Dark Zombies

What Makes a Zombie Survival Game Great

There are tons of zombie games out there today, and more are being made even as you read this. The genre is booming. There is a zombie game out there to suit just about every taste, and even though no two games are exactly alike, the core of the gameplay remains the same: there are a lot of zombies who want to kill you, and you must survive.

There is a distinction to be made, however, between the two main types of zombie games, which are Zombie Survival, and Zombie Horror/Action. Horror/Action games are ones like Resident Evil, Left 4 Dead, Dead Space and so on. These are games that provide you with a mostly linear experience with planned events built into the game that are designed to scare you and keep you moving through the story. While these games do task you with surviving, it’s no more an objective to do so than any other game. Those games are great in their own right, but I want to explore the somewhat more recent phenomena that is the Zombie Survival game.

A Zombie Survival game – and what sets the genre apart from the Zombie Horror/Action game – is that the game places you in an environment filled with zombies, and your primary objective is to just simply survive for as long as possible. How you go about doing that is often left up to you, with many choices available. Some games that fit into this category would be DayZ, State of Decay, and the upcoming 7 Days to Die. Each of these games does a good job of presenting you with a zombie filled world to survive in, giving you plenty of options to go about.

You can scavenge supplies, occupy buildings and set up a base, drive around to see what you can find, whatever you want. The experience gets even more intense when multiplayer is introduced. Particularly Free For All multiplayer. As if the tension of sneaking around zombie infested towns looking for supplies wasn’t enough, you’ll also be hoping that another survivor doesn’t show up and start a fight over a pile of food and ammo. However, it also gives you opportunity to experience it all with friends, and make new ones along the way.

A sandbox filled with zombies. Emergent gameplay and storytelling. The endless possibilities associated with it all. These are the things that make Zombie Survival games great. It isn’t any one feature, it’s the culmination of all those features and more that makes them unique and fun. Some of the best times I had playing State of Decay and DayZ came from just moving around the map seeing what I could find.

These games have also included a feature that is becoming ever more prevalent in games of the genre, which is permadeath. If you die, you lose that character for good. This can mean losing all of the skills you had built up with that character, or losing all of the gear you had obtained, or both. No quicksaving before a death and reloading. This is something that helps add even more tension and really makes you think about what you’re doing. One mistake can mean the difference between surviving and starting over from scratch. It’s a feature that I truly love, and one that is instrumental to making these games so fun to play. I’ll never forget the first time I died in DayZ after I had just gotten some nice gear, or when a miscalculation in timing caused me to lose the starter character in State of Decay. Those moments were incredibly frustrating, but somehow in an enjoyable way. There was no one to blame for it but myself. I learned to be more careful and ended up enjoying the games much more because of it.

It’s an experience that is unlike any other genre out there. The feeling of desperation and the reality of knowing that you really can’t rely on anyone but yourself for survival are part of what makes the genre so unique and fun to play. It’s made me wonder; if a zombie apocalypse happened, maybe the question wouldn’t be whether or not you would survive it, but rather, for how long?