The Wii U is finally out, and with it comes a decent selection of launch titles. Many of them have been previously released on other consoles, but one of the originals is Ubisoft’s zombie FPS, ZombiU. Reviews of the game are mixed, but I have no doubt it’ll be one of the top selling Wii U games for a while, as its mature themes and timeless subject matter set it apart from Nintendo’s usual selection of family friendly material. It got me thinking, though: Which zombie games would I consider the best around?
Zombies are such an excellent subject for books, movies, and video games. The tales of worldwide epidemics, lone bands of survivors, chaos and destruction, and fear of the unknown can be utilised in so many ways. They can be used to tell stories of horror, of action, of drama, and even of comedy. Games are no different, incorporating the walking dead into so many genres, and ending up with vastly different titles based on the same antagonists.
I’ve realised, looking back, that many of my favourite zombie games have a completely different focus, and could barely even be classed in the same genre. To be fair, not every one of them would be described as a zombie game, but each of them features the undead flesh-eaters in some capacity or another. The list I now present is five of my all-time favourites, each of which brings something very unique to the table:
Resident Evil 2
I started with one of the most obvious – an undisputed classic in the survival horror genre. While the Resident Evil series wasn’t the first game of its type, it certainly put survival horror on the map. Resident Evil 2 is a tense, scary game that makes you think, makes you jump, and makes you thank the lord when you find those precious stocks of ammunition. What makes this entry in the series so great is the option to play opposite sides of the story with the two main characters. There are multiple angles of the plot to follow, and this doesn’t even include the (slightly silly) bonus characters. Solving puzzles brings a real sense of joy, and opening doors evokes a real sense of dread, as you pray there won’t be a room full of zombies on the other side. Some would say that the series reached its peak with Resident Evil 4, and maybe that should be on the list instead of this one, but RE4 didn’t really have zombies in, did it?
This is one of my all-time favourite games, and not just in the zombie genre. I feel that Dead Rising was misunderstood by so many people. They saw the strict time limits and unforgiving save system, which were a direct contradiction to the open environments and variety of weaponry. Dead Rising appears to be a zombie-killing playground, but in actual fact it’s a structured, narrative-driven game. The factors that impede you in Dead Rising are what make it so brilliant: Those time limits force you to be fast, and the save system forces you to think about everything you do. It’s also a game in which the zombies, as plentiful as they are, are not your main enemy – they do little more than get in the way. Even the other survivors in the mall, as crazy and dangerous as some of them have become, are not the biggest worry. No, it’s that clock, constantly ticking, that becomes the biggest source of dread in the game. Once you accept that you’re never going to see it all in one playthrough, Dead Rising shows its brilliance. Believe me – I must have played through the whole story seven or eight times before I felt I had fully experienced it.
Left 4 Dead
With Left 4 Dead, Valve introduced a whole new take on the zombie survival genre – balls-to-the-wall action and team-based tactics. This is not survival horror, this is just fucking survive! It can be scary and it can certainly be tense, but in a different way than many zombie games from the past. I bought Left 4 Dead on launch day, and I feel I experienced the game in a way that can’t be repeated now. You see, this is a game about four strangers, running through the chaos of a zombie-infested city, meeting up, and having to coordinate to keep themselves alive. Playing this game on Xbox Live when it first came out perfectly portrayed this premise – it was me, lumped with three other strangers online, trying to make sense of this brand new title. Over the course of time, we learned to trust each other, to like each other, and to sacrifice ourselves for the good of the group. It wasn’t long before our shared experience made us friends and we were joking like buddies of many years. Then the douchbag kids came along and ruined it all. Bastards.
Plants vs. Zombies
I feel that I may have been a little late to the Plants vs. Zombies party, only joining in on the fun when it finally arrived on Android last year. I quickly saw what all the fuss was about, though. The tower defence genre is one that many have grown to love, but this is the only title in the genre that I really got – maybe the presence of my favourite flesh-eaters had something to do with it. It’s such a simple idea – just plant some flowers and stem the flow of zombies that are making their way towards your home. This idea quickly becomes super addictive, as new plants bring new abilities to the table, and figuring out the best strategy becomes a complex game of rock, paper, scissors – only in real-time. Creating that unbreakable wall of super-powered plants brings a smile to my face, and seeing the heads pop off of zombies as they try – in vain – to breach it brings a supervillian-like cackle to my mouth. It may not be scary, but it’s certainly hard to put down.
Yeah, I told you these weren’t all zombie games, but I would be doing a massive disservice to fans everywhere if I didn’t include Minecraft on this list. Zombies may not be the central theme, but they feature prominently and can bring about a terror unlike any other title previously mentioned. As you plan your towns, collect your resources, and mine your caves, it’s easy to forget that there could be a zombie standing right behind you, ready to whittle away your health and cause you to drop those precious diamonds you just spent the last three hours collecting. There are definitely enemies more fearsome in the world of Minecraft, but those zombies are always there: standing outside your door and waiting for you to open it; sending chills down your spine as you hear their moans in the dark of a deep cavern; pursuing you as you attempt to find a safe place to store your valuable materials. And when they finally get you, you can’t believe what just happened.
I must admit, there are a few games that may have made the list if I’d gotten round to playing them by now. The recent Walking Dead series is one of them, as is the online Arma 2 mod, DayZ. Although I haven’t played them, each helps illustrate the point that zombies can be used in so many ways. The Walking Dead brings a heavy dramatic story, and DayZ brings the idea of a post-apocalyptic world, where the undead aren’t nearly as scary as the survivors around you.
Zombies are such a rich source of fiction and video games have profited greatly from their existence, so I’m sure you all have your own favourites. I’ll admit that I haven’t played them all, so let me know which classics I’ve missed. Leave a comment below, letting me know which zombie games make your list.
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