Listen, game developers – I know a zombie when I see one.
Call the things "mutants" or claim they've been "infected" by some vaguely explained "virus", but here's the truth. You're getting lazy and, more and more often, you're falling back on a completely unoriginal and ridiculously overused cliche for your games' enemies. To be fair, I can understand why…
Zombies are stupid: Programming AI must be much easier when that AI carries no weapons, knows no strategy and is interested only in running, crawling or shuffling forward mindlessly.
Zombies are generic: Don't waste the design team's time on new and never-before-seen monsters. Just make 'em sort of dull, decaying and brownish,
then call it a day.
Zombies are legion: Wave after wave after wave of recycled combat? A perfect – and cheap – way to increase a game's difficulty, or pad a game's length.
Zombies are popular: Movies, books, comics. The undead are everywhere these days, so even if gamers do realize your enemies are thinly disguised versions of zombies, they probably won't mind. Right?
Wrong! Personally, I'm tired of finding and fighting these brainless bad guys in every franchise, especially when the gameplay suffers, or when the genre, setting and story don't make any sense with them included. As a warning to the rest of the industry, here are the worst examples of games that definitely did not need zombies.
What the game called them: "Freaks"
How the game tried to explain them: They're not zombies! They're… homeless people, genetically mutated by M2448, a free medical vaccination that, in reality, was an experimental virus unleashed by former Agency scientist and current Cell terrorist Catalina Thorne to cripple and control Pacific City.
Why the game didn't need them: You're playing a superhero, for chrissakes. You can jump hundreds of feet into the air, and with the help of a special suit, soar for thousands of feet through the sky. You can outrace a speeding vehicle, or pick that vehicle up over your head. You can kill a man with one punch, or snipe him from a mile away. It's easy to forget when the missions, characters and story are so monotonous, but Crackdown 2 is supposed to be a comic book sandbox, the Marvel or DC version of GTA.
So why are these villains so utterly inferior to the heroes? If Batman battles the Joker, Superman wages war with Lex Luthor and Spider-Man trades punches and pumpkins with Green Goblin, why shouldn't the Agents of Crackdown be given an equally colorful and memorable foe? Asking them to slog through a swarm of forgettable, indistinguishable zombies is like ordering a SWAT team to exterminate rodents.
Example of tedious zombie gameplay:
UNCHARTED: DRAKE'S FORTUNE
What the game called them: "Descendants"
How the game tried to explain them: They're not zombies! They're… four hundred year-old Spanish pirates who competed with Nathan's ancestor, Sir Francis Drake, to locate the lost treasure of El Dorado. Which ended up being a giant golden coffin with a cursed mummy inside that, once opened, transformed them into immortal, island-protecting zombies. Er, descendants.
Why the game didn't need them: I'm fine with a touch of the supernatural in games like Uncharted. After all, this is a globe-trotting, temple-exploring, artifact-hunting adventure that clearly takes its cues from Indiana Jones, The Mummy and Tomb Raider, each of which verges out of reality and into the fantastic at least once. So, possessed Spaniards? Sure, why not.
Just because zombie-style enemies are appropriate, however, doesn't mean I should have to suffer through tired and predictable zombie-style gameplay. The first Uncharted is famous for its gorgeous tropical environments, surrounded by sparkling blue ocean and lit by dazzling bright sunlight. Even the interiors of ruins, though shadowy, are beautifully detailed and cleverly designed.
Suddenly, at the end of the game – when the action and visuals should be at their most epically spectacular – you're creeping through dank, dark, concrete hallways filled with locked metal doors and "slippery naked dudes" (as Nathan Drake refers to them in his journal) trying to chew on your neck as you desperately mash buttons to throw them off. This isn't fun, and this isn't what we expect from Uncharted.
Example of tedious zombie gameplay: