Are you ready for the zombie apocalypse? One group of people definitely is. Gamers.
If there’s one subculture that has spent more time training for the rise of the undead, it’s joystick twitchers. The zombie apocalypse is the go-to storyline for an astonishing number of the mainstream games we know and love. Doom? Space marine satanically possessed zombies. Half-Life? Crab headed ex-scientist zombies. Monkey Island 2? Zombie pirates.
Pirates, who are also zombies. Awesome.
Some games take zombie action to an entirely different level though. These are the Dawn of the Dead of zombie games. Games where clearing wave after wave of classic, shuffling reanimated corpses is an exhilarating treat – or where deadly variants challenge your hand-eye co-ordination to the max.
We asked tech writers and gamers for their favourite zombie games and what they came up with is the cream of the genre. Ladies and Gentlemen, let your training begin:
Play it on: ZX Spectrum (or a PC or Mac, with emulation)
Zombie titles go back to the dawn of video gaming. ZX Spectrum title Zombie Zombie is lifestyle and tech writer Lou Hattersley’s favourite of the genre. The 30 year old undead simulator had “3D multi-viewpoint graphics” and a built in level designer that enabled you to “design your own cities and save them to tape”.
“It’s the sequel to Ant Attack, which I adored,” says Hattersley, “ It was one of the first true isometric games, so it felt wholly different to anything else. It was also one of the first survival games. And it was one of the few games where you could choose to play as a girl!”
Best news – you don’t actually need a ZX Spectrum to play it thanks to the weird world of emulation. Emulators enable you to run programs meant for old hardware on your computer, phone or tablet. You’ll find a humongous list at World of Spectrum and a direct download for the original Zombie Zombie is there too.
Play it on: iPhone, iPad
The second game in our list would have gobsmacked your Spectrum owning Dad. You can play Bignic’s Zombies on your mobile telephone!
There’s some shared DNA between Zombie Zombie and its more frenetic, phone-based great grandson. They share pleasantly old school pixellated graphics, an isometric 3D view and a zombie threat to survive. But Zombies is much more knowing, post-modern and, in places, laugh out loud funny.
Craig Grannell, iOS games expert and the guy behind iphonetiny.com rates it as his favourite zombie gaming experience, citing the “tongue in cheek dialogue, addictive twin-stick shooty gameplay and countless corporate undead,” as key reasons why you should hand over your 69p for Zombies right now.
Bonus level: Developers Bignic developed the premise further for a PC version called Corporate Lifestyle Simulator.
Play it on: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
2008’s Dead Space is tech columnist Gary Marshall’s choice, claiming that it’s “one of the most frightening games I’ve ever played.”
While investigating a distress signal, you and your crew crash into the landing bay of a vast space vessel. You draw the short straw and are sent out to fix the bigger ship’s life support systems. Lurking in the dark are the mutated, reanimated corpses of its former crew. The game calls them Necromorphs, but lets call a spade a spade here; they’re fricking space zombies – and all you’ve got to stop them from killing you is an oddball collection of mining tools…
Not only is Dead Space one of the most trouser-moistening zombie games ever made, it also messes with all your zombie expectations. We all know that Earth zombies can be dispatched with a crushing blow to the brain-container. The Necromorphs? You have to strategically cut bits off them. And if you cut off the wrong bit – they’ll just grow it back. Ew.
It’s currently £9.99 on Steam.
Play it on: PC
We should hesitate to recommend DayZ right now, because – in the immortal words of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – it’s cookie dough. It hasn’t quite finished baking yet. But, then again… cookie dough. Nom nom nom.
The version of DayZ that’s commercially available is what developers call an “alpha”, which means that it’s unpolished, buggy and there are some major features missing. If you’re willing to put up with that, it’s one of the most emotionally draining and potentially exhilarating games you will ever play.
DayZ is a first person post-apocalypse survival simulator. You wake up in the countryside with nothing more to your name than a flashlight and the clothes you’re standing up in. The only real goal you have is to stay alive by foraging for food, water and weapons, and finding shelter.
That would be easy if you were alone, but you’re not. A virus has decimated the population and there are zombies wandering about who want to eat your dinner straight out of your large intestine. But that’s not even the scariest thing about DayZ. The scariest thing is that the map’s full of other people… real people. There are other players on the same server, trying to survive, just like you are. And not everyone is friendly.
Sniper Elite V2: Nazi Zombie Army 2
Play it on: PC
You’d think that games featuring raging hordes of Nazi zombies would be fairly rare – but there are at least two worth a place in this list. The first is Call of Duty: Black Ops II in Zombie Mode. Previous entries in the series enable you to switch antagonists from regular cartoon evil Nazis to ravenous undead Nazis, but Black Ops II does it best. “ I just can’t find anything that’s as fast paced and exciting with rewards and a story line,” says avid gamer Erik Selby.
Though Blacks Ops II in Zombie Mode is a thing of savage beauty, it would be remiss of us to bypass it for the more obscure and, quite frankly, bat-crap crazy Sniper Elite V2: Nazi Zombie Army 2.
A slow paced assassination simulator set behind enemy lines during World War II, the Sniper Elite series was and is already controversial for its extremely icky, slow-mo “bullet shots”.
The Nazi Zombie Army versions takes the same premise and fills maps full of rampaging Nazi zombies. Instead of carefully planning neat and careful assaults on watchtowers, military vehicles and abandoned churches, you are simply overwhelmed by wave after wave of Nazi undead – some of them with special Satanic powers – in a Left 4 Dead kill-or-be-killed stylee. So that’s nice.
Left 4 Dead 2
Play it on: PC, Mac, Xbox 360, Linux
If you’re a fan of first person shooters, then Left 4 Dead 2 will take some beating – possibly with a cricket bat or an axe. The original Left 4 Dead popularised co-op mission play more than any other game, with up to four players collaborating at a time. They can be random strangers on a distant server, a bunch of friends or computer controlled bots. L4D2 – as its friends call it – does all that but better.
Log in to the game and soon there are swarms of fast moving zombies leaping and running towards you in a post-apocalyptic city-scape. You’re armed with a sub-machine gun, or pistol or shotgun which needs reloading every 30 seconds. When you run out of ammo or things to hit zombies with, you have the ability to shove individual attackers back into the swarm a couple of inches (arms flailing, viscera splashing everywhere) by feebly right clicking on them.
You pick off some lone shuffling zombies, you are attacked by a horde of them, everything goes quiet, you move around a bit. If you’re lucky enough to have a health pack, you heal. Rinse and repeat. There’s little sense of progress. There’s little sense at all. But it’s utterly and terrifyingly thrilling.
The Walking Dead: The Game
Play it on: PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad
Based on the comics rather than the TV series, The Walking Dead is the most head mangling, emotionally manipulative game in the history of fictional narrative. While just about every other title in this article is just some variation of you and some weapons against never-ending waves of the mumbling undead, The Walking Dead does a horrible thing. It makes you care.
You’re part of a story where you team up with other survivors to build defenses against the zombie hordes. You form relationships, make key decisions about who eats and who doesn’t, who stays and who leaves. At times you decide who lives and who dies.
Season One of The Walking Dead is harrowing enough but, in Season Two it’s no spoiler to reveal that you play through the story as Clementine, a 10 year old girl with really big sad eyes. Though there are only so many outcomes, it still feels like you’re responsible for every terrible thing she has to do to save herself or her friends. If you thought it was impossible for a video game to make you cry, you thought wrong.
The Last of Us
Play it on: PS3, PS4
Like Dead Space, the Last of Us doesn’t call its zombies zombies. If we’re being picky, neither does The Walking Dead (even though the game’s “walkers” are clearly based on the classic George Romero template). Gamer Jordan Smith thinks they’re zombies though: “I went for ‘does it look dead and run straight at you?’”
In which case, the answer is definitely “yes”.
If all you’ve seen are trailers for The Last of Us, which is likely because it’s PlayStation exclusive, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s a sentimental adventure tale about a young girl adapting to the end of the world; a bit like The Walking Dead. We cheekily selected screenshots that highlight the similarity too…
Although the two games share a similar premise, the Last of Us is much more action packed and exciting than it’s dour and sentimental cousin. It’s an open 3D survival horror, with much of the story told through missions where you have complete control – and it’s all the more immersive for it. Plus the story’s infected monsters are much, much scarier. “It made me curl up into a ball and cry myself to sleep,” says Jordan.
Play it on: PC, PlayStation, SegaSaturn, Nintendo DS, Xbox 360
The greatest zombie game of all time? More than one of the pundits we spoke to went for the same title: Resident Evil.
The zombie video game that spawned dozens of sequels and its own blockbuster movie series (seven so far with the eighth due in 2016) started life as “Bio Hazard”, originally a Japanese PlayStation exclusive. With a name change and bit of polish, it was released in Europe and the US on just about every other platform.
The third person shooter, set mainly around a creepy mansion, is credited for kickstarting the entire survival horror genre. Dan Oliver, editor-in-chief of Future Publishing’s raft of creative magazines says it’s “scary enough that the first time I played it – into the early hours at a friend’s house – I ended up legging it home through the abandoned (and terrifying) streets of Bath.”
Gamer Phil Brown was similarly scarred by Evil: “You can’t get better than the live action intro and that first shot of a zombie eating Kenneth!” says Brown “11 year old me was won over instantly.”
Resident Evil was remade in 2002 for the short-lived GameCube – and that version is due to get a high definition overhaul with a new PC release (pictured above) in early 2015. You’ll get a chance to relive the hype all over again soon.