The Best Zombie Games of This Generation

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

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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

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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.

8. Deadlight

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

2. DayZ

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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

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“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.

The 31 Horror Games of October: Part 2

Carrying on from the first part of this series, comes the greatest horror offerings in video game history. If you can squeeze a session with any one of these gems in-between your “Friday the 13th” marathon, or your fifth viewing of “The Thing” this Halloween, you owe it to yourself.

 

19. Clive Barkers Undying - It’s incredible what some great audio design can do for a game. “Clive Barker’s Undying” has a lot going for it (including a great story and a generally unsettling atmosphere), but special props have to be given to the audio which sets the mood so well, it actually generates a bulk of the game’s scares by itself. It takes a hell of an effort for a semi-fast pace  first person shooter to cause the wide variety of scares you get with “Undying,” which is why we’re all lucky that it is a hell of an effort that we got. One of the few games that I wouldn’t mind seeing getting the HD remake treatment, “Undying” seemingly takes glee in how much it scares you.

18. Sweet Home – Until the invention of the internet  ”Sweet Home” managed to go unheard of for many in the US, as it was only released for the Famicon in Japan. However, looking back at it now, it’s hard to not admire how ahead of its time the game was. Based off of a movie of the same title being filmed roughly around the same time of the game’s development, “Sweet Home” is a traditional RPG style game that has you investigating a haunted house with a team of five characters (each with their own abilities, naturally). Made by Capcom, it’s pretty easy to see the “Resident Evil” aspects inspired by this one, right down to the slow door openings. What really makes the game memorable is how disturbing it is for an 8-bit title. There is a pretty clear reason this game wasn’t released for the NES at the time, and playing the game now (via available fan translation) is odd because you’re not expecting a game of this era to go out of its way to be so terrifying.

17. Penumbra Series – A huge cult favorite, and a bit of a cheat as this is actually three games, the “Penumbra” series is a good example of ambition exceeding limitations. Initially designed by a team of four people, the “Penumbra” series follows the journey of a man who receives a letter from his supposedly dead father that takes him to the barren, fiercely cold area of northern Greenland. What makes the games so incredible is the use of physics in just about every aspect of the game. As your main survival method is stealth, you have to be aware of your environment at all times to survive. The use of physics based puzzles and combat situations are varied and exceedingly clever, and have rarely been topped since. “Penumbra” falters in parts where combat is forced, and taken as a whole the series is up and down (the third chapter is particularly weak), but you’ll rarely find a more clever game of its type.

16. Dead Rising- The zombie genre is basically its own animal in the world of video games, but one of the highlights of the undead revolution in games is Capcom’s “Dead Rising.” Anyone who grew up watching “Dawn of the Dead” always wanted to see how they would fare against a mall full of zombies, and Capcom obliged them with this title in 2006. The highlight of the game is the variety of weapons available, as if it isn’t bolted down, it’s probably a weapon. Obviously trips to the hardware store or gun shop are a given, but it’s the more absurd items like giant gumball machines and bowling balls that highlight this playground of destruction. I’m also a fan of the game’s photography system which rewards you for well timed zombie shots, and the game’s creative achievements which are some of the best on the 360. If it weren’t for a truly bad save system and some control issues, I’d have “Dead Rising” far higher.

15. The 7th Guest – The game that moved more than 2 million copies and helped to popularize the CD-ROM as a gaming device, the “The 7th Guest” is a classic haunted house horror story that is as important as it is entertaining. A truly bizarre tale involving an eccentric toy maker with haunting visions of dolls, and a mansion where 6 guests are invited under uncertain circumstances, the “The 7th Guest” is a an adventure title in the style of “Myst”. Much like that game, the “The 7th Guest” is filled with mind bending (but rewarding) puzzles that help drive one of the stronger horror narratives in gaming. The somewhat corny acting and graphics are more charming than annoying as you can really appreciate it in a nostalgic type way, and, more importantly, the sense of achievement is still very much alive. If there was a gaming history school, like a film history school, the “7th Guest” would definitely be on the curriculum.

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