Zombies in Video Games: It's Time For An Evolution

Hopefully soon a new horde will swarm us, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll actually fear their return.

When you saw this article you probably thought, €œGreat more F-ing zombies.€ Chances are however, you clicked to read it precisely because it had the word zombie in it. Zombies have become something of a cult craze. Countless discussions of what people would or wouldn€™t do when Z-Day falls upon us. Zombies fit perfectly in video games, they give developers a known enemy to appeal to the general public, no real story or description is involved. Just fill in a formula like this: X virus was spread creating Y outbreak = Z. Blah, blah, blah, right? We've seen it all before. Yet there€™s something unexplored about zombies within our video game medium, and it's that no game truly makes you feel the need for survival. We never really feel the ramifications of a zombie outbreak. Zombies are great cannon fodder, but games such as Left 4 Dead and Dead Rising, while enjoyable have simply become novelties. The joy lies in the fact that you aren't scared that you're surrounded by 1,000 zombies, you merely rev up your chainsaw. Often the ideas surrounding zombies bring notions of humanity facing an emotional and psychological toll in the struggle for survival. So why the hell isn't that present? Zombie games need to evolve into something greater than endless ammunition, or intense bouts of mindless gore. The Z-Genre needs to pull us deeply into a world that is nothing like our own, and experience it behind the safety of polygons and textures. Let's face it, zombies are fun to kill. Games like Dead Rising, give players cattle to slaughter. Sure they are slow, shuffling, brain-dead zombies, but their sheer numbers as an army shuffles towards you, is where the fear used to be. Gaming has completely removed any fear by giving us endless AK47 rounds, and Wolverine boxing gloves. While incredibly fun for a short period of time, running through a zombie filled wonderland with toys to massacre thousands of zombies wears out its welcome. It never feels like zombies of the past where humanity feared for survival, it's solely been reduced to action packed gameplay, or gimmicks. "Whoa. Whoa. Wait a minute", you might be saying, "it sounds like you're saying zombie games are fun, but it isn't good enough to just give you dozens of zombie killing opportunities and provide you with enjoyable entertainment." Zombie games have provided great times with their use of infinite ammo infinite ammo and weapon customization. I'll always remember wading through a sea of the undead with my paddle saw, but this is not how I remember zombies. The truth is that the novelty consuming zombie games of recent years, is quickly wearing off. When Call of Duty, tacks on a zombie mode for no real reason other than to ride the popularity, something needs to change. So many different game mechanics can be used in ways that could reflect the desperation and struggle set to impact humanity. The Z-genre should reach out for a better story, or at least engage players in survival elements that hold weight. Dead Island sought out to break the norms of what zombies had become, and while problems dragged the title down it was definitely a step in the right direction. Deep Silver released their first trailer and shattered the perception of story in zombie games. http://youtu.be/lZqrG1bdGtg Captivating viewers by giving hope that a game using zombies would immerse the players into a world, where survival was a true fear, and loss had meaning. Coming off of such positive response to the cinematic, the game launched and unsurprisingly the story fell short. Game mechanics in place held the game back from ever truly presenting what many expected to be a story-centric emotional roller coaster. The game succeeded greatly in proving that RPG elements are the perfect fit for the Z-genre. Skill trees and multiple classes gave players an opportunity to feel as if the longer they survived, the greater their character learned and evolved. Providing scavenging components, allowed you to create or modify weapons, something not new to the series but evolved the scavenging components of surviving. Ultimately, the game fell back on the amazingly crafted dynamic damage occuring on the zombie models. Chunks of flesh tore off, limbs were removed, and you truly believed the walking dead roamed the earth. Where did the story go? Where was the sense of desperation, loss, and the emotions they subconsciously promised in the trailer? Surviving in the zombie apocalypse felt fun and immersive, but you really cannot help but feel let down after witnessing an amazing trailer, where they proved they knew what a world with zombies would truly feel like. Desperation fills the air as it seems there's no hope left for the Z-genre. Repetition seems endlessly bound to spread throughout the genre. The industry will produce more games that at their core have entertaining gameplay, yet fail to truly encompass all that would come, once the dead walk the Earth. Luckily there are a few developers who have taken notice as well, and the Z-genre may very well be bringing a welcomed change. With the Walking Dead Game attempting to bring story and emotion to the front of gamers everywhere, it may provide a much needed breath of fresh air for fans. However, it is still unclear how players will be able to play and control the game. If the game is dilluted down to simple QTE's and dialogue trees, which isn't out of the question for Telltale Games, it may just prove that video games cannot combine the potential for humanistic ideas with engaging gameplay. This is where all previous games fail to find the perfect balance. It seems an impossible task to balance fun gameplay, with an immersive story that connects you to the game world and succeeds in making you feel the hopelessness, loss, and emotional toll that would blanket our lives. Just as we have all started to lose hope in the genre we love, there is a beacon of hope calling for us to make a last stand. Undead Labs is seeking to do what many may now believe impossible by creating an open world zombie-survival game. With two projects in the works Class3 and Class4, the developers are preparing themselves to clear the dead from the genre, and build a new safe haven for zombie enthusiasts. Class 3 is set to debut as an Xbox Live Arcade exclusive title, running on the CryEngine 3 gives developers a significantly powerful tool for creating their vision of a zombie-infested multiplayer experience. Set to be a test of sorts for what will come in Class4, where players of Class3 will be able to provide feedback, in the creation of a zombie-survival online world filled with thousands of players. It feels that we're in good hands with the developers at Undead Labs. As they aim to bring an engaging story to their game, they charge forward with the idea that zombies shouldn't be the focus of the game. To create a truly engaging experience they've acquired writer Travis Stout, who has grown up with zombies and in turn deciphered that a great zombie apocalypse focuses on the people.
"Zombies are a catalyst for story, the fuel that makes the engine run. But just like fuel without an engine can€™t take you anywhere, zombies without the core foundation of story can€™t move you. Sure, it€™s fun to brain them with a tire iron, but by themselves zombies are just monsters to be killed." - Travis Stout
Story has been a primary goal in ensuring that players become immersed in the world of Class3. However, that doesn't mean they've forgotten survival, combat, and exploration. Players have been assured that an actual world is being built that will breathe and live, evolving over time in response to player choices. The game is also set to offer players ways to improve their skills with different weapons. Developer's aren't planning to make it a grind to have the best assault rifle stats aiming instead, to have players rely on some of their own skill, but rewarding player's who survive and evolve with the world. Implementing a breathing environment that rewards or punishes players for their decisions, will add a new level of immersion to the Z-genre. As you go out to scavenge supplies, caution will be your ally. The days of running blindly into new areas swinging wildly and firing relentlessly is over. Actions like this is sure to have you swarmed by dozens of zombies, feeding players the fear that should come when surrounded by an army of the undead. Players will find a world where noise management is a tactical decision, and a wrong step may find you cowering in a building clinging to the fear of being discovered. An evolution can be seen on the horizon. Our much loved Z-genre, sees Undead Labs carrying the burden of progress on their shoulders. You may want to set your controllers down for now, and look to the horizon. Soon a new horde will swarm us, and maybe, just maybe, we€™ll actually fear their return.
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