gaming industry is lacking in originality. Developers saw it work with Day Z and the higher ups said, do that. We want our own version of that.
It's understandable but a shame.
Perhaps the best I can hope for with this is that we get different sorts of zombie games. Epic Game's teaser'd Unreal Engine 4 game Fortnite looks perhaps the most promising. It's gone cartoony, included a serious building mechanic and mixed up the enemies so we're not just fighting massed undead with a few special zombies thrown in like in Left 4 Dead. There's going to be little sneaky ones that open the doors of your fortress after tunnelling under the walls and other weird and wonderful creatures. We don't have all the details yet, but the innovation is there.
Permadeath has become the talk of the town recently too thanks to new directions like Day Z – despite being the source material for many an upcoming clone, let's give credit where credit's due. That's something relatively new too. And Telltale's Walking Dead is hinting at the potential for real story driven games, with an emphasis on narrative over action.
These are good. These are new things being tried and they don't always work, but they're at least peaking interest in a genre that has become oversaturated and is in danger of stumbling on, forever groaning its woes, with no one quite sure if it's dead or not.
All the greatest zombie books, zombie movies, zombie comics, they remember that zombies themselves are boring. They're lifeless and lack much beyond a basic primal fear that when we've had enough of, will completely lose its effectiveness. It's the characters around them, the human stories the new gameplay systems, the new settings – these are the things that keep us entertained, not just being able to get an achievement for killing our 10,000th deadite.
My plea to developers is to remember this. Give us zombie games if that's what the bottom line demands, but keep it fresh please. Because I love zombies. Lots of people love zombies. I would hate to see that love die because it had been beaten to death.
What about you guys? Are you bored of the undead yet? Or are you happy to continue slaying the walking corpses for a while longer?