We wrap up Zombie Week with a look at the 10 best zombie videogames of all time. Zombies are the perfect videogame enemies this side of aliens because killing them is totally guilt-free. You can forget the sociopolitical and cultural underpinnings of military shooters and just go nuts with the rampant blood lust and over-the-top gore. They also provide a readymade answer for any joker who asks why every single bad guy in a game looks exactly the same.
Even if you don’t scare easily, it’s hard to not sweat a little when you’re suddenly surrounded by a swarm of zombies in a Resident Evil or Left 4 Dead. Here are Paste’s 10 favorite zombie videogames. We’d love to hear yours in the comments.
If you can’t beat the zombies, join ‘em…and then raise your own undead army while firing detachable limbs and pancreas grenades. Developed by Bungie cofounder Alex Seropian, cult Xbox gem Stubbs allows you the freedom to do all of the above as you roam the sci-fi 5’0s utopia of Punchbowl, Penn. And what better way to enjoy a brain buffet than with artists like Ben Kweller, Death Cab For Cutie and The Flaming Lips serenading you with pop standard covers? It’s even better than the drive-in.—Sean Edgar
The ending to western magnum opus Red Dead Redemption is definitely more Unforgiven than Rio Bravo: A Machiavellian pack of federal agents double cross protagonist John Marston in a water park of blood and testosterone just as our anti-hero reunites with his family after 15 hours of stage coach shenanigans. It’s with the sweetest of ironies that the game’s phenomenal DLC Package, Undead Nightmare, is 10 times goofier despite laying on even more blood and guts in the midst of a walking dead epidemic. What other campaign lets you load an antiquated rifle with dismembered body parts while riding a horse of the apocalypse? Also: keeping your own eyes on your cards means something completely different in zombie poker.—Sean Edgar
The explosion in zombie games during this console cycle can be explained in part by technology. Before the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, it was difficult to put enough enemies on screen to simulate a zombie horde. And what good is a zombie without its backup? Dead Rising was the first to take advantage of this power, introducing the first truly overwhelming zombie invasion in videogames. It also had enough ridiculous humor and classic movie homages to win over even the most jaundiced of zombie fanatics.—Garrett Martin
Day Z started out as a mod, a user-made add-on for the PC military shooter ArmA II by Bohemia Interactive. It has become one of the most successful mods ever, growing in scope and popularity until it was announced that Day Z would become a standalone game. In gamer jargon, Day Z is a FPS MMO with permadeath; which simply means it has guns, everybody plays together, and losing hurts a hell of a lot more than usual. You can think of it as The Walking Dead meets Call of Duty meets Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò. Personally, I’d described it as a demented psychological experiment to find out how a group of people would react if a zombie apocalypse broke out in the harsh Russian countryside. The answer has been with looting, killing, backstabbing and cruelty of all kinds.—Jason Johnson
The survival horror genre had barely been invented when Zombies Ate My Neighbors was released, but despite the vast number of zombie-killing games that would come in the wake of Resident Evil, no other videogame has had quite so much fun dispatching the undead. The game’s simple 16-bit art allowed it to fully embrace the goofier side of horror flicks, offering players a variety of oddball weapons to squash horror villains. The title was in fact a bit of a misnomer, considering that while it certainly contained zombies munching on neighbors, it also featured a wide cast of other enemies inspired by everything from Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Little Shop of Horrors. This gave the simple run-and-gunner more variety than most games it was inspired by, and while it’s not terribly sophisticated, Zombies Ate My Neighbors is still the only zombie game that took more lessons from Raimi than Romero.—Sean Gandert
Telltale’s The Walking Dead may be one of the best licensed games of all time in the way it re-creates the pacing and feel of the comic series. The game is heavy on character interaction and suspense, like the comic and show. Action sequences are spread out; this is a character driven game with action elements only added in when completely necessary. Think of The Walking Dead as Maniac Mansion and a poor man’s version of Heavy Rain put into a blender containing 10 or 15 issues of Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s comic—a nice mix, especially for the episode price of $4.99.—Keith Veronese
Everybody knows zombies are carnivorous. Even the strictest vegans come back from the grave craving flesh. So who better to defend us from the undead than mutant plants (and mushrooms)? The PopCom game was released in 2009 for PC and Mac and found its natural home on mobile devices when the iOS version was launched the following year. The clean design, clever twists and easy learning curve made this a tower-defense game that could be enjoyed by the most casual gamer (my wife and kids included). Even when the plants don’t decapitate, torch or squash all of the oncoming horde, a line of lawnmowers serves as the final defense.—Josh Jackson
You could easily switch the slots for the two Resident Evil games on this list. They’re both here because they’re pretty much two entirely different games. Resident Evil 4 strikes the right balance between action and survivalism. A capable and smart player might occasionally fear for ammo and health, but it’s rarely punitive to the point of driving the player away. It’s a pitch-perfect blend of horror, action and story, and the most engrossing Resident Evil in terms of narrative and atmosphere. When it came out in early 2005 few games felt as adult or alive as Resident Evil 4, and unlike the earlier games in the series it doesn’t feel all that outdated.—Garrett Martin
For desensitized gamers trained to react to monsters, terrorists, soldiers and yes, zombies, popping out of nowhere, it’s not easy to get creeped out. Here’s where Capcom stepped in starting in 1996 with Resident Evil, which reels back the blood and gore (although there’s still plenty of that) in place of an eerie, zombie-ridden backdrop. Players find themselves in the middle of a crisis that involves a “T-Virus” that causes those exposed to mutate. As a member of the Raccoon City Special Tactics and Rescue Service (S.T.A.R.S.) you’re trapped in a creepy, way-too-quiet-to-not-bite-your-nails mansion, fighting off the creatures and trying to make it through the night. Although the game’s puzzles and moments of eerie silence make it different from anything that came before it, that’s also what made it the most terrifying.—Tyler Kane
Left 4 Dead and its quickly released sequel are too similar in quality and characteristics to separate. Remove the zombie element and you still have the best squad shooters yet to exist. Add in the most convincingly realized videogame zombie apocalypse, one that’s as legitimately scary and tense as the best horror movies, and one that has also influenced almost every zombie game since (see the proliferation of Boomer and Hunter style enemies), and you have the best zombie games ever made. Top it off with a pitch-black sense of humor and a warm humanity that most games don’t even attempt and then you can debate if the word “zombie” is even needed in that last accolade.—Garrett Martin