The horde mode is a relativity recent addition to games, but one which seems to be becoming omnipresent. While not the first game to feature a variation of it, Gears of War 2’s Horde mode has started a definite trend in the industry. Since then, variations on the theme seem to be appearing in almost every action or first person shooter that comes out. For example, Halo: ODST and Halo: Reach have Firefight mode, Call of Duty: World at War, and Call of Duty: Black Ops, have the Nazi Zombie mode, and Left 4 Dead 1 and 2 have Survival mode. To be fair, Call of Duty: World at War came out only a few days after Gears of War 2, so it’s probably as much to blame for this trend as Gears is, but I always tend to generically call these types of mode horde modes and not Nazi zombie modes. Some games don’t come with the mode but add something similar through DLC, Red Dead Redemption has the Undead Overrun mode, Crackdown 2 has the Deluge mode, and Borderlands has Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot. This is only a small list but there are many more. They all follow a very similar pattern, you, either alone or with friends, face off against a never ending stream of enemies, which usually come in waves, each being harder than the one before. In some variations of the mode, after a set amount of waves have been passed, certain gameplay elements are changed to make it even harder, such as giving enemies more health and you less, or making all the enemies faster moving or more accurate. The mode ends when all the human controlled players are dead. A few of these types of mode do have an actual end, where no more enemies spawn and the players win, but they’re the exception not the rule.
I’ve never really been a fan of these types of modes, I may play them once or twice, but they don’t hold my attention for long. If a game has some achievements for playing its version then I’ll probably play just enough to get them then quit out. I don’t have a problem with a game including different game modes outside the standard single or co-op campaign and competitive multiplayer, but do they all have to go for the same thing? I think the primary reason for the current surge in this game mode’s popularity with developers is cost driven: It’s a cheap and easy feature to add, and another thing for the marketing department to talk about. Most games just use multiplayer maps, or sections from the single player, as the maps for their horde mode, so they don’t have to spend any more development time making them. In some, all the enemies and the associated AI is just taken from the single player, maybe with the odd different weapon or player model. And in pretty much all of them there’s very little, if any, story involved, and hence not much dialogue to be written and recorded or any cut scenes to be created. It takes very little creativity or man-hours to add in a horde mode to a game, but due to its unending nature and high score potential it can provide a player with many hours of enjoyment, if they’re the type who likes that sort of thing.
The danger, as I see it, is that the horde mode becomes the standard ‘third mode’, after a story-driven campaign mode and the competitive multiplayer, and the creative drive to do something a bit different is lost, as consumers, and hence management types, begin to expect a new game to have it. It would have been nice to see where the original folk at Infinity Ward would have taken Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s Spec Ops mode in Modern Warfare 3, as that’s the sort of more original idea I can see dying out in the future. Now that they’re a shell of the company they were I can actually see MW3 having a Nazi zombie mode, such is the dearth of creative talent at Activision. I think there’s definitely a place for a mode for people to play with their friends online that isn’t a linear story comprised of corridors linking set-piece battles that’s the same every time, or a competitive multiplayer where how much fun you have is dependent of who you end up playing with or against, but I don’t think the horde mode should be it. Instead I think developers should be pushing more towards non-linear story modes, which reward multiple playthroughs by being different each time, with different ways through each level and different endings, similar to Left 4 Dead’s main story mode. Admittedly it’s easy to do in Left 4 Dead as your objective is essentially to get from A to B, and the majority of the enemies are quite dumb, the basic zombies just attack the nearest person. It would be much harder to produce, say, a WWII game like this, as enemies would have to be smarter, finding cover, hiding and the like, which zombies don’t do. With the current state of AI in games I don’t think you’d be able to semi-randomly spawn a squad of German troops in a level like you can a group of zombies and just expect them to behave intelligently. But maybe I’m wrong. It’s definitely something I’d like to see in the future.