Certain genres sell much better than others, this is a known fact. On top of that it’s a pretty safe bet that, once a breakthrough video game sells, it’s only a matter of time before a slew of ‘copy-cat’ games try to cash in on its success. But does this process diminish creativity and the gamer experience? Or is there a natural ebb and flow of ‘trends’ which filter into the industry and power the next generation of truly great games? Essentially, are video game trends a good thing?
When Resident Evil graced the gaming world in 1996 gamers were horrified to come face to face with hordes of undead. Looking back, RE1’s shuffling, expressionless foes seem fairly non threatening when you compare them to the monsters we see in modern day video games. Yet in the late nineties the use of frozen camera angles, masses of foes and the fresh concept of survival horror arguably established the mainstream zombie video game genre that we’re so familiar with today. From this point the survival horror genre has dominated a large section of the gaming world, with many of the games following in Resident Evil’s footsteps being dubbed ‘Resident Evil clones’ by some. However, Capcom continued to focus on the Resident Evil series making the enemies in subsequent instalments more mutated, more unrealistic and more importantly, much scarier. At least in the developer’s eyes.
Adjacent to Resident Evil, other zombie games continued to flood forth. Notable mentions include Silent Hill (1999-), Dead Rising (2006), Left 4 Dead (2008-2016) The Dead Space franchise (2008 to 2013), Telltales the Walking Dead (2012-) and Plants vs Zombies (2009-). Each of these games took the zombie game formula and tried to tinker with it. Dead Rising brought forth the first realistic threat of constantly being overwhelmed. Dead Space created a wide and diverse range of monstrous Necromorphs (reanimated human corpses left prowling an abandoned mining ship). These zombie variants were also incredibly eerie because they acted like real creatures, fast and hungry for flesh, their speed and drive were enough to get even the hardened gamer panicking. Left 4 Dead stands out in the timeline for being one of the first games to actively encourage co-operative play for players to avoid being overrun by armies of the undead. Left 4 Dead also introduced the main variants in zombie abnormalities and mutations, this system of common weak zombies and rare tougher variants is something that almost every zombie themed game encompasses to this day.
One of the most interesting extensions to the zombie genre is the much-loved Plants Vs Zombies franchise. Aimed at a younger audience Plants vs Zombies is more comedic. The slow shuffling zombies who utter ‘Braaains’ as they lumber towards your plants are a world away from the horrors that prowl the Resident Evil universe. However, this game’s existence alone suggests that the zombie genre is huge enough for it to be reshaped to make a series of games aimed at children even though the topic of zombies is something which originally connoted horror and death.
Telltale’s The Walking Dead is one of the more well-known zombie games. Focusing on dilemma’s which can and often will cost lives, Telltale’s adaptation of FOX’s The Walking Dead is a great instalment to the franchise because it intertwines a well-loved universe and turns it into a story which players can shape according to their personal choices. With less emphasis on the zombie apocalypse and more on the realistic character development within the multiple seasons, Telltale separates itself from other games in the zombie genre by letting the horror and gore take a back seat.
2013 saw the introduction of one of the greatest zombie games to date with the release of Naughty Dogs The Last of Us. Set twenty years after the zombie apocalypse, survivor Joel must scavenge any remining supplies and ammunition he can find as he attempts to smuggle fellow survivor Ellie across the country. The Last of Us utilises all the horror tropes mentioned above, including fast zombies (otherwise known as infected) and the variations which were introduced during the earlier days of the zombie genre. The Last of Us is also well known for being one of the first mainstream zombie games to incorporate a powerful emotive story alongside detailed graphics and an impressive world full of dangers in every form. It’s undoubtable that The Last of Us is one the most well-known zombie games of this generation and its legacy has left a standing impression on zombie games of the future. This can be seen with 2015 zombie first person game Dying Light, which features a day to night cycle where, once the sun sets the faster and more dangerous Volatile’s emerge. Being out in the streets after dark in Dying Light is realistically terrifying and many players do all that they can to be back in a safe zone as the sun sets. During this era of gaming fast zombies are becoming more frequent. Recently turned virals in Dying Light are especially eerie as they are as agile and strong as you are.
One of the most interesting things about the zombie genre is the games which have attached themselves to this successful genre. Call of Duty is a well known first person shooter. A multiplayer game which is set primarily during the previous world wars has recently incorporated a zombie element into their games. Either as a playable chapter on the main game or a DLC expansion every Call of Duty has had a zombie section since Call of Duty World at War. Is this simply because of the success of the zombie genre and its huge fan base? Call of Duty’s main story line isn’t dependant on the zombie narrative to engage players to buy the game, but the incentive of the zombie element certainty increases the appeal of the Call of Duty.
Even now in 2018 this genre is still renowned as one of the most successful ones. In fact, some of the most anticipated titles for this year and beyond are Days Gone and The Last of Us Part 2. The fact that these games follow the same tired and tested formula yet are so highly anticipated is testament to the success of this genre.
It’s interesting to note that there is apparently an uprising in another type of genre in the gaming industry, one that seems to be gaining as much momentum as the zombie genre that I’ve dedicated this article to. Pirate games have been on the increase since the development and production of Assassins Creed Black Flag way back in 2013. Now in 2018 we have two large pirate games coming to present generation consoles. Sea of Thieves created by Rare is timed for release on the 20th of March 2018 and focuses mostly on the freedom of a pirate’s life. Although you’ll work as part of a team on board a ship you’ll be free to jump into the water, swim towards lost shipwrecks on the seafloor and follow the lure for hidden treasure on many of the world’s islands. Skull and Bones which is developed by Ubisoft plays off the success of Assassins Creed Black Flag and therefore most of the game will be spent on the heaving pirate ship itself with heavy influence on building a fleet to take on rival pirate groups.
Therefore, is it possible, looking back on the all information gathered in this article that the pirate genre might become as successful as the current zombie genre is today? Are trends good or bad for the video game industry? Or do they influence a series of tedious replica’s? Let me know what you think in the comments below!