Why Zombies Are the Perfect Enemy (And Why We Need to Tone It Down)

COG Considers: Is Too Much Ever Enough?

I’m sick to death of zombies. I’m aware that that’s a hot take, and that I’m still going to play Dying Light 2, The Last of Us: Part III, Days Gone 2, or just about any semi-interesting game that has zombies – or zombie-esque enemies – so maybe I’m just a hypocrite, but the issue with zombies being so popular is that A) They’re everywhere and B) People get lazy.

Here’s the thing. If you want to do a horror game, zombies are the easy option. You don’t need to worry about coming up with creative monsters when you can just throw your characters into a zombie-infested world. After all, the zombies are an end-result, so you can slip them in anywhere – or, at least, a zombie-adjacent creature.

Did an MNC create a biological weapon which escaped? Zombies.

Did a fungal infection evolve to affect humans? Zombies.

Is there a cult worshipping a macro parasite and planning for world domination? You guessed it – goddamned zombies.

They’re the lowest common denominator. The catch-all. They’re threatening enough that you can lock someone into a mansion with a couple of dozen, but fragile enough that you can face hordes of them. You can make them smart enough to think and strategize, or dumb enough to wander into your traps.

In short, they’re an enemy you can slot just about anywhere and it’ll make sense, compared to more dangerous – or creative, story-specific – enemies, but that’s as much a problem as it is a boon.

It’s not that people can’t get creative with zombies, it’s just that, often, people decide not to. For every The Last of Us or Dying Light there are a dozen games that just put zombies in for the sake of a quick buck, and that’s a problem. There’s no thought put into making them interesting, they’re just put in to save the effort of coming up with something new or original.

That’s not to say that original means good, but how many mediocre – or even downright bad – games could have been saved if only they put some more effort into creature design, and maybe put some work into the AI while they’re at it? Unlike werewolves or vampires, you can get away with the most basic attack patterns possible, and while your game won’t be the most groundbreaking it’ll at least make sense. Why do you need to come up with some unique concept, when you can settle for the tried-and-true uncanny valley effect of a walking corpse?

Days Gone

We need to give zombies a chance to rest in peace. They’ve had their moment. Does that mean I want every upcoming zombie game cancelled? No. Would I turn down a new entry in a franchise I love? Also no. I just want to stop seeing new zombie games that add nothing when there’s so much more we could be doing. I want to see other classic horror monsters get their chance to shine, and I want developers to challenge themselves to give us something new. How about instead of being trapped by zombies, you’re trying to evade a vampire until sunrise? Or escaping a coven of witches, and all the supernatural powers at their disposal? Why is everyone so satisfied with seeing the same creature pop up in a dozen games when there’s so much more we could be doing, even within the zombie genre? We have books and games and movies about emotional zombies, intelligent zombies, religious zombies, even cognizant zombies, so why do we keep bringing back mindless killing machines?

Zombies are the perfect enemy, but perfect is boring. Why not let some of the other big boys come out to play?

Are you sick of zombies? Let us know in the comments, on Twitter, or on Facebook.