October is usually a great month for horror or supernaturally themed game releases, but this year, all we've got is an HD Castlevania remake. Just about everything else is on hold until after November's console launches. This awkward gap between generations is a good time to sit back and think about what scary games have been doing lately, which is mostly zombies, zombies, and more zombies. Zombie games have become their own endlessly proliferating undead apocalypse, as it seemed like every other game at E3 featured shambling, moaning hordes.
The one major supernatural exception to zombie-town on the horizon is The Order: 1886. This alternate-history action adventure hasn't fully revealed the identity of the angry, stalking beasts shrouded in the London mist, but they certainly resemble werewolves. It's high time our short-tempered lupine friends staked a place in the gaming universe, providing a fresh gameplay experience and a different kind of atmosphere from this generation's modern-day brown morass.
Although a few games are doing interesting things with zombie horde AI, it's high time we had the opportunity to face a less mindless foe. Werewolves have the potential to be far more cunning, especially if they're living in packs. It's time to challenge our programmers to model enemies who work together, have the ability to set traps, and are able to stalk the player even in non-scripted scenarios. Since co-op gameplay is so popular now, let's challenge groups of players with groups of monsters that have brains.
Werewolf games also come with new setting possibilities, relieving us from a parade of modern or near-future apocalypse scenarios. The Order: 1886 is a steampunk-inspired Victorian setting, but werewolves also work well in a modern, rural setting. It'd be great to see a game set in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. It's not like the Seattle area is lacking in game companies, and the setting deserves better treatment than the sparkly vampires of Twilight.
Be it a medieval, Industrial-era, or modern backdrop, werewolf games evoke a misty twilight setting that would allow developers to show off advanced lighting effects and avoid the monochromatic tendencies that mar current game design. Murky lakes, deep green pines, rain-splashed cobblestone streets, and the rough-and-tumble rural towns of both classical and modern times sound like great playgrounds for werewolf-hunting players. Since they're a more classic form of monster than zombies, werewolves can also be accompanied by other supernatural foes such as gargoyles, vampires, creepy sentient trees, and poltergeists. More monster variety means more fun and interesting gameplay experiences.
Finally, zombies are becoming dated as a symbol of society's woes. The undead hordes are excellent as symbols of mindless consumerism and industrial-era malaise. This, however, is the era of social media and a public obsession with other people's sins. It's a time when individualism has been so fetishized that compromise has become a bad word, as anybody who has been living in the United States for the past two weeks can attest. Add to that the spread of terrorism and the rise of mass shootings worldwide, and we're looking at a face of fear that is defiant and explosively angry rather than creepily contagious.
What better symbol for this era than the beast within, howling defiantly at the moon like a Facebook vigilante? Roaming alone or in packs, unleashing violence on those who dare to retain their humanity, werewolves are a perfect manifestation of the dark side of today's world. While the oversaturation of zombie games has muted their ability to cause either fear or introspection, werewolves have the potential to both entertain and be used in thought-provoking ways in games. They also inspire a different kind of hero--somebody determined to protect others rather than simply scrambling to save themselves as zombie-apocalypse heroes tend to do.
Monsters of the world, it's time to stop moaning about brains and start growling about meat. Game designers, it's time to get us out of this familiar zombie rut and make us scramble and cry out in fear again. Let's put the zombies to bed and start getting hairy. A new generation is a great time to bring in new ideas and new IPs, so here's hoping we have a chance to light our torches and shine up our silver bullets next Halloween.
Senior Contributing Writer