Zombies have been very much en vogue since the late 2000s. There’s something about the threat of an undead apocalypse that just grabs the imagination. It’s not just the hordes that interest people, but the act of survival. If the zombies came, people simple want to know if they would be able to survive.
Considering that an outbreak of undeath isn’t likely to happen, the next best way to test one’s skill is with games. There have been several games dedicated to zombies, from the realistic simulators to the utterly fantastical. Zombies have become a vital part of the gaming world.
Survive Zombie Outbreak Games
Zombie survival games have become a genre of their own over the last few years. Taking place after the world has already been over-run by zombies, these games task the players with survival. Some of these games pit players primarily against other humans, but there’s always the threat of the undead lurking just around the corner.
When it comes to zombie survival, one of the most important names is still DayZ. Thought it started as just a mod for ARMA, it is still probably responsible for the wave of zombie games that have come out since its release. In this game, the zombies are just the background – the real danger is other humans.
In DayZ, players are forced to fend off the undead while competing with other humans for resources. There’s no real way to communicate your intents, and even those limited methods are prone to being abused. People quickly began to horde items and become distrustful of one another. All of the worst parts of zombie apocalypse stories became true in this game, in a wonderful way.
DayZ isn’t really finished, but it did spawn many imitators. It’s a fun mod, and will probably be a decent stand-alone game. If nothing else, it will be important for starting a new trend.
Project Zomboid is about as realistic as you’re going to get when it comes to the zombie apocalypse. There’s no winning in this game, there’s just survival.
You won’t get any congratulations and you won’t save the world. In fact, you can’t even really win the game – you just survive until you inevitably die. As far as mechanics go, it’s probably as real as a game can get.
That’s not to say that the game isn’t fun, though. You can survive in the standard mode or play around in a sandbox. You can fight off the zombies to a limited degree and make your brief stay among the undead at least a bit more pleasant. You won’t get to live forever, but really – who does? Project Zomboid is one of the best games at capturing the sense of despair and futility in surviving the apocalypse. It might not be a power fantasy, but it’s a great challenge.
State of Decay
State of Decay is one of the more fully-featured zombie survival simulators out there. Putting players in the role of accidental survivors of a zombie apocalypse, players do truly have to go through the motions of survival.
It’s not just a matter of hacking through hordes – it’s a matter of finding the right tools, working with the right people, and hoping that the preparations made are enough to outlast an undead army.
The game places a lot of emphasis on building a crew of survivors. This isn’t a world where you can go one on one against a dozen zombies and hope to survive. Instead, it is a world in which people have to work together. If one of your survivors dies, that’s it – he or she is no longer available for play. This makes every person a precious resource. Combined with the difficulty of navigating zombies, this makes for a tenser experience than most of what players will find out there.
Dead State RPG
Dead State is a fairly unique among the zombie survival set due to its pacing. While quite a bit of the game takes place in real time, all of the combat is turn-based. This makes combat much more studied and focused, stripping it of some of the panic that is inherent in the genre. At the same time, it makes the terror much more real. You know when you’re doomed long before it happens.
Dead State is a game about survival, and most of the danger comes from the fact that society has fallen apart. You’ll assign characters to help out at your base and you’ll scavenge, but the end is always around the corner. Zombies are an ever-present threat, but so too are humans. If you can’t guard your stuff, it’s going to go away. Once that happens, you might as well join the horde – survival will be limited to hours, not days.
Zombie FPS games
Sometimes, it’s just not enough to survive against the zombie hordes. Sometimes, you want to take the fight to them. The FPS has taken zombie survival in an entirely new direction, one where the player has a little more agency. These games are often a test of teamwork and skill, but they allow players a chance to fight back against zombies in a unique and satisfying way.
Call of Duty: Black Ops III
Zombies have become a strangely major part of Call of Duty, especially considering the early games’ attempts at realism. While zombies have never really infected the main story of the game, they are a vital side-plot. Call of Duty’s zombies have moved from being a weird distraction to being a surprisingly deep story of their own.
This version is set in the 1940s and even has its own progression system. While there are a few twists and turns in the narrative, the most important part is still being able to mow down zombies with impunity. The story’s there for those who care, but the real fun of Call of Duty’s Zombie modes has always been exposing zombies to some truly lethal firepower.
This is a pure power fantasy, one that takes a lot of the bite out of the zombies themselves. With that said, it’s a ton of fun and worth playing for those who need a bit of zombie catharsis.
Dying Light is an incredibly immersive first-person zombie game, putting players in the role of a government observer taking a look at a city in the midst of a zombie epidemic. In short order, the player becomes exposed to the truth behind the zombie outbreak and must fight to survive.
Doing so involves a great deal of gunplay, some of the smoothest first-person platforming ever developed, and some great vehicle play. Dying Light is one of the first true sandbox zombie games, and it is going to take quite a bit for any other game to meet the bar set by this experience.
Dying Light has received a significant amount of support after its initial release. It’s added vehicles and a great deal of new content. While the game seems mostly done for now, it’s still full of things to explore for a new player. It’s one of the best examples of how a zombie apocalypse can open up an entirely new world for survivors.
Left 4 Dead 2
The sequel to the wildly popular Left 4 Dead, this game is the epitome of the zombie squad shooter zombie. The premise is simple – you have to get a group of four players from Point A to Point B.
All that stands in your way is a giant horde of zombies, some of whom have special powers. Left 4 Dead is a game about team work above all else, with a huge emphasis on helping one another survive.
Left 4 Dead also allows for a competitive mode in which some of the players can play as the special empowered zombies. While these zombies go down a fair bit easier than the human protagonists, there’s more of a chance to cause trouble for the main team. All it takes is one death to bring things to a close, after all, and zombies tend to have the advantage on any map.
Other Zombie Games
There are also many games outside of the survival genre that have captured the spirit of the zombie apocalypse. While these games are a little different than those listed above, they are still fantastic games for zombie enthusiasts. From relatively simple story games to full mods for AAA games, these are the worlds in which a zombie lover can really dive deep into the apocalypse.
Atom Zombie Smasher
Atom Zombie Smasher doesn’t really take the Zombie apocalypse very seriously. It’s set in an alternate universe, it’s an RTS, and at the end of the day, it’s about blowing stuff up. That’s an incredibly huge left turn away from most of the trappings of the genre. It’s a refreshing change of pace.
This is also a game about rescuing people. Given the generally selfish nature of most of the games, that’s a really nice change of pace. Sure, you have nuclear weapons at your disposal – but you’re using them to save the world, so the moral component is pretty much thrown out the window.
It’s nice to have a zombie game that’s really just about have some fun with the conceits of the genre. While it’s probably never going to be taken seriously by most fans of the genre, it is definitely a game that is worth playing.
Zombie Night Terror
Not every zombie game puts you in command of the heroic humans. Some, in fact, let you control the zombies. While some of these games are combat-oriented, the vast majority of these games are more strategic in nature.
Zombie Night Terror is one of these games, putting players in charge of Lemmings-like puzzles with zombies in the protagonist role.
This game, simply put, is weird. It’s kitschy, silly, and gross all at one time. There’s something fun about controlling these incredibly dull zombies, especially if you’ve spent time mowing them down in other games. You’ll never quite become attached to them, but you will look at them with fondness. They’re great cannon-fodder, especially in some of the later puzzles.
This is probably not the survival simulator some players want, but it is a great deal of fun. It is a great set of brain teasers that can still give players their zombie fix. If you’re looking for a smart zombie game, this may be the best place to look.
Zombie Slayer MMO
Not every zombie game has to look great to be fun. Some of the better descriptions of the zombie experience are entirely in text, like the massively multiplayer Zombie Slayer.
A throwback to a much earlier type of gaming, this game gives players one of the most fully flesh-out zombie experiences that they will ever be able to find. While you don’t really get anything in the way of a visual experience, you do get quite a bit in the way of imaginative description.
This game isn’t for everyone, of course. Those who are used to the bells and whistles of traditional games might find this one lacking. Those who were fans of classic games, though, might find this one to be a ton of fun. If nothing else, this is a great example of exactly how diverse the zombie genre can be. You don’t have to be a cookie-cutter shooter to be successful in the world of zombie survival.
Fallout New Vegas Zombie Mod
Fans of the Fallout universe know that Fallout has its own pseudo-zombies in the Feral Ghouls. While these creatures are certainly dangerous, they’re not exactly classic zombies. This mod adds the classic zombies into the game play of Fallout New Vegas with all the attendant tropes – including infection.
Zombies will go out into the world and infect NPCs, leading to a huge infected population in a rather limited amount of time. You’ll only have the usual tools of Fallout to deal with the Undead, which can actually make for a fairly amusing time. As you fight, you’ll be struck by the fact that time really is counting down for this world. You can’t be everywhere at once, so the plague will spread despite your efforts.
This is a great mod for an already great game. Don’t try to play through the story with this mod enabled, though – things won’t go particularly well for you when you’re trying to deal with a zombie horde. Play it on its own, and enjoy how the world breaks down.
The Walking Dead
TellTale’s The Walking Dead is a much different game than most on this list. It is primarily about the story, giving players relatively limited control.
Instead of focusing on combat, it focuses on the choices that players make. Taking place in the famous Walking Dead universe, players have to contend with a world that is falling down all around them.
This series is currently on its third iteration, and it doesn’t pull any punches. There’s horrifying gore, but the truly rough stuff is saved for how relationships fall apart. Whether you’re looking at marital relationships, the relationships between parents and children, or even the relationships between people and society, everyone ends up showing their true colors. This is a game that pulls no emotional punches and delights in putting players through the wringer.
If you’re looking for a game that will capture the dread of the dread of a zombie apocalypse, this is the game you want. It may not be quite as lively as some of the others, but it’s got the perfect atmosphere.
Of course, some of the best zombie survival games take place in the world of the imagination. Tabletop games got the jump on the world of zombies fairly early on, and there are some fantastic games out there that feature the living dead. From the classics to some of the more recent releases, these games offer the most immersive zombie survival experiences ever printed.
All Flesh Must Be Eaten
This is the original zombie RPG. While many games had featured zombies as part of the setting before, this is the first game to push them to the forefront. All Flesh Must Be Eaten features comprehensive rules not just for creating player characters, but for creating zombies. This game is all about the death and destruction that might play out if the undead were to rise.
Running fairly strongly since 1999, this is the zombie game with the most history behind it. Featuring both its own rule set and a d20 conversion, it’s fairly easy to pick up and play.
Last Night of Earth
A board game for zombie enthusiasts. Players are divided into two teams – the humans and the zombies. The human characters, called Heroes, are given a scenario objective to complete. The zombies have their own objective, but can win simply by either outlasting the Heroes or by killing them all. While there’s a lot of game play elements that make the game unique, the fact that humans are at a disadvantage really captures the feel of the apocalypse.
There are currently four expansions to this modular game. Players don’t need much skill to play, but they do need a cool head and a sense of humor.
An incredibly stylish and stylized game of horror, Unhallowed Metropolis moves the zombie apocalypse to a Victorian setting. Stripped of modern conveniences and weaponry, this makes for a very different kind of survival experience. Particularly deep when it comes to role playing, this is a game for people who have a bit of tabletop experience under their belts.
Unhallowed Metropolis goes a long way to show that a zombie apocalypse doesn’t need to necessarily take place in the present day. There’s a lot of ground yet to cover in the genre, and hopefully more games like this will find their way into the wild. It’s nice to play something that’s not a carbon copy of a Romero film.
Billing itself as a zombie survival simulator, this game takes players into a present-day outbreak. It has a fairly adaptable skill system and is suitable for players of all skill levels, but the real selling point is the ability to make one’s self in the game. This game strives for realism, so it’s very easy to adapt your real world self into an in-game persona.
The game is far from perfect, but it’s nice to see something a little more realistic than what’s generally out there. There’s no magic or super-tech here – just a player’s attempts to survive the madness of an outbreak.
Your Favorite Zombie Survival Game?
The games above continue to thrive even as the zombie craze dies down. There’s something about putting yourself into the shoes of a survivor that really speaks to players, so it’s likely that these games will be around for years to come.
Whether you want to test your mettle, brush up on your survival skills or just take a chainsaw to some undead, there are enough games in this genre to last you a lifetime.