Some people argue that zombies have overstayed their welcome in the world of video-game villains — that the market is saturated, the novelty has worn off, and that zombies are no longer scary. But I have a different perspective: What is the next zombie or Nazi — a ubiquitous enemy used across multiple platforms and genres as a common shooting-range target?
When I was a child there was no limit to what could be considered a proper baddie. Super Mario Bros. teemed with mindless turtles, vengeful dinosaurs, and sentient fungi. I have a specific memory of my mother walking in from making lunch while I was playing Kid Icarus (which probably should've been called Kid Aubergine, but whatever).
“What's that supposed to be?” she asked, straining to make out the pixels.
“I think it's an eggplant. But with magic. Eggplants are stupid!” was my reply-turned-shriek as I died for the 100th time because of some stupid, mystical plant. If you think back to the games from the 80s and early 90s, it seems like enemies took the form of anything the developers could imagine to impede your progress through the game. Somewhere along the line they started to homogenize the roster into a seen-them-fought-that lump of blandness.
World War 2 shooters relied on the always-evil Nazi for cannon fodder, but as that genre of first-person shooter started to wind down their popularity waned. Until recently, zombies had been a slow burn — Resident Evil brought them to the forefront, but when they started making their way into Call of Duty and Borderlands I think we can agree that if they haven't jumped the zombified shark already, they will soon.
I can see why they're popular. Nazis and zombies are easy to kill because they don't inspire sympathy; creating a game concept with zombies as the antagonist isn't particularly difficult. What I don't get is why we don't have more — or at least another — universal evil that developers can drop into a variety of franchises.
Personally, I think that aliens still have a plenty of untapped potential. While not necessarily original, they have many more interesting reasons why they might take on the role of antagonists. Zombies just want to eat brains, and Nazis want to kill everything, but aliens could have any number of reasons to exist in a game. They could be misunderstood in their attempts to communicate, and we could be the ones who accidentally start the war. With so many potential ideas one could spitball at a development meeting, it's a wonder that we haven't seen even more of them.
It's worth pointing out that the Necromorphs in Dead Space, the Locust in Gears of War, and the Splicers in Bioshock are all good examples of semi-original concepts. I also really like the idea behind the Reapers in Mass Effect, but the limitation with all of these is that they can't be universally applied to other genres and stories. I won't pretend that I have a great idea just waiting to get out — I'm simply wondering when some developer out there will surprise us all with a new uber-foe. I'm sure plenty of gamers out there would appreciate the change of pace.