Video games and media in general rely on quite a few well-worn tropes. One of the most well-worn of them all is zombies. Sometimes they are the product of a plague, other times they are the personal army of a necromancer. Regardless of the in-game explanation, zombies have been overused every now and then, and audiences have complained when developers try to overwhelm the market with zombie titles (which is apt since zombies generally attack with sheer numbers). But while the video game industry is overflowing with zombie titles, many still carry a spark of quality and are worth playing.
For this article, we should establish some ground rules about what counts as a zombie game. Titles such as Castlevania and Ghosts ‘n Goblins seem like shoe-ins, but zombies only make up a small portion of those titles’ enemy rosters. Even Total War Warhammer doesn’t make the cut since you can only field zombies in the Vampire Count and Vampire Coast armies (and maybe the Tomb Kings’ army if you consider mummies as desiccated zombies). We’re looking for games where zombies make up the entire enemy roster, or at least a sizable chunk. Also, for the sake of everyone’s sanity, let’s limit this article to one entry per franchise. Otherwise, most games on this list would stem from Resident Evil, and while nobody doubts the quality of many Resident Evil titles, let’s give other franchises some love.
Many popular video games began life as mods. Team Fortress 2 and DOTA 2, for instance, trace their roots back to fan-made Quake and Warcraft 3 game modes, respectively. The same holds true of one of the best and most realistic zombie titles on the market.
DayZ is a survival game first and a zombie title second. The game doesn’t have a narrative outside of “survive,” and DayZ has many trappings of survival titles. Monitor gauges such as health, hunger, and hydration? Check. Loot and craft gear so you can gather the resources for better gear? Check. Zombies? Well, that’s not exactly a hallmark of survival games, but they’re still a constant threat.
The main hook of DayZ is its challenge. Players can easily (and frequently) die to zombies and hostile players, but anyone who goes in with a team or is lucky enough to find a friendly gamer will see their odds of survival skyrocket. DayZ doesn’t hold anyone’s hand, and thus its challenge isn’t for everyone. But those who find a zen in balancing survival game meters and overcoming brutal odds will enjoy this game.
14. They are Billions
Plenty of RTS games, including Warcraft 3 and Total War: Warhammer, feature an undead faction or two. However, these armies are usually a hodgepodge of different reanimated archetypes (including ghosts, vampires, and mummies) and zombies populate the bottom cannon fodder rung of the social ladder. Currently, They Are Billions is the sole exception to that rule.
They Are Billions offers an unusual blend of zombie post-apocalypse and steampunk. In traditional RTS fashion, players take command of a semi-omnipresent being/general who controls the battlefield from a birds-eye perspective. However, instead of squaring off against rival armies, players need to build colonies and defend them from encroaching zombie hordes. And the title is no lie. Billions of zombies are out for brains in this game, and it only takes one to make a settlement collapse via a domino effect of zombie infection.
Depending on the mission, They Are Billions switches between a tactical battlefield simulator and a city management simulator. Even when the campaign is finished, the game offers numerous custom missions that are almost infinitely replayable. While the title describes the forces gamers are up against when playing, They Are Billions also accurately describes the number of entertaining hours the game can provide.
13. Death Road to Canada
Most zombie movies, shows, and games have an end goal in mind. But sometimes it’s the journey, not the destination, that counts, especially when the pit stops are all randomized.
Death Road to Canada is a virtual road trip across a version of the United States infested with zombies. As the title suggests, players try to make their way to the safety of Canada. The game blends cutesy graphics with the gorey and visceral nature of zombies, as well as the disembowelment they entrail…er, entail.
The narrative hook of Death Road to Canada is its emergent storytelling. Aside from the search for Canada’s border, the game doesn’t have any plot or plot twists aside from what players give it. Every level is randomly generated, and players decide how safely or recklessly they tackle each one. Do you risk being attacked by a horde to fill up your car’s gas? Think you have enough rations to skip a few grocery stops? These kinds of choices ensure no session plays out the same.
12. House of the Dead: Overkill
Light gun games are an arcade staple, and plenty have made their way to living rooms and home consoles. Arguably the most important and influential light gun series out there is Sega’s seminal House of the Dead. Ironically, the best entry in the franchise is a console/PC platform exclusive.
House of the Dead Overkill plays a lot like other House of the Dead games. The goal is to shoot zombies and other undead mutants as fast as you can, and that’s about it. Thanks to the game’s sizable roster of monsters, every level is fast and frantic, and, most importantly, difficult. Light gun games are designed to eat up quarters, and the difference between victory and defeat is often weighed by the size of one’s wallet. This version of the game fixes that shortcoming.
At a base level, all House of the Dead games are charming and comedic, mostly because of their voice acting. But House of the Dead Overkill sets itself apart with actual wit. The game sports a grindhouse aesthetic that more games need, and while House of the Dead Overkill isn’t the greatest zombie game out there, it is probably the funniest.
11. Days Gone
Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare demonstrates what developers can accomplish when they put zombies in an existing open-world environment, but what happens when developers build an open world around the zombies? The answer is, unfortunately, a game that is as fun as it is underappreciated.
Days Gone is an open-world playground about the adventures of motorcycle enthusiast Deacon St. John in a post-apocalyptic Oregon populated by zombies. The game’s story is all about survival, and while the main character isn’t the nicest guy around, he’s the best guy suited to keeping everyone alive.
Days Gone doesn’t have the best story, but the title shines thanks to its gameplay. Days Gone features plenty of missions with varied objectives, as well as enough survival mechanics to make players feel as though they’re actually, well, surviving a zombie apocalypse. However, Days Gone’s best feature is its zombies. Alone, they’re easy. In a group, they’re a challenge. But when you catch sight of one of the game’s signature hordes, which are figurative and literal tidal waves of hungry zombies, that’s when your blood gets pumping.
Quite frankly, Days Gone was done dirty by reviews. The game is by no means a masterpiece, but it is still a worthy member of the zombie and open-world families.
10. Dying Light
While Techland developed the original Dead Island games, Deep Silver retained the IP rights and gave Dambuster Studios (the company behind Homefront: The Revolution and Chorvs) permission to work on Dead Island 2. Undeterred, Techland decided to develop and publish its own spiritual successor (with parkour and grappling hooks)
At its core, Dying Light is a more polished version of Dead Island. Instead of exploring an island resort populated by zombies, players parkour through the fictional Middle-eastern city of Harran. The combat, mission, weapon, and movement systems are updated renditions of those found in Dead Island, and one can be forgiven for assuming the two games mostly play the same, at least until nightfall.
The dead of night is Dying Light’s ace in the hole. Whenever the sun sets, enemies become more aggressive and provide more XP, which seems like an excellent time to grind. However, the game’s most dangerous enemies, including the vicious Volatile, only appear at night, and they feverishly chase after players. What might have started as a simple resource run can quickly turn into a desperate (and fun) race for survival.
While Dying Light’s sequel, Dying Light 2, is currently available and a worthwhile experience, the original Dying Light just barely edges it out as the superior zombie game.
9. Dead Rising 2: Off the Record
Usually, zombie games and other media are dark, dour affairs where survivors have to fend off zombies and bandits almost as often as they have to fend off depression. But some noteworthy titles are lighthearted adventures that let audiences have fun and almost forget the dangers zombies pose.
Dead Rising 2: Off the Record is a non-canonical “What If?” story that mashes the best aspects of the first two Dead Rising games into one package. Instead of starring the second game’s protagonist, Chuck Greene, the game brings back the original (and far more personable) hero Frank West for yet another tour inside a zombie-infested mall. And he brings his goofy charm and camera with him.
Some consider Off the Record as a “Director’s Cut” of Dead Rising 2, which is partially accurate. The game includes all of the weapons and locations from Dead Rising 2 while also sneaking in additional weapons and bosses. Players can still combine items into wacky weapons and photograph zombies for the experience. The result is a sandbox adventure that lets players fight zombies their own way. There is just nothing out there quite like Dead Rising.
8. Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare
DLC campaigns usually either add to what was already there or use the base game as a springboard to go off on a spiraling tangent. When doing the latter, why not add zombies?
Rockstar Games’ first open-world cowboy simulator, Red Dead Redemption, was a landmark for the time and mostly received cosmetic and multiplayer DLC. The only exception was the semi-standalone campaign Undead Nightmare, which places the game’s protagonist, John Marston, in the middle of, well, an undead nightmare.
To put it bluntly, Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare is the base Red Dead Redemption with an end times makeover. Zombies constantly attack cities, settlements are in disarray, and the Four Horseman-less Horses of the Apocalypse roam the landscape (and will carry John into battle if he can tame them). While this DLC sports the same shooting mechanics as the base game, the action is dialed up several notches thanks to charging zombie hordes and zombie-themed missions.
Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare is pure B-movie fun in the best way possible. Zombies and cowboys are an underutilized combination, and it’s quite frankly gobsmacking that Rockstar didn’t produce a similar DLC for Red Dead Redemption 2.
7. Plants vs. Zombies
Usually, zombie games are aimed at older audiences, but every now and then a zombie title comes along that is fun for all ages. Arguably the best game within this niche is Plants vs. Zombies,
The original Plants vs. Zombies is an iconic tower defense game that tasks players with protecting a house and its inhabitants from brain-munching zombies. True to its name, players use weaponized plants, and each floral fortification sports a unique look and equally unique battlefield purpose. To win, gamers need to adapt to different level layouts and enemy rosters, as what might stop one brand of zombie might not bother another. While matches are hectic, they also carry shades of strategy titles.
Plants vs. Zombies is also one of the few quality zombie games out there available on mobile devices. Most mobile zombie games are just cash grabs, but not Plants vs. Zombies. Thanks to its pick-up-and-play nature, anyone can play a round or two of Plants vs. Zombies while on the bus, train, or even on the toilet. What’s not to love about a bite-sized zombie game?
6. Left 4 Dead 2
Most pieces of zombie media emphasize the concept of safety in numbers. Splitting up, no matter the reason, is usually a death sentence. However, are you better off teaming up with a bunch of friends or some strangers? Well, here’s one way to find out.
The Left 4 Dead franchise is an iconic collection (if you consider two games a “collection”) of co-op shooters that pit up to four players against countless waves of zombies. Each game features pitch-perfect worldbuilding, smooth controls, and iconic zombie designs. However, the secret to Left 4 Dead is its AI director, which monitors player progress and tailors upcoming threats and respites depending on how much they thrive or struggle.
While the original Left 4 Dead kicked off the franchise, Left 4 Dead 2 is the superior product thanks to its wider selection of levels, weapons, and special zombies. Plus, the game is still pretty popular, holding steady at over 20,000 players a month at the time of writing. Not even more recent horde shooters (such as Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide and Back 4 Blood) compare.
5. Project Zomboid
How long is too long to work on a video game? Five years? Eight years? Trick question; so long as your game is fun and addictive, no amount of time is too long.
Project Zomboid is an isometric survival game in its purest form. The player character has no motive outside of surviving the zombie apocalypse, and how one does so is entirely up to the player. Project Zomboid provides tons of character traits gamers can pick and learn to tailor their playstyle, and the game sports an unprecedented eye for detail. If a car breaks down in the game, you can’t just repair it with a general skill. You need to specialize in the individual part that’s kaput.
While survival is the end goal in Project Zomboid, the game is designed so no matter what, either due to bad luck or arrogance, the playable character will eventually die. However, death isn’t the end. Project Zomboid features a persistent world, and players can easily make a new character, possibly with different skills for a different experience, and track down their previous character’s corpse to pick up where they left off.
Since Project Zomboid has been in development for over a decade, it has more content than most games on the market, and the game is still being updated.
4. Dead Space Remake
The original Dead Space is a masterful survival horror title that has terrified audiences for over a decade. Its developers, Visceral Games, improved on the formula with Dead Space 2, but Dead Space 3 killed the franchise. Then EA killed Visceral Games. When fans heard EA was reviving Dead Space, gamers were skeptical given EA’s past actions (and because the original Dead Space team was producing their own spiritual successor). Funny how reality rarely meets our expectations.
The Dead Space Remake is a mostly faithful recreation of the original Dead Space. The game retains the atmospheric lighting, claustrophobic corridors, and immersive hud-less design that once made that title so notable. However, the Dead Space Remake doesn’t rest on its source material’s laurels. The game implements many improvements seen in the original Dead Space’s sequels, such as voice acting for the main character and proper zero-g segments that let players float around. The remake even fixes the original’s annoying turret section.
While the Dead Space Remake’s developers could have kept the original’s linear design, they opted for a more modern, explorable approach that lets players revisit old locations for new challenges. More importantly, the remake adds new story beats to the original Dead Space’s narrative that veterans won’t see coming. If EA plans on remaking the next two Dead Space games, they are on the right track.
3. Resident Evil 2 Remake
The original Resident Evil 2 is a fantastic, if dated, classic. The game improved on what came before and set the standard for the franchise and survival horror titles (at least until Resident Evil 4 stole its crown). Then Capcom remade Resident Evil 2 and transformed that game into the best entry in the series so far.
Resident Evil 2 Remake tells more or less the same story fans remember from the first game: Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield are trapped in Racoon City and have to escape a hungry horde of zombies and other viral monstrosities. There are improvements and changes to the main narrative in this remake, but it’s the various gameplay improvements that really stand out.
Resident Evil 2 Remake takes advantage of modern technology to deliver one of the scariest Resident Evil worlds to date. Every darkened hallway and trashed room is unwelcoming and home to hidden threats, all of which are rendered in disgusting detail. However, the remake’s most impressive change is Mr. X, who has been upgraded to a constant threat with all the tenacity of the Xenomorph from Alien: Isolation. You never know when Mr. X will show up, but when he does, you can only run.
2. The Walking Dead Season One
Telltale Games initially produced licensed titles, digital card games, and point-and-click adventures, and many games combined the above genres. Eventually, the company found its niche with narrative games, all thanks to a licensed adventure in one of pop culture’s most popular zombie worlds.
The Walking Dead, unsurprisingly, takes place in the world of Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore’s The Walking Dead comic series. However, instead of starring recognizable characters such as Rick Grimes and Daryl Dixon, the game follows two protagonists built for the game: Lee Everett and Clementine. These protagonists form a father/daughter relationship in the post-apocalyptic world as they try to survive zombies, bandits, and cannibals. If that sounds similar to The Last of Us…well, The Walking Dead did it first
Mechanically, The Walking Dead is simple. You just walk around the game world, interact with the environment, and participate in timed dialogue responses and QTEs to progress the game. However, the story more than makes up for this shortcoming, as the narrative is an emotional rollercoaster that begs players to come back for more, make different decisions, and see how much characters can change.
While Telltale’s The Walking Dead series has plenty of entries, the first season, which consists of five mini-episodes, is arguably the strongest.
1. The Last of Us Part 1
Different pieces of zombie media touch on various aspects of a hypothetical zombie apocalypse. Some focus on the threats zombies cause, while others emphasize how such an event would make society break down. The Last of Us focuses on the human element.
Odds are you have already heard about The Last of Us. In the game, players control the cynical and broken Joel Miller (and occasionally his ward Ellie) as they trek across a version of America that has been devastated by the Cordyceps virus and the zombie-like creatures it has spawned. Unlike most zombies, these creatures are blind, but they are still durable and deadly, and one bite is still a death sentence.
While The Last of Us is full of simple environmental puzzles, shootouts with survivors, and stealth sections, the heart of the game lies in the relationship between Joel and Ellie. As The Last of Us progresses, these two characters overcome their differences and even develop a surrogate father/daughter bond that pushes them to save one another, no matter the cost. It’s not hard to see why HBO was interested in adapting the game