Since the main thrust of each level is rescuing civilians rather than defeating enemies, it also requires a lot more thought to finish than your average arcade style game, a design innovation that adds a great deal to the challenge and replayability. The State of Decay series, introduced as an Xbox Live Arcade game in 2013, trades in the genre's typical fast-paced brain-bashing for a slower paced focus on survival and community building.
The 2018 sequel built on this zombie -sandbox premise, expanding and adding four-player co-op while maintaining the tenseness that accompanies the threat of permanent. You only have a few action points a day to issue commands, after which you have to simply wait to move again, and the tension of anticipating another turn becomes almost unbearable as you start to consider all the awful things that might be happening while you’re asleep.
Nazis have long been identified with occultism, (both in reality and popular fiction) and Trey arch’s decision to go all-in on the campy grind house aesthetic changed the face of multiplayer shooters. Zombies helped lighten the mood in a series that was increasingly mired in its own self-importance, reminding players, critics, and creators that it is all a game.
Following the success of its Resident Evil series, Cap com introduced a new, lighthearted take on the zombie genre with Dead Rising. From clothing stores to hair salons, toy stores to food courts, each of Dead Rising's locations presents players with a memorable variety of deadly everyday items. The series built on this in future iterations by adding the ability to craft combo weapons, which ranged from explosive sledgehammers to sentry kittens.
Everything from Fortnite to Rust owes Day a tremendous debt for its willingness to throw unarmed players into a hostile land with of their fellow humans and see what happens next. It’s an RPG about being immortal, crammed with more undead than you can shake a severed limb at, including zombies assigned to alternately sad and hilarious purposes.
The necrotic atmosphere permeates every moment in the game: you start the story laying on a slab, your best friend is a disembodied skull, and there are so many dead things running around that there’s a special ability dedicated just to talking with them. The original Plants vs. Zombies blended solid, approachable tower defense gameplay with whimsical charm, leading to its mass appeal; it became a hit among both the hardcore and casual audiences, on PC, consoles, and mobile alike.
Its addictive, wave-based loop spawned a number of official follow-ups and countless other imitators, making this family friendly take on the undead worthy of a spot on our list. From its opening, panic-inducing run-in with the villagers through its final boss and jet-ski escape, RE4 is filled with memorable scares and set pieces still discussed nearly 15 years later.
And with those control issues remedied in the 2019 remake, alongside vastly improved graphics and various other tweaks, RE2 has only gotten better with time.RE2 allowed you to experience a single terrifying night through the unique perspective of two victims, their occasionally overlapping paths both snaking toward horrific discoveries in a city torn apart by an unleashed bioweapon. It’s a tremendously moody and atmospheric game with great pacing, a growing sense of dread, nice monster design, frequent jump scares, and just enough resource scarcity to keep things tense through the end.
The writing and delivery are minimal and masterful, with the bulk of the effort spent creating flawed characters we love or loathe and then stripping them away from us one by one. The original Resident Evil doesn’t boast quite the scope of its sprawling sequel, but the tighter, almost claustrophobic design of the mansion often works to heighten the horror.
The constant threat of the fearsome double-reanimated Crimson Heads in areas you’ve previously cleared fuels a compounding sense of dread that you’re in continual zombie danger no matter how heavily armed you become. The legendary cheesy dialogue is icing on the cake. Also, if you finish the game in under three hours, you can blow up zombies with a bottomless rocket launcher.
Around the same time Trey arch was bringing Zombies into World at War, Valve was introducing us all to their own cooperative take on battling the forces of death. Left 4 Dead pitted teams of four allies against mobs of zombies ruled by an invisible enemy: the innovative AI director, a carefully constructed protocol designed to dynamically influence the game as it unfolded.
Zombie games range from survival simulation to Lovecraft co-op period pieces, and if you like, you can even take a shambling detour through tower defense and post-apocalypse parkour. We have the harrowing moral quandaries posed by The Walking Dead, the high-octane FPS action of Black Ops 3, and the traumatizing horror of Resident Evil.
Seeing as we’re still no closer to a Left 4 Dead 3 release date, a new game that rigidly follows the formula of co-op zombie slaying that the L4D series popularized will have to suffice. World War Z doesn’t offer anything revolutionary of its own to that formula, but it’s still heaps of fun when playing through its gauntlet-style campaign missions with friends, upgrading your kit over time, and watching rotting corpses explode under heavy machine gun fire.
Trapped in the famously labyrinthine Spencer Mansion, as Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, ravenous zombies and dangerous mutations lie behind every corner in Resident Evil, often obscured or blocked by inventive environmental puzzles. Fixed camera angles intensify the sensation of claustrophobia and your limited inventory keeps you feeling vulnerable.
These are the most horrifying undead shufflers the series has produced so far, with each one’s warped, bloody face telling a story of how they got infected. Alternatively, you can go for the limbs: a couple of pistol shots is enough to snap off an ankle, making them a lot less mobile and allowing you to carefully skirt around them.
If you’re looking for story then you’ll be best served by the original State of Decay, however, the sequel does an admirable job of fleshing out the systems of the first game to make for a more satisfying open-world survival experience. You will pick a protagonist from your community of survivors and take them out into the wild to find the necessary food, fuel, or drugs to keep the rest alive.
Thankfully, combat and RPG-lite progression are engaging enough to keep you going: you will start with melee-based weapons, but later you will happen upon throwable knives and machetes allowing for satisfying one-hit kills. Then Dying Light takes that cloth, stuffs it into a bottle, sets it on fire, and hurls it from a great height into a pack of undead.
For best results, ignore the more repetitive missions and take to the rooftops of Harlan, built with vertical meandering in mind. With a story penned by the legendary Chris Alone, the narrative complexity promised by Dying Light 2’s factions system is exciting.
Organ Trail tasks you with guiding a station wagon of survivors on a journey out west and like all zombie survival games your primary concerns are keeping a good stock of food, medicine, and ammo, not to mention avoiding roaming packs of flesh-eating undead. The real stars of Organ Trail are the random events encounters, which will continue to catch you off guard hours into the game with everything from zombie boss fights and gangs of raiders, to your survivors contracting diseases or receiving curious jobs from strangers.
Though cities have emptied out after waves of evacuations, humanity feels close enough to touch thanks to the messages scrawled on the walls of safe houses. There is a tendency to disarm you with humor and half an hour of respite before swiping cruelly at the characters you have come to care about in a way that only the best adventure games on PC can.
From your top-down perspective you call in rescue helicopters, direct sniper teams, and make monstrous sacrifices to achieve your goal. The game goes hard on the camp, gratuitous fun of guiltless gore, and the testicle-busting X-Ray kill cam makes sniping your foes as satisfying as mashing them with a hammer.
After all, these are not only undead abominations, but also Nazis; even the gentlest pacifist can enjoy blowing them up like a barrel of melons and watching the juices fly. You can even modify and upgrade your guns to shoot flames or spew out lightning, and create a custom skill build to mow down the zombies with brutal efficiency.
Whether you’re all about trying to rebuild society against constant waves of shufflers with your fellow survivors, or you just want to run as fast as you can away from the undead, there’s a zombie game here for you. If you’ve finished up all of these then be sure to check out our thoughts on the Dying Light: Bad Blood battle royale or read our State of Decay 2 PC review to find out why we chose the original for this list.