Zombies have been a staple of video games for decades now, almost becoming an annoying cliche. If you need an easy monster, throw in a few shambling undead bullet sponges and call it a day. But while zombies can be a dull addition to a game in the wrong hands, in the right ones, they can be terrifying, funny, fascinating, or intelligent, creating harrowing stories or leading to brilliant game mechanics.
We've compiled a list of zombie games that are next-level--titles that use the monsters to create intense tension, or look at the idea of a zombie apocalypse in new and interesting ways. From real-time strategy titles to horror shooters, these are the itchy, tasty zombie games that you should absolutely check out.
For years now, Call of Duty games have packed in a "Zombies" mode, and that mode and its various iterations have turned out to be fun, fascinating additions to the Call of Duty repertoire. While the Zombies mode of Black Ops - Cold War is the latest, each has offered its own unique spin on the inventive mode. It requires players to fend off waves of increasingly tough zombies, earning money from their kills to buy better weapons. But that's only the surface level--your actual goal is to accumulate cash to spend removing barriers that expose more and more of each Zombies map, where you fight to solve puzzles and figure out how to advance further. The entire mode is predicated on figuring things out through repetition and exploration, with no waypoints and few hints to tell you what to do. Add to that Zombies' penchant for bringing in famous actors and big names in horror and Hollywood--like Night of the Living Dead director George A. Romero--and you've got something that's wholly different from every other zombie game out there.
Read our Call of Duty: Black Ops - Cold War review.
Beginning its life as a mod, DayZ really tapped into the "survival" side of survival-horror. The game drops you on an island overrun with zombies, tasking you with finding everything you need to survive when you get there. While the computer-controlled undead are a major problem, your real worry is the fact that you might run into other player-controlled survivors. They might choose to help you, or they might try to kill you and take everything you've got. Never knowing what you might face is part of DayZ's appeal, and it left such a strong impression that it helped give rise to the survival genre of games, and later, battle royales.
The Dead Rising games take the opposite approach to titles like The Last of Us, Resident Evil 2, and The Walking Dead. These titles put you in places overrun by zombies, but the atmosphere is a little campier and there are quite a few more ridiculous costumes at play. Navigating through the hordes is less about terror and more about creatively overcoming a big, mindless obstacle--and you get some ludicrously fun ways to do that. Dead Rising 2 lets you craft ridiculous weapons to shred, cook, electrocute, explode, and otherwise dismantle zombies, while also offering a big world with lots of other characters to find and rescue. It's a funny, overwrought take on the end of the world, and if you like killing zombies in ridiculous ways, this one's for you.
Read our Dead Rising 2 review.
In video games, it seems that there are quite a few places overrun by zombies. Dying Light drops you onto an island swarming with the undead and tasks you with making your way through its open world by running and parkouring across its half-destroyed buildings and deserted vehicles. There are all sorts of missions to complete as you run around the game's island, working with different factions and trying to save survivors and procuring weapons to help you stay alive. But the best part of the game is undoubtedly its movement system, and the terror you face as night falls and the really frightening monsters come out.
Read our Dying Light review.
The Last of Us is about a world overrun by "infected," and while they're not actually zombies--the mindless humans have fungus growing in their brains and that's what turns them into killing machines--the game is basically set in a zombie apocalypse. What makes The Last of Us work is its well-drawn characters and the realism and intensity it brings to its setting and premise. It's hard to separate the two games in the series, since their narrative and mechanics are so essentially intertwined. In both The Last of Us games, developer Naughty Dog has created a story that feels populated by real human beings stuck in an impossible situation. Both games are incredibly emotional and often raw, while also putting you into frightening, violent fights for your life.
Read our The Last of Us and The Last of Us Part 2 reviews.
When you think of quintessential zombie game experiences, it's impossible not to come up with the Left 4 Dead series. Developer Turtle Rock Studios used a zombie apocalypse to define a whole subset of multiplayer games, placing you both in the role of a group of survivors fighting their way through the horde, and in that of some vicious special zombie creatures that can ravage those poor humans. The essential part of Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 is teamwork, whether you're the human crew blasting your way through hordes of infected enemies, or you're the monsters themselves, trying to lure the humans away from one another to pick them off. The zombie apocalypse is a perfect setting for a cooperative game, and Left 4 Dead created some phenomenal gaming moments by leveraging it.
Read our Left 4 Dead review and our Left 4 Dead 2 review.
Zombies make for solid opponents in the tower defense genre. Their insatiable hunger and one-track minds make them great cannon fodder, and Plants vs. Zombies allowed players to use a variety of fun, goofy plants as weapons to fend off brain-munching foes. With Garden Warfare 2, developer Popcap mixes tower defense with a third-person class-based shooter, allowing you to take on the roles of a bunch of different plants and zombies in a huge battle for the neighborhood. There's a whole lot of content here, with lots of multiplayer shooter options, giving a whole other spin to the idea of fighting zombies--and that of having a green thumb.
Read our Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 review.
With Project Zomboid, the zombie apocalypse gets a sandbox survival approach. You're a survivor of the zombie apocalypse, as usual, but here the work of staying alive requires a whole lot more effort. You not only have to deal with hordes of the undead, you also have to construct buildings and defenses to protect yourself, craft items so you can make food, and stave off other problems, like depression or infections. Project Zomboid brings a whole lot of additional depth to the usual tasks of scoring headshots on zombies, and while it's still not a "complete" game, it's constantly being updated with new features as it goes through the development process.
In no small part, the popularity and straight-up terrifying nature of the Resident Evil games is responsible for the zombie trend that has lasted for more than two decades. Several of the games in the franchise capture the best and most frightening parts of the horror subgenre and are worthy of your attention--including Resident Evil Remake and Resident Evil 3--and others aren't quite "zombie" games but are still excellent riffs on the genre. But the remake of Resident Evil 2 might just stand above the rest. It puts you in the midst of a city tearing itself apart as it's ravaged by a horde of zombies, and while there are plenty of other creatures vying to scare the hell out of you, there's nothing quite like the realization that the entirety of Raccoon City is shuffling toward you, arms outstretched and hungry.
Read our Resident Evil 2 review.
The bigger the world, the more frightening the zombie apocalypse that annihilates it, which is what makes State of Decay work. It puts you in a huge open world that's filled with zombies, in which you have to think seriously about risk and reward if you want to survive. Fighting the horde is never advisable, so what's the best path to your next objective? How can you avoid the undead to keep yourself safe? You can address your problems in different ways, especially as you meet more characters and add them to your group of survivors--and control them as you see fit. Each character has their own stats and capabilities, requiring you to harden them through combat and allowing you to use them to their strengths to help your entire group survive. Having access to lots of characters fighting for survival gives State of Decay a different strategic spin on surviving the undead.
Read our State of Decay review.
Lots of games let you fight zombies, but few let you be one. Stubbs the Zombie was the imaginative tale of one such member of the undead just trying to get by in a society that hates him. In order to keep from being killed, uh...more, you have to use Stubbs' various powers to snack on the living and create your own zombie horde, while fighting off police and the military and slowly taking over a 1950s town on a quest for revenge. Stubbs is a goofy game with a lot of fun ideas and some interesting spins on the comedic elements of the zombie genre, and does a great job of making you feel like patient zero, creating your very own zombie apocalypse.
Read our Stubbs The Zombie review.
Before The Walking Dead had quite become a full-on television phenomenon, there was Telltale's take on the iconic comics. Another story of the zombie apocalypse as it unfolded all over the country, the point-and-click, narrative heavy adventure game followed Lee, a former convict, as he worked to care for and protect Clementine, a young girl who'd lost her parents. The bond created between Lee and Clementine, as well as the often terrible choices the game would put to players as they fought to stay alive at the end of the world, turned The Walking Dead into a classic, and one that works to make the zombie apocalypse something frightening to play through.
Read our Telltale's The Walking Dead review.
Zombies are useful to a lot of genres of video games. In They Are Billions, zombies are the antagonists of a real-time strategy game in which you're tasked with protecting the colonies of the last surviving humans. As the title suggests, however, the zombie hordes are enormous and overwhelming. You've got steampunk technology at your disposal, though, allowing you to fight back the enemy with some unconventional approaches. And while They Are Billions is a real-time strategy game and thus requires you to act on the fly to use tactics to stop the zombie advance, it also allows you to pause so you can think about your actions before you commit to something that might get you and your colonists turned.
While it originally showcased the Wii-U in some cool ways, Zombi (or ZombiU as it was previously titled) eventually made it out to other platforms, where it revealed that it wasn't just the Wii-U's singular controller that made the game cool. The first-person title sends you into a zombie-infested London where you fight to survive, but each time you die, the character you were controlling is lost for good--along with all their stuff. While all the progress you previously made remains, you'll have to find your past character's corpses to recover your old gear--and you might have to fight them as a zombie as well.
Read our Zombi review.
Way back in 1993, Zombies Ate My Neighbors pitted players against all sorts of brain-crunching undead as they worked to save their suburban neighborhood. What makes the top-down action-adventure game is its sprawling levels that are all themed after classic horror movies like Night of the Living Dead, Them!, Tremors, Dracula, and a whole bunch more. With some inventive kid-themed weapons, fun level design, and a whole lot of movie Easter eggs and callbacks, Zombies Ate My Neighbors became a classic for anybody who loves old horror and sci-fi movies. It recently received an update to bring it to modern consoles, so you can enjoy the old-school shooter on just about any machine.
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Reviewed and Recommended by Erik Baquero
The Best Zombie Games Of All Time - GameSpot