In a gaming generation as long and influential as this last one, it’s hard to boil things down to just a series of buzzwords and hope to possibly encapsulate even a minuscule portion of it. That being said, bring up the the word “zombie” to a dedicated gamer of this gen, and you can sit back and just wait for the conversations and memories to start pouring in.
While video games weren’t the sole contributing factor to the zombie craze that took over the pop culture world, the sheer amount of zombie games that resulted from it certainly fueled the fad and helped propel it to levels of mainstream notoriety uncommon for such a topic. While many of the early zombie games were made to capitalize off of the growing popularity of the genre, as the years wore on some of the best experiences to be found in all of gaming were zombie based.
There’s just something about the idea that brought out the creative best of game designers everywhere, and as a result the prospect of trying to determine the best the zombie genre had to offer is daunting. As always, a number of high quality titles had to be cut to make this list, but that aside here are the best zombie games of this generation.
10. Killing Floor
Originally starting out as an ambitious “Unreal Tournament 2004” mod, by the time that “Killing Floor” got a retail release, many of the things that initially distinguished it would be copied (and admittedly improved upon) by other games.
However, there are still quite a few things this game does well that the flood of zombie games that followed couldn’t quite replicate, including an extremely well developed character and class based enhancement system. Even stripped of those unique elements though, “Killing Floor” is so mechanically sound and viscerally satisfying, that its place among the best zombie games of this generation is unquestioned based on no other merit than how purely enjoyable it is.
9. I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1
For sanity’s sake, I’ll just be referring to this one as “GAM3.”
Like a few other titles on this list “GAM3” just embraces the kill em’ all element of the zombie genre. Unlike other games, however, it has a freaking sweet theme song named after the title of the game that quite honestly makes all of the difference. “GAM3” very much feels like a throwback to any number of top-down action PC games of old and, much like those old games, has the ability to suck away hours and hours of playtime off of 15 minute or less play sessions. It’s provides the kind of simple pleasure instant gratification game that needs to exist somewhere in the zombie genre, and is clearly having the time of its life doing it.
There’s a number of great indie games that fall under the “artistically beautiful” label, but I never thought that a zombie game would fit into that style. While “Deadlight” can at times feel like a greatest hits collection of the major indie games that preceded it, the end result is one of the most cinematic zombie games ever made.
The biggest draw of “Deadlight” is its silhouette art style, which not only initially turn heads its direction, but proves to have long term appeal as well once you realize just how the art style lends to a journey which feels epic and effortless in equal measure. Deadlight will only last you around five hours, but much like “Portal,” its value isn’t so much in the quantity of the experience, but rather in how it achieves everything it sets out to do in that time.
7. Dead Rising
One of the first games that really felt next-gen to many people, “Dead Rising” really kicked off the boom period of the zombie genre in gaming, and is really one of the first games to let us live out our zombie fantasies in a way that adheres to all their fallacies.
What I mean is, rather than burden you down with things like survival and morality, “Dead Rising” just throws you into a mass of zombies and lets you mow them down with ease using a variety of weapons, just like we always envision when picturing ourselves as a participant at the end of the world. It may be full of design flaws, but still provides one of the most purely enjoyable zombie game experiences out there.
6. Call of Duty Zombies
It may be popular to mock the “Call of Duty” franchise due to the insane levels of mainstream success it has achieved, but regardless of your views towards the series, you’ve still likely played and enjoyed the game’s zombie mode that started in “World at War.”
That’s because while the rest of the franchise may be getting more and more bogged down by its same old, same old releases and presumed grandeur, there is a humble pleasure in the zombie mode’s series of last stand levels that is immediately appealing regardless of your feelings towards the series. With the inaugural nazi zombie mode, “Call of Duty” may have found its gameplay calling, and is still worth purchasing the games for to this day.
5. Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare
There’s two kinds of DLC’s in this world. Those that feel like cheap money grabs, and those that actually provide a worthy follow up experience using the original game as a foundation. “Undead Nightmare” is possibly the greatest example of the later, and is also just pure heaven for fans of the Western and zombie genres.
Right from the game’s B Movie opening, it’s clear that Rockstar set out to have fun with the idea of a zombie western, and in that pursuit were simply triumphant. There’s always been elements of westerns in the average zombie film, so the way “Undead Nightmare” stylistically fully embraces the concept remains exciting through the entire playthrough, while the already near perfect mechanics of “Red Dead” carry the bulk of the game well. The concept is a stroke of brilliance, but it’s the execution of that idea that makes this so worthwhile.
4. State of Decay
When I first played “State of Decay,” I was expecting a dumbed down “Day Z.” While that holds true in a number of respects, it’s also a dangerous mentality to bring when looking at the game, as it makes it easy to miss so many of the things “Decay” does well.
“State of Decay” gives you a sandbox zombie environment and incorporates a number of strategy and survival elements that serve to enhance and prolong the more simple joy that comes with taking down zombie hordes. In order to fit everything in, many of those more advanced elements are watered down to a fundamental level, which could have been an issue, but it actually serves to enhance the overall flow of the game, as you are never overly burdened by them. The result is a game that makes a considerable effort toward incorporating all the things we associate with the typical zombie apocalypse, but in a way that never wears out its welcome, or deprives us of the essential fun factor.
3. The Walking Dead
Telltale as a company tends to be pretty hit or miss with many of their releases. It’s a track record that led to many being, rightfully, suspicious when they announced they would be adapting the beloved “Walking Dead” franchise into an episodic adventure series.
Thankfully “The Walking Dead” would not only find its way among the studios hits, but is by far their magnum opus. Unlike the show which, though quite good, can often get bogged down by set-piece moments and action scenes, “The Walking Dead” game wisely focused on the human interaction element, and the difficult choices and consequences that human element can often lead to. This puts it more in line with the spirit and plot of the comics, and is one of the greatest examples of storytelling in gaming. Aiming for, and achieving, so much more than we usually expect from a typical zombie game, “The Walking Dead” is an unrivaled emotional experience that just happens to take place in the zombie apocalypse.
The premise (combine the most tactically advance shooter on the market with the zombie genre) of “DayZ” basically guaranteed that it would never catch on with the mass gaming crowd. However. for those that are willing to invest hours and hours dying over and over, while they learn the considerable amount of lessons the game has to offer, this is perhaps the definitive realization of the zombie apocalypse, and all the gritty details that goes with it.
It’s a world where finding a can of beans is the highlight of your day, and the humans left alive are often more dangerous than any zombie. By moving the focus from shooting every zombie on Earth to just surviving and staying smart, “DayZ” stands alone amongst the shambling hordes of similar games, as something that can only be described as an apocalypse simulator. It’s not often that you get a truly unique gaming experience, especially in a pretty over-saturated genre, but “DayZ” is just that, and one of the best mods ever made to boot.
1. Left 4 Dead
“Left 4 Dead’s” place as the definitive zombie video game of all time is not only extremely difficult to argue against, but in some ways is a claim that detracts from the overall significance of its role in this generation.
Yes, the way it places you and three friends right in the thick of the zombie outbreak is the definitive digital representation of nearly everything we’ve wanted in a multiplayer zombie shooter prior to its release, but it pales in comparison to the numerous innovations it has made in the co-op shooter genre that are still being borrowed without shame to this day. There are more games than can be reasonably listed here that borrow from “Left 4 Dead” that are by and large worthy in their own right, but at the same time must bow to the master, and recognize this series as the king of the zombie genre and one of the best, and most influential multiplayer games ever made.
Posted in: Reviews
Tags: all time zombie games, best zombie games, Call of Duty Zombies, DayZ, Dead Rising, Deadlight, greatest zombie games, I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1, left 4 dead, Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, State of Decay, The Walking Dead, Zombie games, zombie games this generation, zombie gaming