I admit it, I lurves me some zombie games, and I’ve played many of them, to my girlfriend’s annoyance. (“Aren’t you tired of killing zombies YET?”) Being a connoisseur of corpse crushing amusements, I’ve prepared a list of necessities for game developers to include in every zombie game they make. If zombie games don’t have these, it isn’t going to be any good.
Yes, freakin’ zombies. It seems obvious, but if the game doesn’t have an ever-present, primary foe that is perfectly acceptable to slaughter under every circumstance, an enemy that individually isn’t much of a threat, there’s just no way to call it a zombie game. Even old good old DOOM qualifies as having zombies, while Duke Nukem just doesn’t have the chops.
2. Lots of zombies
Just an occasional zombie doesn’t work, there needs to be swarms. This is why, no matter how cool Skyrim is, it’ll never be modded into a passable zombie game — it can’t run with a dozen or more enemies on-screen. That’s a bare minimum of an acceptable horde, and Skyrim can barely manage half that on a good day.
This might be a personal preference, but I just can’t get into a zombie game that doesn’t have at least one passable shotgun. It’s the ultimate zombie-killing device. Dead Island fell flat for me because, even though it has much to like, the shotgun just isn’t part of the game. It’s made available too late in the game and is disappointingly weak. I suppose there’s a reason why there are no firearms on the box, after all. Maybe Dead Rising: Riptide will have some sweet shotgun redemption.
Resources need to be tight. There’s nothing wrong with feast-or-famine resources. Left 4 Dead does this best, with safe rooms filled with ammo, and a nearly ever-present shortage of medical supplies. On the other hand, Dead Rising is a little weak. Initially resources are light, but once you know what’s going on, you’ll always have an endless supply of whatever you need.
There has to be at least a few gross moments in any good zombie game. Telltale’s The Walking Dead probably does this best, but only because the game is centered around a credible story. I don’t need a good story to appreciate blastin’ zombies, but when things are presented realistically, I have an easier time imagining the putrid smell of rotting guts, which should be a constant in a world overrun with walking corpses.
These are the things that make a zombie game work for me. Brain eating? It’s a staple of zombie movies, but I don’t need it. Same thing for explosions–Left 4 Dead‘s obligatory gas station explosion is enough, past that you can save it for the movies. Evil government-type scientists? Strictly optional, and killing those guys just isn’t a morally clean as killing zombies. Having someone you know turn into a zombie? Nah, the whole morality thing pops up again. Zombies are the 21st century equivalent of Nazis, and we need to keep ’em that way.