Zombies. Perhaps few concepts have been as well tread in gaming as our shambling former selves. To be fair, zombies can be the catalyst to exploring a lot of interesting subjects. They can force us to come to terms with the monsters we may already be, or to confront the horrific possibility of those we care about become infected; it can be pretty scary stuff.
DayZ tackles another aspect of zombies: Exploring how a world ravaged by an undead plague would look months after infestation, when all of society has crumbled and the last vestiges of humanity shoot one another over a can of beans. While it might not be the kind of thing to fill you with raw terror, DayZ certainly packs its own tense punch. Zombies act as a backdrop for the far more interesting emerging social interaction that can take place between players. Though it might just be a game to some, few can deny that DayZ is more than capable of blurring the edges of your monitor and putting you in the moment as you stare down the barrel of your gun at the back of that unsuspecting survivor's head, wondering if he has a friend just in the other room.
Unfortunately, DayZ is also an incomplete game, and while its unique blend of zombies and survival might appeal to some, others can find it a dull mess of half implemented features. If you find yourself hankering for a taste of Bohemia Interactive's seminal online survival game but unwilling to invest for any reason, we got you covered with some games that might just fill the void.
It isn't a surprise that with the massive success of DayZ and its launch onto Steam's Early Access platform, many other would-be's would rise up to try and scrape up some of that sweet, sweet zombie survival gold. At first glance, H1Z1 might seem like an honest-to-goodness rip off of everything that DayZ tries to be. It kinda is. But hey, that isn't actually such a bad thing. For starters, H1Z1 steps away from the hardcore nature of DayZ to provide an experience that loans itself better to players looking for a more casual, condensed game. You likely won't spend hours walking only to trip and break your leg and starve to death in the middle of nowhere like you would in DayZ. That is a good thing.
H1Z1 was met with some pretty negative press when it first debuted on Early Access, partially due to some pay-to-win elements that players found particularly unsavory. The good news here is that the development team at Daybreak Games seems to have taken player opinion to heart and revamped some of their initial design decisions.
Perhaps the biggest departure from DayZ is that H1Z1 isn't trying to sell itself as a hardcore PvP experience, and instead has a focus more on cooperation, teamwork, and crafting. Of course, that vision won't stop someone from putting a bullet in your thigh at 100 yards, but that doesn't mean it can't be felt in other aspects of the game. You'll still manage your character's hunger, thirst, and overall health, but there is a distinct push to get you to spend more time working as a team than plotting how to force that person you just found to eat rotten bananas and drink chemicals until they die.
H1Z1 also has a unique mode that allows your character to contract the virus and actually become a zombie, working to kill other survivors. This new angle is a great way of freshening up the experience and is certain to provide some good times.
Overall, H1Z1 seems like a pretty worthy competitor to DayZ. It certainly feels more playable than the standalone Early Access title does, though that is always liable to change as both inch towards completion. Either way, if you're dying for some zombie action, Daybreak Game's H1Z1 probably won't let you down.
7 Days to Die
Honestly, Steam is kind of drowning in survival games that could make this list as viable alternatives to DayZ. But 7 Days to Die wins our hearts with its unique premise that seeks to focus your objectives within the game instead of meandering aimlessly through woods hoping no one snipes you from two kilometers away. To each their own.
7 Days to Die mixes things up by making the zombie element of the game a far more pressing concern. Your goal is to simply live as long as you can, the kicker here being that each progressive day makes the zombies stronger and stronger. Furthermore, the game borrows the day and night cycle system popularized in Minecraft, meaning that nighttime is when things get really hairy. No, I'm not talking about werewolves (though that'd be awesome). It turns out that in 7 Days to Die, zombies are somewhat nocturnal, because as soon as that sun sets they certainly get a lot more lively.
Another unique feature that 7 Days to Die brings to the table is the voxel-based world that it inhabits. Destruction and creation happens seamlessly in the world, allowing you to truly shape your experience to your liking. This extra degree of control is fantastic if you're the type of person who likes perfecting amazing shelters and building away to your heart's content. Crafting also plays an integral role, which helps flesh out the experience in ways that DayZ has fully yet to realize.
7 Days to Die is pretty awesome, even if it too is Early Access and not entirely finished. Some of the planned systems do sound pretty awesome though, like quests, skill trees, and more. So keep this one on your radar, especially if you're the crafty type.
"But Steven," you cry, "is it too much to ask that we have a zombie survival game that, y'know, is actually complete?"
Well, actually, kind of. Zombie survival became a pretty hot thing a few years back, which means that the vast sum of games that released in the wake of the shambling zeitgeist have yet to be completed—even the ones that started this whole mess. Fortunately, while DayZ and many of its comrades crawl through the trenches of development hell, a few notable zombie games have actually made it all the way to final release. And guess what? They are awesome.
When I say "they", I really mean Dying Light, Techland's followup to their zombie-butchering last-generation RPG. Dying Light is a massive improvement over Dead Island in just about every conceivable way, and, just like the former, it is way better with a group of friends.
Dying Light features a sprawling fictional city for you and three friends to scramble through, dodging bandits and zombies while completing quests for the city's still (mostly) morally upright citizens. But what really steals the show here is the game's fluid parkour system, which takes inspirations from Dice's Mirror's Edge to provide a first-person experience that is at once thrilling and haunting.
Running is often far more viable than fighting, and the game provides you with no shortage of moves to help you leap, slide, and tuck-roll through its apocalyptic environments. Of course, what zombie game wouldn't be complete with slapdash weapons made out of whatever you can find in the environment? Dying Light has you covered with an expansive arsenal of weapons that can be customized and crafted to make some truly epic tools. Ever dreamed of skewering a zombie with a machete strapped to a blowtorch?
The multiplayer is what really helps Dying Light make it on this list, however. Being able to tackle the entirety of the game's story with 3 pals goes a long way—even if the game isn't a truly massively multiplayer experience. But have no fear, after a few hours spent jogging around Dying Light leveling up your character and collecting loot, you'll soon forget that it's just the four of you on your own grand adventure.
Rust is the only game on this list that significantly departs from the zombie aesthetic, but I'd be a little remiss if I didn't give it at least an honorable mention. So, what makes Rust such a worthy addition? Well, to be fair, I'm not entirely sure. Rust just somehow possesses that perfect blend of elements to give rise to an endless barrage of hilarious and, at times, shocking moments.
DayZ might be about zombies, but it's really the freedom in player interaction that has always earned it the spotlight, and Rust possesses a lot of the same components. If you like spending evenings with a group of friends enslaving a whole server, capturing players and imprisoning them, Rust has you totally covered—just don't mind all the penises.
Of course, the survival genre is only growing at this rate, and such a humble list will only contain but a few of the great games worthy of your time. Think we missed something that should really be on this list? Think something on this list is a steaming pile of garbage that shouldn't be on this list? Let us know in the comments! And remember, kids, a crowbar is superior to an axe, and guns just draw attention. Be safe out there, survivors!