Those who played Resident Evil back in ’96 knew they were experiencing greatness. Discovering that first zombie eating away at a dead body is definitely up there when it comes to the most iconic moments in gaming history. The rest of the game, despite—and sometimes due to—some pretty C-tier writing and voice acting, also left a mark.
While there were plenty of zombie games before Chris Redfield stepped foot into the Spencer Mansion, Resident Evil changed the industry and ushered in a resurgence of the genre across all forms of media. Movies like Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later carried on the concepts pioneered by George Romero for a new generation, while properties like Left 4 Dead and The Walking Dead propelled zombie media to pop culture mainstay status.
No matter how many times you shoot it in the head, the zombie genre just won’t die. It’s ok to start to feel a bit tired of the undead, but we can’t let the absurd number of copycats out there make people forget that this genre features some of the greatest games ever made.
10. The House Of The Dead 2
This game gets a lot of crap for its hilarious voice acting, but we believe it deserves a lot of love for just giving us exactly what we want in terms of a fun zombie experience. Tired of the tank controls from the Resident Evil series? Then why not just go on something akin to a zombie-killing-themed train ride?
We don’t know if that was the pitch for The House Of The Dead 2, but that’s what it feels like—and it rocks. With some relentlessly quick action and some of the best graphics we’d ever seen by the time of its release, The House Of The Dead 2 remains one of Dreamcast’s greatest and most underrated statements.
Strengths: Pew-Pew zombie action perfected. And it also inspired The Typing Of The Dead, which is just hilarious.
Weaknesses: It kickstarted a wave of awful movie adaptations, but that’s about it.
DayZ was one of the first games to drop people in a zombie-infested town and tell them to find means for temporary survival. It inspired the Battle Royale craze, which is funny because we realize how many fresh things were born out of a genre about rotting stuff, but there’s more. DayZ is about zombies, yes, but what made it special was human interaction.
Staying true to George A. Romero’s original message, the zombies were never the problem. The problem was always us. It dared players to act together to survive while also tempting them to kill each other off to get the best possible loot. DayZ made fearing the human condition fun.
Strengths: A never-before-seen style of play that put actual emphasis on lonesome survival or risky allegiances.
Weaknesses: Many technical flaws, but, and you might not get it until you play it, they actually kind of add value to a world where everything plays against us.
8. Dead Rising
Did you ever watch the original Dawn Of The Dead and thought, “I wish I was in a zombie-infested mall. I would have so much fun”. First off, yes, that’s a completely fine thought to have. Secondly, yeah, that’s essentially Dead Rising.
Though a plot exists, one fresh enough to star a journalist instead of some badass special forces bro, the biggest selling point here is the freedom we get. The original Dead Rising‘s challenge isn’t the zombies per se, but finding the most fun way you can think of to obliterate them. And boy, does the game deliver. Dead Rising laughed in the face of every other game in existence when it came to original ways to maul enemies, and sadly it still does. Yeah, neither the games inspired by it nor its sequels have managed to hit the same highs.
Strengths: The most fun sandbox action one will have outside of Garry’s Mod.
Weaknesses: Just the disappointment you’ll feel when you play any of its sequels.
7. Dead Space 2
Ok, we know these might not be zombies on a technical level, but we’re just gonna assume this is what zombies would begin to look like if they somehow made their way to space. We really need that excuse because Dead Space 2 is that good.
Remember how everyone praised the new God Of War for seamlessly transitioning between gameplay and cutscenes with no cuts? Whoa, that’s amazing. At least if you forget that the game totally cuts away when you inevitably have to navigate one of the game’s numerous menus. Do you know what game actually does the seamless thing? It’s Dead Space 2. Yeah, even its menus don’t take players away from this goddamn masterpiece.
It also improves on the many already very original and very well-conceived gameplay elements from the first one and provides a more streamlined campaign that results in a less confusing experience.
Strengths: One of the best sequels to one of the freshest zombie games ever made.
Weaknesses: Perhaps too violent at times (just kidding).
6. Telltale’s The Walking Dead: Season 1
Before there was The Last Of Us — a game that’s not on this list because it doesn’t have actual zombies —there was The Walking Dead: Season 1.
TWD ditched most of the action mechanics we expect in nearly every zombie game in existence and replaced them with exploration and difficult character choices that permeate a heartfelt story. TWD puts players in the shoes of an unfairly maligned man who slowly begins to fill the father role of an orphaned child. Does this sound familiar? Good, because if the characters are what made you love The Last Of Us, then you have much more of that in here.
TWD is chock-full of memorable characters, moments, and choices players will never forget. It’s no surprise that this remains Telltale Games’ best-selling hit.
Strengths: A very endearing cast of characters that players will have a hard time saying goodbye to.
Weaknesses: Lack of ending variety always sucks for a game about decision-making.
5. Project Zomboid
Do you like SIM games? Are you looking for a zombie-themed strategy game that’s a bit more mature and well-thought-out than Plants vs. Zombies? Well, then, you should seriously consider Project Zomboid.
Zomboid plays like a nightmarish smaller-scale version of SimCity that permanently takes place during one of the game’s random catastrophe events. The best you can do is strategize against the apocalypse, and that feels great. Zomboid gives a breath of fresh air for people who are tired of personally having to mow down hundreds of zombies and would rather do it via a managerial position.
Strengths: Methodically dispatching zombies is surprisingly fun. It might also, who knows, prepare people for future events that we won’t disclose.
Weaknesses: Playing it during the pandemic or with a post-pandemic mindset might prove too much of a downer.
4. Resident Evil 2
Many movie fans can’t agree on whether they prefer Alien, the gothic and carefully paced original, or Aliens, the sequel that goes big but actually pulls it off. A similar dynamic exists between the original Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2, but nobody doubts this sequel’s superiority.
Resident Evil 2 risked it all by moving away from seemingly the best-possible setting for inescapable horror, a spooky mansion, to a huge city. It paid off. The secret? Making the huge city just as tight and claustrophobic as the original’s Spencer Mansion.
We could have been looking at yet another bloated sequel, but we’re looking at a larger work that still improved upon the original’s small glories in every way.
Strengths: A plot superior to that of the original and a long campaign that perfectly expands on the series’ lore.
Weaknesses: It might feel a bit dated nowadays. While not the same, it’s fine if you want to play the remake instead.*
*The remake isn’t on this list because this is all about original games, but they nailed that one too.
3. Resident Evil (HD Remaster)
Syke! We have a place for one remake in our hearts because the GameCube remake is just too good.
The original Resident Evil might have given way to the first wave of zombie games, but holy crap, did that game age poorly. The remake, however, kept the gameplay intact while also improving upon the overall experience in every single way. We believe it should just replace the original in our collective memory.
And if the original GameCube remake was good, the remake’s remaster propels it even further. It not only adds HD textures but also better gameplay options. Tired of tank controls? No problem! Players will be happy to learn that Jill and Chris spent the 12 years that passed between the remake and the remaster of the remake successfully learning how to turn like real people.
Strengths: The biggest graphical improvement we’ve ever seen in a remake. It respects the original gameplay while adding beautiful new segments and quality-of-life improvements.
Weaknesses: The set camera angles make up for some awkward cutscene shot transitions.
2. Left 4 Dead 2
The swarm of zombie media that began infesting the world in the early 2010s began with Left 4 Dead. Yes, that means we can credit it with starting the closest thing to an actual zombie apocalypse we’ve ever experienced.
Even though we agree that there’s way too much zombie-related stuff out there, we can’t help but feel anything other than love for this masterpiece. The first series that wondered how fun it would be to put four people together against hordes of zombies and discovered that it’s actually close to the most fun you can have in a game.
This one is so good that even its saddest aspect is a testament to its quality. Even though this is the game that put four-player co-op on the map, it’s still the one that did it best. Despite it being over a decade old now, hopping on a campaign today will bring you more joy than any more recent game of its kind ever could.
Strengths: The fastest and most enjoyable swam-type combat we’ve ever seen in a video game. Many other games have tried to replicate it, but they all failed.
Weaknesses: You will have to witness the gruesome demise of your beloved party mates.
1. Resident Evil 4
Many gamers frown upon change, and some have complained about Resident Evil 4’s move toward action territory. Still, nearly two decades later, we doubt anyone can say this wasn’t the best possible direction the series could have taken.
Resident Evil 4 says Leon S. Kennedy spent the time between games going from rookie to a special forces operative, and the gameplay shows that. He’s finally defeated the tank controls that served as the main antagonist of the original trilogy and is now a badass capable of all sorts of lethal moves that only make the game more fun.
RE4 influenced every action game that came after it, and it’s not just the best zombie game of all time. It’s a contender for the best game of all time. Do you like games with an over-the-shoulder third-person perspective? Those exist because Resident Evil 4 pulled it off so well that other developers thought every game should do it.
Another great indicator of its quality is how, despite numerous re-releases and a remake, you can still play the original version and have a total blast.
Strengths: Revolutionary camera, possibly the best revamp of a formula we’ve ever seen in a game.
Weaknesses: Its impact on the industry even convinced many other developers that quick time events were good. They never were, not even here. Also, wait, you’re saying those aren’t technically zombies?!
Tiago is a freelancer who used to write about video games, cults, and video game cults. He now writes for Destructoid in an attempt to find himself on the winning side when the robot uprising comes.