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The gaming industry has long held the survival genre close to its heart. Placing the player in copious, unique, and sometimes terrifying positions via game design has intrigued designers for decades. It should be of no surprise then to find this genre mixing so well with horror elements. These extreme scenarios combine amazingly well with the survival genre and help develop most gameplay mechanics and survival metrics needed to ensure the game is exciting and realistic.
One of the most popular horror elements that developers tend to enjoy pairing with the survival genre is a zombie apocalypse. This is because the two go hand in hand. Survival is, presumably, a challenging thing to ensure in the middle of an apocalypse, never mind one with semi-sentient, flesh-eating beings crouched behind every corner.
Therefore, including an overarching zombie theme in a typical survival game ensures that the player understands the need for the survival elements included in the game and ensures that each component is more difficult and necessary as they work together.
So, with all of this being said, why don’t we look at some of the best zombie survival games currently on the market?
As this genre continues to grow and the fanbase for more and more intense zombie-survival games continues to clamor for more content, I realized that to properly construct a list detailing the best of the best about this hyper-saturated genre, I would need to choose a series of rules to make said selection a little bit easier. These rules include:
- The game must currently be on the market for mass consumption. However, the titles can be in the Beta release stage as long as said beta is open to the public.
- There must be a battle for survival over time. Whether this is a fight against enemies or the environment, it does not matter. Extra points, however, for survival mechanics such as hunger and dehydration.
- The survival aspect of these games must be a long-term battle against the game’s internal systems. In other words, no ten-minute-long battle royal style titles.
- These titles must include zombies as one of the critical underpinnings for the survival aspect of the game.
- Developer: Capcom, Sega, Rockstar.
- Metacritic User Score: 9.2
- Release Date: March 1996
There is no way of producing a list detailing the best zombie survival titles without mentioning the daddy of them all, Resident Evil.
This franchise is probably the most critical series about the genre, introducing many gameplay elements which crop up time and time again in alternate genre entries. Whether the player is exploring the grounds of some deserted and creepy mansion or busting their way through the structures of a slowly dissolving Racoon City, they can expect to see the genesis of many stellar zombie-survival elements.
Examples of this could be the focus placed on inventory management, the likelihood of the title throwing zombies at the player in a shock-inducing and heart rate rising manner, and many more. Either way, no matter what happens or which title in the Resident Evil franchise you happen to pick up, the avid zombie-survival player will not be disappointed by this entry on our list.
However, as with all games, there are some negatives that I have to point out in this series as a whole. Firstly, there is a difference in quality depending on which entry into the series you decide to pick up. This is to be expected, with the series having over 27 titles in its canon to date. However, expected or not, some games in this series truly disappointed fans, and said blunders should not be forgotten quickly. In particular, I am thinking of games such as Resident Evil 5 and 6.
With this in mind, though, if the player manages to stick to some of the higher-rated series entries, you will not be disappointed.
- Developer: The Indie Stone
- Metacritic User Score: 9.3
- Release Date: November 2013
Recently bursting onto the pop-culture gaming scene, Project Zomboid has been in the hearts and minds of many avid survival game players for years now. Its recent popularity seemingly comes from a new multiplayer update, allowing people to survive alongside their best friends.
This update and the popularity it garnered from its devoted fanbase was only increased via a massive movement of the YouTube gaming community whereby numerous content creators jumped onto the bandwagon, playing the title seemingly to death over an extended period.
During a regular playthrough of this title, the player can expect to confront many zombies whilst gathering important supplies, skills, and transportation for when the worst comes knocking.
- Developer: Bohemia Interactive
- Metacritic User Score: 5.3
- Release Date: December 2013
DayZ came into being after a less popular army simulator, Arma 3, was modded into oblivion by some of its more intelligent fan bases. This modding endeavor culminated in the creation of DayZ, a massive open-world survival game wherein players must battle the elements, zombies, and each other for survival.
Therefore, this intensive modding of Arma 3 resulted in the creation of one of the hardest and most complex survival games to come to market for many years.
After the initial popularity of this mod, it took some time, but a standalone game was officially launched. At this, the community rejoiced at being able to play their favorite game without having to hack their own PC’s beforehand. However, the glitches and developer errors were still rife; however, improvements are still being made to this day.
The title is also still in touch with its routes, supporting an avid modding community who continues to work tirelessly to provide the player with better and better experiences. Mods such as base building and raid mechanics have thus become an expected addition to most popular servers, allowing nearly every player to experience DayZ like never before.
State of Decay 2
- Developer: Undead Labs
- Metacritic User Score: 5.0
- Release Date: May 2018
One of the most common issues with games within this genre has to be the stability of gameplay. It is so common for complex and detailed survival games to have glitches that I routinely ignore this element of the games instead of focusing on the good parts and excepting the glitches as the price for getting the game made in the first place. With this in mind, State of Decay 2 is no different and it does not seem like the developers are going to get around to fixing it anytime soon.
Outside of these issues, State of Decay 2 does give the player everything they could ask for in a zombie survival game and more, even including a multiplayer mode for those who wish to battle the undead with a couple of friends.
7 Days to Die
- Developer: The Fun Pimps
- Metacritic User Score: 6.0
- Release Date: June 2016
7 Days to Die is truly one of the most authentic zombie survival games on the market today. It places the player into the difficult scenario of surviving and thriving in a world torn apart by a recent zombie apocalypse. However, your situation is made even harder as the developers thought it would be fun to drop the said player into their game with literally nothing of use on their person. Forcing the player to rampantly scavenge and build up supplies to fortify themselves against the undead.
After the player manages to collect the bare basics together to help them survive even the first couple of hours in their new playthrough, the game begins to open up. It does this by offering the player complex crafting, scavenging, and hunting systems that help make the player stronger in the long run but also help to provide an enjoyable base layer to the game outside of the whole survival aspect.
The survival mechanics of this title also leave little to be desired. The player will have to deal with almost everything the avid survival gamers search for in their favorite games, ranging from temperature and hunger to zombies and wild animals.
Left 4 Dead 2
- Developer: Valve Corporation
- Metacritic User Score: 8.4
- Release Date: November 2009
Alongside Resident Evil, Left 4 Dead 2 has to be one of the most influential games on this list. Not only can one see elements of this game among all other similar titles, but we can also see inspiration taken from this game in many FPS titles.
During a regular playthrough of this game, the player will choose one of four characters and, either accompanied by AI or friends, work their way through a series of maps and stages to reach the safety of ‘safe rooms’, the ultimate goal being extraction from these zombie-infested environments.
Whilst this title is not your typical zombie-survival game, the player does have to go through some great efforts to maintain both their sanity and blood within their body.
- Developer: Techland
- Metacritic User Score: 8.0
- Release Date: January 2015
A slightly different take on the zombie-survival genre, Dying Light sees the player explore a devastated city during the days and nights following a zombie apocalypse. Throughout this game, the player will mostly explore via free-running mechanics and fight off zombies via melee attacks.
This title also focuses heavily on its day-night cycle for extra tension. During the day, the player will flit through the city with little care, batting away zombies with only the smallest amount of effort, during this time, most of the game’s plotline will unfold.
During the night, however, the player will find the city changed, filled with stronger and more deadly zombies, hellbent on killing any remaining human they can find. The player will also feel something else lurking in the darkness, however, whatever this thing is, nobody is telling.
- Developer: Tripwire Interactive and John Gibson
- Metacritic User Score: 8.6
- Release Date: May 2009
Here we have another classic of this genre, Killing Floor is easily one of the most fun and time-consuming games on this list. This title involves the player fighting through waves upon waves of zombies to strike their way through to the main boss of each level.
The player can either do this solo or with one of their friends in co-op mode. The real fun of this game has to be the variety of zombies one can come up against as each comes with its unique challenges.
Technically speaking, these ‘zombies’ are called ‘specimens’ and are the result of some failed lab experiments but, between me and you, I think it’s pretty fair to call these shambling monstrosities zombies.
The Walking Dead
- Developer: Telltale Games
- Metacritic User Score: 8.8
- Release Date: April 2012
One of the best things to happen in 2012, The Walking Dead, produced by Telltale, based on the Robert Kirkman comic book and the ever more popular TV show, is an adventure game created on Telltale’s propriety game engine, the Telltale Tool.
Telltale games are different from everything else on this list. Instead of using a UI to help the player enforce complete control over their character, this game engine serves more as a storytelling device, allowing the player to make certain choices along the way. Therefore, instead of freely running around and engaging with the storyline as you please, this game puts blinders on the player, forcing them to be part of something more akin to a movie than a game.
During a normal playthrough, the player will be forced to make key decisions that will decide the fate of everyone in your party, some of the decisions may even seem innocuous at first, but trust me, they will come back to haunt you.
- Developer: Endnight Games
- Metacritic User Score: 7.4
- Release Date: April 2018
Here we have a title that is not exactly a typical zombie-survival game. I say this as the main enemies in The Forest are not exactly ‘zombies’. The enemies in this game are cannibals which I would argue have turned into something akin to zombies over time, the worst of which transforming into horrid monsters, not of this world.
This game will see the player crashland on a tropical island infested with cannibalistic inhabitants. Some of these cannibals have taken the player’s son and therefore the bulk of the game revolves around the player gathering enough strength and supplies to fight their way through said cannibals to save their son.
After journeying and fighting through many underground cave systems, the player will not only have found myriad unique and interesting stories, equipment, and weapons, but they will also interact with some otherworldly inhabitants of the island, posing questions about what is going on in this forest.
Here’s our complete The Forest Getting Started Guide.
- Developer: Brend Studio
- Metacritic User Score: 8.4
- Release Date: April 2019
Days Gone, one of the most publicized games to be released on PS4 was Sony’s flagship product at E3 2017, however, after many delays in development, the title only landed in our hands in mid-2019.
This game sees the player progress through a rather linear storyline as Deacon St. John, a former motorcycle gang member turned widower, surviving in the harsh, zombie-infested, pacific northwest of the United States.
Throughout this game, the player will not only have to deal with countless hordes of the undead and fellow humans, but you will also need to ensure the safety of several human settlements scattered around the game’s large open-world map.
See Also: Best PS4 Survival Games.
- Developer: Tequila Works
- Metacritic User Score: 6.9
- Release Date: August 2012
Playing as Randall in a post-apocalyptic 1986, the player will explore the ruins of Seattle in a puzzle-based, sidescrolling adventure wherein the player must survive through myriad attacks of the undead and the crazed remaining Seattle citizens.
This game will also see the player explore several locations, using Randall’s outstanding free-running ability to explore incredibly intricately designed levels, full of extra content and hidden items.
This game focuses much more heavily on the horror element of the genre than the survival side of things, forgetting mostly about most survival elements seen in other entries into this list.
- Developer: Capcom
- Metacritic Release Date: 7.7
- Release Date: August 2006
Dead Rising is one of the happier takes on the zombie survival genre, more similar to Left 4 Dead 2 than the other games on this list. Dead Rising has us play as an ace photojournalist, named Frank West, who has traveled to a sleepy suburban town in search of some new scoop. During his visit to this town, a zombie apocalypse happens to break out, forcing Mr. West to flee to a nearby shopping mall for safety.
Upon arriving at this mall, the player can use almost any object found in the myriad shops to hack, slice, and or bludgeon the countless undead attackers within the mall. This is the core draw of this game series for most and it is great fun, to say the least.
Throughout this blood-soaked journey, the player will encounter some other humans who will help give clues as to the origin of this disaster and provide Frank with a means of survival.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 – Zombies Chronicles
- Developer: Treyarch, Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer Games
- Metacritic User Score: 6.7
- Release Date: May 2017
This collection of the biggest and best COD: Zombies maps flings the player back in time to simpler days, allowing you to play the maps of COD: World at War and the other entries in the Black Ops series.
Whilst this entry on our list is not exactly a standalone zombie survival game, it has become popular enough in its own right that many people engage with the Call of Duty franchise simply to get access to it. This subsection of the popular franchise even has its lore and development team which treats it as its own game with a unique story to tell.
Similar to Killing Floor, COD: Zombies see the player battle through myriad rounds of undead attackers, coming in waves until the sheer amount and strength of the attackers inevitably overwhelm the survivors.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Can you play DayZ on PS5?
Answer: Whilst there is no actual PS5 release for this title, there is a PS4 release after its port from the PC. Therefore, due to the PS5’s backward compatibility function, the player can get bloody on DayZ.
Question: How many hours of play does State of Decay 2 have?
Answer: If the player decides to complete the title’s main objectives as quickly as possible, the average gamer will likely spend up to 16 hours on this title. However, if the player is a perfectionist, desperate to see each aspect of their game, they will likely spend up to 100 hours on State of Decay 2.
Question: Can you play DayZ offline?
Answer: For the longest time, players were not able to play DayZ without an internet connection on a populated server. However, due to a recent update and expansion, the player is now able to play the title offline.
Question: Is Project Zomboid still getting updates?
Answer: Since the initial release of Project Zomboid, the title has been getting slow updates throughout its lifespan. However, recently, a massive amount of funding must have gone into the title as huge overhauls have been made to almost every aspect of the game, including animation, combat, audio, and music. Recently, there has also been a huge new multiplayer aspect added to the game.
So, there you have it, a list of the best multiplayer survival games on the market at the moment. I can honestly say that I thought this list would be a whole lot easier to put together when I began the article. However, after reviewing some of the games, I have played recently and others on the market currently, I got stumped about which games I should include in this list or not. After all, there are just so many great titles to choose from.
However, after many minutes of consideration, I decided the only fair thing to do was to include the title I enjoyed playing the most, the ones which have the most promise, and the ones which could be improved upon further in the future, whether that is via updates or new installments in their respective franchises.
With all this being said, I truly hope you enjoyed this list and got something out of it. Maybe it has encouraged you to go and check out a new title? Either way, I hope to see you again soon!