A whistle-stop tour of the 10 best zombie games of all time.
10. Dead Island
Set on the fictional island of Banoi during the onset of the zombie outbreak, you play as one of four immune protagonists trying to get off the island alive with a group of survivors. The beautiful tropical locales, sandy beaches and luxurious water villas make a nice change from the usual mansion/shopping mall/police station settings, too.
Dead Island isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination and it only just scrapes onto our list of the 10 best zombie games as a result; playing it on your own is quite frankly a tedious assortment of fetch quests, weapon-crafting and melee-grinding the same three types of enemy over and over and…
Add some friends though, and it turns into an absolute riot.
9. Dead Rising
Dead Rising took an interesting approach to the zombie experience. The idea of a sandbox-type experience might seem commonplace now, but Capcom reinvented their own wheel when they strayed from the story-driven approach of the Resident Evil series. You play as Frank West, a photojournalist who finds himself trapped in a shopping mall during the outbreak, and other than that? It’s really up to the you how the game goes down.
You have 72 hours to rescue survivors, attempt to discover the cause of the outbreak, and generally try to stay alive – you could even hide in a cupboard for the entire duration – which for all our bravado is how most of us would actually handle a real life zombie apocalypse…
The Wii U’s controller is a little awkward and ungainly. It’s slightly too big and heavy in your hand, and while the second-screen for two player/remote play/freeing up the TV was universally accepted as a neat touch, we were all scratching our heads a little as to the real value of it.
Then launch day happened, and we got our hands on ZombiU.
There are lots of nice second-screen experiences on the 3DS, and the upcoming Fallout 4 PipBoy app looks like an epic idea, but Ubisoft really nailed it with ZombiU. Being able to access your full inventory and mapping without interrupting the game is one of the reasons ZombiU is so immersive, and we fear it may lose some of that with the upcoming port to other systems.
7. Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare
Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare may seem like something of an odd inclusion in this best zombie games list, because it is not in itself a zombie game – it’s in fact a zombie DLC add-on for a classic Western – but it is just so good that it couldn’t be overlooked. It takes an already great game mechanic, ostensibly GTA in the Wild West, then takes everything you know and are familiar and throws it on its head, with the onset of a zombie apocalypse.
It’s great to see the zombie thing done out of the usual modern setting and it really accentuates the dissonance, that feeling of “What the hell is happening?” that we should all be feeling, but are alarmingly used to with the over-used zombie apocalypse trope. Plus at seven-and-a-half hours, it’s longer than a lot of AAA games in its own right.
6. Dying Light
Game development is an iterative process. Sometimes you need to take a stab at something, learn from your mistakes, then come back and do it better than before, and that’s exactly what happened with Techland and Dying Light.
Dying Light – the spiritual successor to Dead Island – takes all the best bits of its predecessor and concentrates them into a highly focused experience. You like building crazy melee weapons out of found junk? Go nuts! You like running around the island, but wish it was a bit more fluid? Have a Mirror’s Edge-esque Parkour system! You want a bit more tension? Let’s make the zombies even more deadly at night!
You like playing with three mates? Well, er, we’ll leave that exactly the same, because it’s freaking awesome.
5. Resident Evil 5
Resident Evil 4 was responsible for the biggest shift in the Resi series – the change from the fixed camera angle viewpoints and its associated tank-like controls, to an over-the-shoulder third-person affair that significantly improved combat – and also received better review scores and critical reception than Resident Evil 5. So, why is Resident Evil 5 in our best zombie games list?
Because it’s the first game in the series that has allowed two-player co-operative gameplay, something that is now becoming a staple in the series going forward. Resident Evil 4 might be the better game, but the fifth installment allows you to play with a friend and if you’ve been keeping up, you’ll know we’re pretty keen on that in our zombie games.
4. Left 4 Dead 2
Take all of the things we said about Dead Island, Resident Evil 5, and Dying Light and look for the common theme. They’ve got different settings, different stories and very different play styles, but they all have one thing in common – you get to experience it with others. The same is true of Left 4 Dead 2 and it’s predecessor: Valve built a great first-person shooter, then made it brilliant by making it co-operative. Just don’t ask about Left 4 Dead 3.
If the zombie apocalypse were to happen (and that’s a big ‘if’ – I’m not a crazy person, prepping my basement with canned goods and crossbows) then the chances are, we’re all toast. But if you want to survive a bit longer then doing it as part of a group should theoretically improve your chances, although the history of human co-operation in the wake of a zombie apocalypse through the world of TV and film isn’t entirely awash with success stories…
3. Zombies Ate My Neighbours
When I was thinking back through the great zombie video games of yesteryear, I was torn. It would’ve been so easy to include House of the Dead in this best zombie games list – the co-op rails shooter that we’ve all no doubt dumped hundreds of coins into in bowling alleys, bars and arcades over the years – but ultimately, the rails shooter is basically just an FPS without the movement, and we have plenty of those in this list already.
Zombies Ate My Neighbours, though? That’s something different, and a bit special. Released in 1993 on the SNES and SEGA Genesis, Zombies Ate My Neighbours was a super-hard, fast-paced, top-down action title that saw teens Zeke and Julie running around their neighbourhood, icing zombies and rescuing their blissfully unaware neighbours. It also included Ferris Bueller-esque hedge hopping on trampolines, which is clearly awesome.
Oh, and did we mention it’s also two-player?
2. The Walking Dead: A Telltale Games Series
We couldn’t decide which of the The Walking Dead: A Telltale Games Series titles to include in this list, so we’re considering them collectively, as one narrative experience. Because that’s the best way to play them.
Yes, the episodic thing is popular at the moment, but one of the greatest pleasures in life is binge-watching a TV series that has already finished its run. You know there’s never going to be any waiting. You know there’s never going to be an unresolved cliffhanger. Hell, Netflix has built a whole business on it.
So while I’m sure The Walking Dead games were great in episodic format, but blasting through them in a few days? That’s the best way to experience the cleverly-paced emotional rollercoaster of cause and effect.
1. Resident Evil 2
This is the daddy. What could have been a difficult second album for Capcom simply came along and blasted the original out of the water in every single department. Stronger narrative, smarter setting, dramatically improved graphics, better sound – the only things it didn’t fix was the tank-like controls and the stupid door/stairs animations – but if you already accept those niggles as a set-in-stone limitation of the early series, then Resident Evil 2 is as close to perfect as you’re going to get.
Set in Raccoon City two months after the initial outbreak, the world is very different. Gone are the labyrinthine corridors of the mansion, so far removed from the real world, and in their place is a city devastated by the T-virus, crawling with the remnants of its former citizens. The plight of its protagonists, rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy and college student Claire Redfield, has also etched them in our collective memory as series favourites.
The original Resident Evil has seen a HD remake in recent years, and – fingers crossed – Capcom might be considering a remake of the far superior Resident Evil 2.
Honourable mention: Silent Hill
While not strictly a zombie game – although it did feature a few enemies that resembled zombies – Silent Hill deserves a mention on our list because it re-defined what we’ve come to expect from the horror video game. Sure, it has some jump scares and some high-action moments, but that’s not what Silent Hill was really about.
In Silent Hill Kojima managed to create a fraught, psychological horror experience, that built up the tension using the spaces in between what other horror games chose to focus on.
Not only that, but it brought with it design tricks that Capcom must have been kicking themselves over: The static from the radio warning of monsters nearby; the rumbling heart rate of the controller when Harry was injured; the use of fog to mask the poor draw-distance as an intentional effect; and those ambient sounds that still haunt my dreams…
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