CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS

In the past, there were a lot of simple elements that made the zombie a scary and formidable enemy. The Dead use their bite to change and morph people into mindless husks that only serve to spread the infection that will ultimately end the human race as we know it. The fact that they are slow, was contracted by their sheer numbers and well above human strength. They never sleep, they never stop, the dead walk the earth and they will find you. So how did they become the sort of the cop out, cannon fodder, run of the mill enemy they have devolved into as of recent years? The easy thing to blame is over saturation and desensitization that comes with any long-term exposure. Many, many, many horror games and films have used the undead to tell their nightmares and it has kind of brought this “Meh” attitude to the whole genre. Train to Busan is a Korean horror movie that released not too long ago that for the first time in a long time brought real fear and a genuine horror experience to screens all over the world.

This article looks to dissect what elements the video game industry can pull and implement into future projects that can breath new life into this long-decayed genre by looking at Train to Busan, which seemed to update the genre for movies.

Quick Overview

Before we talk about the video game industries stale take let’s quickly discuss Train to Busan first, in case you haven’t seen the movie.

The first introduction to the monster in any media is super important and Train to Busan does a really great job at it. The zombie is first seen at a very fleeting glance by the main protagonist’s young daughter, but it isn’t necessarily clear what happens. A man is just tackled to the ground as the train starts its venture. The first true interaction with the living dead comes a little later in the movie.

A woman sneaks on to the train clearly dealing with a bite of some kind. The other passengers pay her no attention as she stays in a vestibule and passes out there a short time later. A train hostess finds her a little while later and the woman starts convulsing uncontrollably. Through natural story progression, the hostess turns away from the body and is talking on a radio to a superior. In the background of the shot, the infected woman contorts and gets up behind the unsuspecting hostess and grabs her sinking her teeth into her new found prey. They burst into a new cart full of young passengers and as they are on the floor the whole train cart is awestruck at what is happening. The infected attacks a new person and the camera focuses on the hostess, who in a matter of seconds contorts and convulses in a truly unsettling manner and then is suddenly on her feet attacking. In that second, the movie manages to tell a huge amount of information without holding the hand of the audience the way most movies and games tend to do.

Newer Elements to Implement 

Running infected/zombies aren’t new by any means, Left 4 Dead‘s infected sprinted which for its time was relatively new for games. At the time, it was terrifying, but there isn’t much substance outside of that to those infected, these gross common infected sprint up then just stop and start hitting you as they surround you and if you knock them down they just get up like a regular person who fell. Train to Busan’s infected are truly ravenous. There are some finer aspects that affect the zombies that I will get into later but once the infected are chasing you it is most certainly the end for the poor sap being chased.

Obviously, that would be a poor mechanic in a video game so L4D‘s Special infected really helped with that terror of being knocked out. Video Games have a red tape that no one talks about, at least when it comes to zombies, the player cant just lose everytime a zombie gets them to the ground or a mass crowd catches up to them. Left 4 Dead‘s infected surrounding, beating, and scratching you has as much to do with giving you a sense of hope of escaping as it does with surrounding you in terror.

In Train to Busan, this is even more true with how endless the infected are in their pursuit. At one point they are literally piling and grabbing on to each other and almost pull the train to a complete stop. While that is a little more difficult to convey out of cut-scene that kind of stuff is what can help turn the genre on its head.

Think about being in a run-down city where the dead are all around you. You crouch behind a car to sort of get your bearings. You peek over and count the infected, seven of them are sulking around. Seems like no biggie, right? As you stand up and ready your melee weapon an infected you failed to notice moves from within the car bumping against the horn. As the dead turn, and notice you, you fire your sidearm to dispatch them quickly and not bring more down on you. As the last body falls you hear glass crunching nearby. You spin around frantically trying to find where it is coming from. Then you see it, an armada of the dead are on the second floor of a nearby building pressing against the glass. As you turn to run, the glass shatters and bodies rain to the ground, the contort and growl as they fight to get up. As the horde closes in you dig deep and push yourself to run as fast as you can. Ahead you see small alleyway you might be able to lose them in. As you run down it you see there is an iron gate at the end separating a residence from the alley. Once you clear it, you turn to see the dead slamming against it. Back at the entrance some of the dead are still at the choke point literally crawling over each other like ants, at the gate in front of you is no different. They are already starting to weigh down the gate and some of them are trying to use their undead brothers to reach the gate’s peak. Simple improvements like this are what can help bring the dead new life.

Like This…but in an alleyway…

The finer aspects of the infected from Train to Busan that really help to set them apart are somewhat new to the genre. Take for instance a pivotal moment when it seems like three of the main characters have met their certain doom, at the last possible moment the train enters a tunnel and the Dead just stop. Again the movie gives out a ton of vital information without holding the viewer’s hand (If you are slow on the uptake its because the Dead can’t see well in the dark). Something like this would open up a ton of doors for how it could work if brought over to the video game industry.

“LAST OF US DID THAT WITH CLICKERS!” I hear a reader wail from some distant land. True, but think about a game where all you face is infected with traits of the clickers and infected from Train to Busan. It brings on a whole new potential to the way the story is presented.

A line of sight is an easy thing to break, but thinking of how sound echoes and works against you in every way changes how a level is built and brings new ways to play. Now areas of the game that seems to be extremely challenging during the day due to the number of infected around and how they can see you can be revisited at night and potentially looted.Granted the whole game couldn’t be like this. Most gamers aren’t huge fans of stealthy games, for whatever reason, but bring a Zombie game into survival horror genre, like an Amnesia setting, would be absolutely terrifying.

It’s almost like giving the dead a handicap that, yes, can be exploited but it can also screw you over exponentially. In games like Dead Rising and (correct me if I am the wrong) State of Decay, the zombies got stronger at night.

In most Zombie lore, fighting the Dead works against you for a multitude of reasons. Humans have very poor eyesight in the dark and at night we can get caught off guard. The way that Train to Busan presents the dead sort of puts us back on a level playing field. It would be a fun game mechanic even if it screws you over by accident. Kick a can, shoot a gun, make any sort of unnecessary noise and the horde will follow the sound and descend upon you.

It’s The Little Details

A nice touch moving forward in the zombie genre would be how the dead move. This has long been billed as these shambling, easy to outrun, creatures that always tend to move about in ‘semi’ human ways. Even when knocked down they get up in a way that usually resembles a human in some form. In Train to Busan, they contort and make snap movements that all add up to a really unsettling experience. Contorsion is always weird to see and can strike fear and confusion to its audience. Most people will recoil at the sight of it because their brain says “That is NOT supposed to be that way!” It is true, but just the simple act of the dead getting to their feet in such a creepy, unnatural way can turn even the hardest of people’s bowels to slush.

That is something that is visually super simple to add. The necropmorphs in Dead Space kind of had those odd motions with the way they can spin around. However, the problem with Nercromorphs are they aren’t visibly human anymore. They morph before our eyes, sure, but they end up disfigured into something new. With the basic zombie, it would, in theory, make the enemies stand out more because they can be recognized as neighbors, friends, family. Seeing them contort, spin, borderline convulse would make them all the more terrifying.

Future Releases

The road ahead is paved with a ton of promising new releases some of which seem to be shaking up the tired formula. Days Gone has the type of infected that sprint and pile over each other as they chomp their maws trying to kill the player. There are some amazing clips out there showing the absolute awe-inspiring number of zombies on screen at once, alongside zombie animals it looks to be a standout title for sure. Overkill’s The Walking Dead also seems to be set on mixing up things within Kirkman’s universe. We really haven’t seen a fully open game in that universe Telltale’s moves from one plot point to a next with minimal area exploration (they are still really well-done titles I am not knocking them in any way). Activision released a game focusing on the Dixon brothers that was an okay attempt at telling a story in that universe, but it was still troubled by an endless list of problems.

The Last of Us 2 and State of Decay 2 are also still slated for release soon and they both look to bring a ton of excellent gameplay and fleshed out the story to the table. There is even a World War Z game, that despite the cynicism of the internet, I am moderately excited to see how the game works. Will any of them bring out a new way to look at Zombies though? Maybe not. Maybe we are just stuck with the genre as a whole being kind of – well – dead. Maybe it is time to search out a monster we all know that can instill fear in its audience or create something new entirely.

To close things out I want to make this painfully clear, I understand it is typically easier to make certain aspect brought up in this article appear on screen for movies than comprised in a video game. I really truly grasp that concept. This isn’t someone beating down a genre saying one thing is superior to another, this is a fan trying to bring new things to light that maybe have escaped development for one reason or another in the hopes that it sparks imagination to keep the genre going.

What do you think could spice up the Zombie genre? Tell us in the comments below