Shambling Along: Are Zombies Overused in Horror Games?

Hello, fellow readers. Thank you for joining me for my yearly Halloween column. I missed last year due to some unforeseen circumstances, but I’m back with a vengeance to talk about the horror genre, and of course some of the most recent issues that hardcore horror fans like myself are having this year. I wasn’t sure what I was going to bring up for this column until I reviewed Zombie Driver for the Switch, then it hit me.

Zombies.

I realized that I have kind of grown tired of zombies as the main monsters in horror games. Call Of Duty and Resident Evil have the more notorious uses of zombies. These games can be excused since they have co-opted this monster for a long time. NerdMuch mentions about 16 games featuring zombies this year. This is not including any Steam titles or indie games that involve the shambling monstrosities. Zombies have a special place in our hearts and in our braaaaaaains forever. But I think it might be time to retire these creatures for a few years to see if their absence might lead to some renewed creativity.

It seemed that vampires, werewolves and zombies would rotate through a cycle of popularity. We had vampires with Twilight, and before that it was werewolves during Teen Werewolf and other shows like that. It also was not uncommon for vampires and werewolves to share screen time like in Twilight and Underworld. Zombies, however, have hung around for a lot longer and have had a stronger video game presence. I feel this has led to a lack of creativity within the game industry as zombies require certain storylines. These include survival (Dead Island, Dying Light, Days Gone), shooter (Resident Evil, Left 4 Dead, Call Of Duty: Zombies) and general carnage (Zombie Driver).

These games are all very similar to the point where the games become one amorphous blob of zombie titles. Of course there are some games that did really well and lifted to genre such as Dying Light and Resident Evil Biohazard. Recently Days Gone combined them with rebel bikers to form a new hybrid genre that was at least attempting to be different.

In general however, for every Days Gong game, there are five others that just try to piggyback on what has come before. Then we end up getting one of those “Like ____, but” titles. I wish we could either rotate other popular monsters in or dig for new ones to create unique stories. Zombies generally have the same backstory or force the game to adopt the same story. For example, there is the old government deployed bioweapon or botched research, the mysterious disease breaking out, etc. Instead of going to the same old well (even Days Gone fell back on the botched government research storyline) why don’t we try something new?

I’ve searched the darkest recesses of this world to find some interesting monsters, myths and legends that deserve their own horror stories as much as our beloved zombies. Lets see if some of these would be worthy foes in a game. And spoiler alert, they most definitely are the stuff of nightmare fuel.

Djinn: More than just a page in the Dungeon and Dragons monster manual, where they enjoy a muted glory, the Djinn would be a perfect monster to use in psychological horror games. These beings would give hallucinations or mess with dreams to control or trap you. A title with this creature could be a man who has to live through distorted versions of his past as he tries to figure out his wife’s suicide, as an example. This presents a chance to provide a well-thought out and unique story with plenty of scary twists.

Rusalka by Ivan Bilibin, 1934

Rusalka: Rusalka’s are Russian water nymphs that were created by a young woman being drowned or otherwise violently killed. These nymphs walk the waterways and lure young men into the depths to drown them. This could be an interesting theme to go with a detective game where you investigate a string of related deaths, and must find the reason for the Rusalka’s existence in the first place.

Slavic Creatures: You could make an entire Castlevania like title from Slavic folklore because, quite frankly, it’s a carnival of dreadful horrors. Take Drekavats as one example. These little beasts have thick fur and bloody claws, having been created when demons infect dead, unbaptized toddlers. Yeah, that cheery little monster is but a minor creature in the pantheon of mind-shattering Slavic horrors. Researching things like this and bringing them into a game would introduce players to a whole new kind of monster that they may never have even heard about before. And that unknown would only add to the terror. Compare that to the “been there, done that” zombie genre, and you can see why we are in need of a refresh.

Imam Ali Conquers Jinn, unknown artist, Ahsan-ol-Kobar (1568) Golestan Palace

Basically, my point is I feel like zombies, while pretty cool initially, have been overused at this point. They almost cease to be scary because we know everything about them. A horde of zombies is little more than a tactical challenge for most parties, no different than a platoon of Nazis. They have become familiar to us, and lost their shock factor. This is evident in the fact that quite a few modern games don’t even bother to mention the root cause of the zombie scourge. All the players need to know is that there are zombies and you kill them.

I feel as though the game industry has just been following a safe holding pattern and are unwilling or afraid to take some risks and get creative within the horror genre. Holding patterns do not give us groundbreaking titles. No one ever called Far Cry 5 a unique game compared to the previous Far Cry titles.

You may think that this is a scene from Call of Duty Black Ops III Zombies, but it's actually Todd raging when he found out about the possible lack of single player in the upcoming game.I get it that some people love zombies and want them to stick around. But try something new and you might just like it better. After a while, we can always loop back to zombies once they have become less overused again. But come on people, lets use our brains to come up with some unique scares and not just as bait for hungry undead. Horror gamers deserve it.

I would love to hear what everyone thinks about this. Hit me up in the comments below and let us know about what you want to see out of your horror games. And thanks for joining me on this beautiful Halloween evening. Now go out there and enjoy the night!

2 thoughts on “Shambling Along: Are Zombies Overused in Horror Games?”

  1. Yes, way overused. But they’re cheap and don’t require imagination. I suppose they could always go with giant radioactive bugs, that doesn’t seem to be trending.

    1. Yeah, I think that the lack of imagination is bringing down the quality of games. I feel like there is not a lot of innovating and taking risks. The games have become too controlled by corporations. Thank you for your response.

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