Every monster has their time in the limelight. Vampires and Werewolves, both staples of horror, had their time when the Underworld and Twilight franchises were in full flow. Now it seems that Zombies are the current ‘in-thing’ amongst both Hollywood and Gaming circles. Not only have we got “The Walking Dead” captivating audiences worldwide but we also have “World War Z”, a mega-budget blockbuster starring Brad Pitt waging war against the masses of the undead.
On a similar note Gaming has brought us some good and not-so-good Zombie related titles in recent times. On the good side we have the light hearted “Plants vs. Zombies” and on the bad side we have “The War Z” which could not be more of a cash-grab knock-off of “The Walking Dead” if it tried. Speaking of which “The Walking Dead” has come out with its’ own survival adventure title recently which has received widespread critical acclaim. This is not even taking into account some frankly promising looking titles on the way in the near future, titles such as “The Last of Us”.
The nature of the beast in media is that if an audience is over exposed to one specific trope they will inevitably become bored of it. Make no mistake, Zombies will recede back into obscurity when the next ‘in-thing’ comes along whether it be demons… dragons… ghosts… or god forbid Vampires again (in their current incarnation that is!). Is there more to Zombies than just this however? What is it about them that makes audiences like them and at the same time get inevitably sick of the sight of them? From an aesthetic point-of-view Zombies are not much to look at, especially once compared to their horror brethren. No, it’s what lies below the surface that I think gives Zombies their impact. When you really think about it Zombies are ultimately the perversion of arguably man’s greatest desire: Immortality. Its’ hardly a surprise in this respect that in the numerous times that Zombies have been portrayed across media they have come about as the result of the science of man striving too far and crashing like Icarus. “I Am Legend” showed this very well; where a vaccine that was supposed to cure cancer ends up bringing about the Zombie Apocalypse. Have Zombies become the embodiment of mans’ twisted desires, a hypothetical warning of sorts?
This brings me to what doesn’t work about Zombies and why they never seem to hang around for long once they snatch the limelight. As I mentioned earlier, there’s not a whole lot to Zombies once they’re seen for what they are. Resident Evil is the best example of this in practice. When the first Resident Evil game arrived players were completely clueless as to why the undead were walking the earth and subsequently the situation was terrifying because it was a hostile environment bolstered by the looming threat of the unknown. People will always scare themselves better than external elements will and this is arguably the quintessential ingredient of horror titles. However, once the horror of Zombies has been seen for what it is and players understand them what else is there to do other than grab the biggest boomstick nearby and go to town on the undead?
Vampires in particular are a different story by the nature of their mythology. Unlike Zombies, Vampires actually retain memories of their lengthy lives. There’s some serious potential in that element alone and its’ astounding that developers have not delved into it much if at all. I’d say that a title based around a story similar to Joss Whedon’s “Angel” series would make for a fascinating and ground breaking take on the “Assassin’s Creed” formula. Imagine it this way: A time-spanning epic about a Vampire with a soul who has lived for centuries and whom has fought against injustice for just as long. Whereas in “Assassin’s Creed” the player experiences different time periods with different characters what would it be like if we followed the same character experiencing history unfolding before him? There is some serious potential there, I really mean it! It could be a captivating story where a tortured soul is seeking redemption and absolution from a world that is itself indecent and no better than himself.
Whilst I am interested to see how “The Last of Us” pans out I think that the current fascination with Zombies will inevitably come to an end. “The Walking Dead” and (hopefully) “The Last of Us” offer something on top of aesthetic Zombie-horror because they show what might happen to society in the wake of a Zombie Apocalypse but, as engaging as that is, it still gets stale after a while.