Zombie Games: A Genre or the Same Game?

The Zombie fad has is a growing phenomenon in the gaming world. With more big zombie titles like Left for Dead and Dead Rising being released every year there is defiantly a zombie cannon in the works. But at the end of the day, are these zombie games making up a genre, or are the practically the same game?

Every zombie game has to follow a very specific set of rules for storyline and game mechanics to fit within the category of zombie games. With so little creative room for developers to maneuver in zombie games are becoming awfully similar. A third person action adventure zombie game doesn’t look, feel, or play that much different than a first person RPG zombie game. Where does genre end and the pretty much the same game begin?

Below are some of the common traits that I’ve witnessed while playing through a variety of zombie games. And while every zombie game might not follow every rule, the majority of them do. I’m not a zombie game expert, but from the games I’ve played here is what I’ve seen:

Specialized Zombies

I’m not exactly sure when zombies started mutating in ways that gave them special powers. I think it was the Resident Evil series, but regardless every zombie game includes this common trait now. It’s not fun to kill the same mindless slow zombie swarms anymore. Instead, every game has powerfully enhanced zombies. Boss and specialty enemies are a nowadays requirement of video games, but the specialized zombies between games don’t have to be the same.

Like the Boomer in Left 4 Dead. He’s described as “a bloated infected that can spit vision impairing bile.” Which seems very close to Dead Island’s Floater which is also described as “bloated” and “vomit a bile projectile.” They both also have a zombie that explodes when it’s killed. The Red Dead Redemption Undead Nightmare expansion combined the two into a zombie type called Retchers. Retchers are described as “spit toxic bile at the player, and explode when killed.” And while it might be a requirement for zombie game’s to have enhanced foes, the enhanced foes don’t have to have the same abilities.

An Odd Arsenal

It’s the hatchets and samurai swords that arguably make zombie games so much fun. For some reason killing mindless freaks with every day household objects and some exotic weaponry is a rush for gamers. Being able to throw kitchen knives and hitting zombies with a skateboard is fun, but it’s yet another common trait that every zombie game shares. They also all seem to have a huge variety of weapons that can be found throughout the environment.

Because the zombies mostly lack a ranged attack it’s possible for players to get by with a melee weapon. Very few other shooter games have the ability to use melee attacks as much. Gears of War, for instance, gives players the ability for strong melee attacks and awesome curb stomp powers. But it’s usually easier and more practical to take your enemies down from a distance with your gun. This capability to use melee weapons proficiently has defined the zombie game weapons as a much different arsenal as other shooter games.

This also dictates what weapons players start out with. Because zombies are relatively easy enemies when they’re by themselves, players don’t start out with as high tech of weaponry as in other games. In Call of Duty and Halo you at least start off with a machine gun. But a machine gun against single zombies would be way too easy. Instead you start off with very basic items, like a plank in both Dead Island and Dead Rising.

A Common Goal

The obvious common goal that zombie games share is the goal for players to survive. But even more than that the goal is to find a place of permanent safety. In Dead Island you’re just trying to get off the zombie infected island. In Left 4 Dead you’re following the clues of those before you that will lead you to safety. In Dead Rising the eventual point is to gather survivors and escape the mall. If it’s impossible to find a place of safety the goal is to stay alive for as long as possible, like in the zombie game modes of Call of Duty and Halo.

This is another way that developers are limited. The storyline has to follow yet another trait that every other zombie game is following. Even in a very limited genre like WW2 games each game can have characters with independent goals. You can fight for two different sides of a war, following the storyline of a variety of characters. There are pilots, spies, infantrymen, and a great number of other paths you can follow. Even though Sniper Elite and Call of Duty 3 take place in the same setting there is an entirely different set of goals that go along with the game.

Same Enemy

And finally, when it comes down to it, in every zombie game you’re fighting the same enemy… zombies.  This might seem like an obvious trait that zombie games would share but it’s an important one. Zombies are a very specific kind of enemy. First off, they average zombie doesn’t have a ranged attack. They also move slowly. This is unlike the enemies in almost every other shooter.

Also, individually they are always weak. It’s easy to take out individual zombies, but it gets challenging when they clump together in swarms. They have a keen sense of sound, but they have almost no mental ability. They’re limbs can be chopped off and they’ll keep on fighting. Chopping off their heads is a sure fire way to kill them. They have an infectious bite.

With so many specific traits that make up a zombie it’s hard for game developers to really give us a variety in zombie games. Alien games, for instance, can have a huge variety in the type of monsters you’re fighting. Halo has a very different interpretation of zombies then Mass Effect does. It’s because the alien theme can be transformed into any kind of opponent. They can have any trait that developers want and look entirely different. But for zombie games, you know exactly what your opponent is before you even buy the game.


So maybe there aren’t enough common traits to call all zombie games the same. Still, it’s a very tight knit genre. Too tight knit. With so many rules that zombie games are expected to follow it’s time for developers to branch out and give players something new. The zombie genre is defiantly popular right now, and fans are waiting for a new take on zombie games to knock their socks off.