Across all mediums, the zombie genre is ubiquitous; you can’t turn anywhere without seeing an undead something or other being promoted. The popularity of the genre stretches back decades too, and it has only gotten more popular as of late. With most things, this would probably start to get grating, but there are just things inherent within the genre that make it so you basically can’t ever have too many zombies. This is especially true within games, especially looking back at titles like Days Gone or Back 4 Blood.
One factor in all of this is that the term “zombie” isn’t all that well defined. People recognize them when they see them, but the actual traits of these zombies can vary quite a bit. They can be fast or slow. They can be a result of a plague or science gone wrong. They can, in some cases, talk. Their flexible nature, but consistency as a metaphor for death, means that they come with a lot of versatility and can be implemented in a large array of games. Just look at the radical gap between Left 4 Dead and Plants vs. Zombies, both which only have “zombies” to link them.
Naturally, zombies are fertile ground for horror. Resident Evil, especially the recent part three remake, is an excellent example of how these lumbering, stalking humanoids can induce fear. In these games, you’re never quite sure what is outside of your vision, and it’s also hard to know when zombies have given up their chase. It’s this tenacity that makes them such a good enemy too. In a lot of genres, enemies give up when you’re out of sight. In these horror games, you never know when you’re safe. The series was also able to invent a bunch of different sorts of zombies.
Left 4 Dead has a range of zombies in it and manages to prove that zombies are a great fit for multiplayer games. Here, different types of zombies represent different classes. One team plays as the zombies, each player taking on a different role with different abilities, as they try to defeat their human enemies. True to the genre, the zombies are an oppressive force that can quickly overwhelm, and sometimes abandoning your friends is the only way to escape the zombie team.
In the genre, the relationships between the survivors are often placed in the spotlight. They are, as you’d expect, constantly tried, and emotions can run high. Telltale’s The Walking Dead was particularly good at motivating the player’s emotions. As is typical, characters have to decide on who to trust and how to handle effected people. Even if you’ve seen it before, the qualities of each relationship make it so the sadness-laden moments feel unique every time. I’m avoiding spoilers here because, really, you should check out these adventure games.
It’s not always about tugging on your heartstrings with zombies, though. Zombies, in some forms, are very campy. Dead Rising, an aptly titled zombie game, uses this camp for comedic benefit. Set in a mall, because of course it is, the game’s protagonist runs about from store to store using toys, throwing food, and delivering suplexes to defeat a zombie legion in a range of novel ways.
These games are sort of like shooters, in that there is always a way to sell them and there’s always a new audience to target. In fact, because they can stretch across different genres of games, they may even outlast shooters; they’ve already been around longer. By no means do I want to see every game have zombies in it, just like I don’t want every film to have superheroes, but we’ll always have room for the shambling masses of the walking dead in games.