Zombie games are now more popular than ever, and, as the saying goes: “you can never have too much of a good thing”. There’s something about being a stocked-up survivor trying to make it through desolate wastelands of civilisation or a gun-toting undead killer that connects with gamers; you need only look at how many new zombie games come to Steam each week to see just that.
Before we wade into the best zombie games, though, it’s important to take a look at where the subgenre of horror started, from an unassuming life on the Spectrum to the powerhouse of horror it is today.
A Quick History of Zombie Games
The history of zombie games stretches almost as far back as the industry itself. Way back in 1984, Quicksilva released what many have claimed as the very first zombie game, Zombie Zombie, it coming to the ZX Spectrum. From there, zombies in video games had a bit of a lull, not appearing again in a major way until Wolfenstein 3D’s udnead guards in 1992, and then at the center of the classic Zombies Ate My Neighbours.
And then came the big one: Resident Evil. Up until 1995, the undead had largely been portrayed in a comedic light or nothing to take too seriously. The horror classic changed that, the first encounter with its shuffling enemies being one of the most unforgettable scenes in gaming history. Seven mainline installments and a couple of quality remakes later and Resident Evil has gone down as quite possibly the most important and beloved horror franchise in history.
One year after the launch of the original Resident Evil, House of the Dead, an arcade shooter, was launched, becoming one of the most successful arcade cabinets in history, spawning plenty of sequels alongside some terrible movies. The next big zombie IP came during the Xbox 360 era with the release of Dead Rising in 2006, it partly inspired by Dawn of the Dead and boasting a slapstick appeal.
From there came Left 4 Dead, a beloved co-op shooter that can’t count to three, as well as the likes of The Last of Us, Telltale’s The Walking Dead, and many, many more. The rise of zombies at the movies also seemed to herald their surge in popularity on home consoles, leading to it being perhaps the most regularly used form of horror today.
The Best Zombie Games
Much like their movie counterparts, there is an awful lot of bilge to wade through until you find some walking cadaver fare worth investing your time into. For every Left 4 Dead, there’s an innumerable amount of wannabes, such as The Grinder and Revelations 2012 – the best thing about the latter is that it actually came out in 2012. There’s nothing else there.
So when the best zombie games come around once in a blue moon, they’re worth treasuring. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the titles that will make you want to say hello to your aunt Alicia.
Before we start, here are the rules for our list:
– No modes within games that aren’t primarily about zombies. Sorry, Call of Duty. – Only one entry per franchise. – The list is in no particular order.
1. Lollipop Chainsaw
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture Publisher: WB Games Platform(s): PS3, 360
Brasher than a group of drunken cockneys with a loudspeaker, Lollipop Chainsaw makes no apologies for what it is: a self-aware, almost demented hack and slash game from the minds of Suda51 and celebrated filmmaker James Gunn. If that doesn’t instantly hook you, I don’t know what will.
Lollipop Chainsaw follows Juliet, a San Romero (ha) High School cheerleader who must fight through waves of zombies. She’s joined by her boyfriend, or what’s left of him. Left as just a head after the zombie outbreak, Nick can be used as a weapon to fend off the hordes. Definitely a case of style over substance, Lollipop Chainsaw is a straightforward adventure that is sure to raise a wry smile.
Developer: Tequila Works Publisher: Deep Silver Platform(s): PC, 360, XB1, PS4
If you want a quick explanation of what Deadlight is like, imagine This War of Mine but with zombies. A side-scrolling survival game, it shares plenty of style choices with 11 bit studios’ emotionally draining gem and is just as exhausting to play. The zombies and violent survivors keep coming at our hero, Randall, and death is never too far away, so you have to make use of everything you come across in eighties Seattle during a zombie apocalypse.
The driving force of Deadlight is its story, which sees Randall on a desperate journey to make it to a safe zone where (he hopes) his family are. Some of the most memorable zombie games aren’t so beloved just because of the viscera flying around the screen and Deadlight is a fine example of that. It has a strong, relatable core that you need to experience if you haven’t yet. It’s available for relative pennies.
3. How to Survive 2
Developer: 505 Games Publisher: 505 Games Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1
A flawed game, How to Survive 2’s many foibles aren’t enough to stop it from being one of the best of its kind. You’re going to find out if it’s for you within the first fifteen minutes, but if you can stick with it and see past the missteps, you’re in for a treat. It’s even better with friends.
Taking you from the remote island found in the original to the streets of Louisiana, you must, well, survive. A top-down adventurer, How to Survive feels hugely unfair at times, thanks to the almost crippling amount of micro-managing you have to take part in; drinking and eating are almost as important as fending off the dead. But then again, wouldn’t the end of world itself take a bit of getting used to?
4. Stubbs the Zombie
Developer: Wideload Games Publisher: Aspyr Platform(s): PC, Xbox, 360
Hands up if you remember this one. Released on the original Xbox but criminally overlooked, Stubbs the Zombie was one of many, many new IPs that never quite found a home on Microsoft’s gigantic black box. It’s a shame, too – Stubbs is one of the most likable protagonists around, even if he does eat brains and only talks about them.
Killed in 1933, Stubbs finds himself brought back to life in the fifties and must feast on human brains to get by. This sets up a wonderful Destroy All Humans-esque game that has you wandering around suburbs and towns on the hunt for your next victim, which might not work as well if it wasn’t for the humour. Stubbs the Zombie is worth seeking out if you didn’t get a chance over ten years ago, but you might have some trouble tracking it down – it isn’t available digitally anywhere.
This was never going to live up to the hype, especially as it has arguably the best ever video game trailer. The tone of Dead Island seemed completely different to the one found in its unforgettable and haunting trailer, but the goofier style of the finished product won over plenty of fans nonetheless.
Buggier on launch than ants driving dune buggies through a cinema screening of A Bug’s Life, Dead Island’s interesting world and varied enemies managed to see it through. An open-world first-person game, Dead Island proved to be more of a prototype for a superior game from Techland down the line, but if you want to bash in some undead skulls and collect a lot (a lot) of stuff, you can’t go wrong. It’s available on current-gen consoles along with a standalone expansion, Riptide.
Developer: Ubisoft Publisher: Ubisoft Platform(s): Wii U, PC, PS4, XB1
Doomed from the moment it landed on the Wii U, Zombi U found a second life on PS4, Xbox One, and PC in 2015 while sacrificing its more intuitive gameplay mechanics. Whichever version you play, however, expect to experience one of the most underrated and understated horror games of the last decade.
Set in a London plagued by the undead, you must play through a series of linear missions and try to find a light at the end of the tunnel of, you know, the end of the world. It could have done a lot more with its setting and may have missed a few opportunities to set itself apart from its peers, but Zombi’s unique survivor rotation and intriguing plot will hit the spot if you have love for the zombie subgenre.
7. No More Room In Hell
Developer: No More Room in Hell Team Publisher: Lever Games Platform: PC
Here’s a Left 4 Dead “clone” that deserves more love. Rather than imitating Valve’s iconic team shooter, No More Room In Hell slows the tempo right down and somehow manages to ratchet up the tension at the same time. If Left 4 Dead is the Dawn of the Dead remake, No More Room In Hell is the original: rough around the edges but endlessly charming.
Time hasn’t been kind to Matt “Max” Kazan’s Source engine mod that became entirely its own thing, but it’s still a lot of fun with friends. Ammo is scarce, so expect to be squabbling with your teammates as the undead hordes close in.
A sequel is in the works and looks quite lovely, upgrading the experience to Unreal Engine 4. Watch out for it over the next couple of years. Have to say that they missed out on an opportunity to call it No More Room In Hell 2 Dead 2 Furious: Electric Boogaloo, though.
8. Fortnite: Save the World
Developer: Epic Games Publisher: Epic Games Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1
File this squarely under “silly fun”, Fortnite’s protracted development meant that its unique premise (initially) didn’t get as many people interested as it should. Over the course of years and years, Fornite grew and grew before eventually being released in 2017 into Early Access. While it may not necessarily have been worth the wait, its mix of Minecraft and Left 4 Dead meant it was still fun.
Most people likely know Fortnite from its PVP spin-off battle royale mode, but there’s plenty to like about its PVE move as well, Save The World. It has a far bigger emphasis on building than the BR mode, so if you find yourself building leviathan structures more than you do shooting enemies, you may as well try out what else Fortnite has to offer instead. Plus, the zombies are kind of weirdly adorable.
Remember the guys behind Dead Island? They returned in 2015 with another zombie adventure that was superior in almost every way and surely one of the most underrated games of this generation. There’s something so primally satisfying about leaping from rooftops and kicking zombies in the face, you know?
If you want the full package, you have to go for Dying Light: The Following – Enhanced Edition. It adds all the DLC and an entirely new map in which you can drive around in a dune buggy and mow down the undead at your leisure. Mix that with cohesive parkour and collectathons that feel important to your progress and Dying Light absolutely delivers one of the better zombie experiences out there.
So good that people were impatiently waiting for its remake for years, Resident Evil 2 didn’t so much tell gamers that the franchise was worth paying attention to as it did thrust it in their faces with some of the most terrifying, atmospheric gameplay available on the fifth generation of video game consoles.
Taking the foundations set by its predecessor and running with them, Resident Evil 2 took players out of the claustrophobic Spencer Mansion and into the open of Raccoon City. It somehow didn’t lose any of the tension in the process, either – Raccoon City was just as alive as it was undead. If you’re going to dip back into this one, you might want to take your nostalgia glasses off. It hasn’t aged tremendously well, but for what it did for the survival horror subgenre, it’s absolutely worth trying at least once.