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[This story was originally going to go up yesterday for Halloween, but our editor fell into a deep candy coma before he could get to it. We’re still not sure if he’s okay. … — Ed.]

Zombies are powerful and terrifying enemies. They’re also an endless source of cannon fodder — and sadly, most games with zombies tend to use them for this very reason.

It’s easy to see why people can get tired of that. But we shouldn’t write off the undead just yet. A new wave of games are showing us that zombies have more to offer beyond the cheap thrills of slicing off their limbs. Some of these titles examine how humanity would cope under such stressful circumstances. Others try to replicate the survival experience with detailed gameplay systems built around growing food or making weapons and tools. You still have to kill plenty of zombies along the way, but they’re no longer the focus of these adventures.

Here, in no particular order, are 10 recent or upcoming games that are redefining the genre in unexpected ways.

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How to Survive

Developer: EKO Software
Platform(s): PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U
Release date: Out now

When I first saw How to Survive a few months ago, I thought it looked like dozens of other top-down zombie shooters. I was wrong. It places less emphasis on exterminating the undead and more on taking care of yourself. In addition to your health, you have to check how hungry, thirsty, or tired you are; if these bars are too low, consider yourself zombie chow. You can heal yourself with plants and hunt animals for food and pelts (ingredients for making better armor and weapons).

And if you want a little more challenge, you can dive into How to Survive’s cooperative multiplayer mode, where you and your partner share the same pool of resources.

How to Survive

Above: In How to Survive, you can improve your weapons and armor with item crafting.

Image Credit: 505 Games

Beyond the Dead

Developer: Gree Vancouver
Platform(s): iOS devices
Release date: Out now

Though the App Store is rife with zombie games, that’s not stopping developer Gree from adding its own role-playing spin with the free-to-play Beyond the Dead. You’ll embark on quests to figure out just how the zombie epidemic began and assemble groups of survivors into five-man teams. Each member of your squad has skills that can benefit the entire party, and you can get special stat bonuses for making specific rosters, like having a pure melee- or range-based team. You can find more characters (over 125 in all) by exploring the 16 different levels in the game.

And when you get multiple “copies” of the same person (like a trading card game), you can merge them together to increase their stats and slightly change their appearance. Figuring out how their skills can complement each other is crucial when fighting people in random player-versus-player encounters.

Beyond the Dead

Above: Player-versus-player fights are a major part of Beyond the Dead.

Image Credit: Gree

DayZ

Developer: Bohemia Interactive
Platform(s): PC
Release date: TBD

In the original DayZ, a free multiplayer zombie survival mod for military simulator Arma II, players explore small towns and expansive countryside looking for supplies in the fictional country of Chernarus. While zombies are a threat, DayZ is at its best when you come across another player. Do you shoot them and loot their bodies or try to become friends? Death is permanent — all of your gear disappears when you die.

With help from Arma II developer Bohemia Interactive, creator Dean “Rocket” Hall and his team quickly started working on a standalone version of DayZ late last year. The new DayZ features a better inventory system, upgraded graphics, new animations, and a complete overhaul of the zombies’ artificial intelligence. You can keep up with DayZ’s progress here.

DayZ

Above: In the new DayZ, you can restrain other players by slapping handcuffs on them.

Image Credit: Bohemia Interactive

The Walking Dead: Season Two

Developer: Telltale Games
Platform(s): PC, Xbox 360, PS3, iOS devices, PS Vita
Release date: First episode comes out before Christmas

With its tragic character-driven stories of struggle and survival, Telltale’s The Walking Dead barely fits any traditional notions of a zombie game. In the first season, most of the gameplay consisted of dialogue choices and impulsive decision-making, with very little dedicated to killing zombies. What you did or didn’t do during certain scenes lead to harsh consequences throughout the rest of the narrative.

The only thing we know about season two so far is that you control Clementine, the little girl you took care of in the previous game. The Walking Dead: Season One earned multiple Game of the Year awards in 2012 (including ours), so the sequel has a lot to live up to.

The Walking Dead: Season Two

Above: Clementine tries to escape from a hungry zombie.


State of Decay

Developer: Undead Labs
Platform(s): Xbox 360, PC
Release date: Out now on 360 and Steam Early Access on PC

State of Decay came out earlier this year on Xbox Live Arcade, but Undead Labs has been busy polishing up the PC release (you can buy an early version of the game on the Steam, Valve’s digital distribution service). The single-player open-world action game attempts to provide a well-rounded view of life during the zombie apocalypse, including resource gathering, fortifying shelters, and establishing a well-trained and happy community with fellow survivors. That last bit is important, because when you die, your character is lost forever, and you come back as one of the remaining members of your group.

State of Decay

Above: Keeping a strong and healthy group of survivors alive is the key to getting through State of Decay.

Image Credit: Undead Labs

Dying Light

Developer: Techland
Platform(s): PC, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PS3
Release date: TBD 2014

From the same studio that brought us the Dead Island series comes Dying Light, a first-person action game for current-and next-gen consoles. Dying Light teaches you that the best weapon against the undead isn’t a gun or blade at all: It’s your body. Your character is amazing at parkour, meaning you can run, jump, and climb over buildings and other obstacles with incredible precision. It’s the best way of navigating the dense urban jungle of Dying Light’s huge world, where rival factions fight each other for precious supply drops.

And if you’re good enough at escaping, you may never have to fight the zombies at all.

Dying Light

Above: Running is sometimes the best option in Dying Light.

Image Credit: Techland

7 Days to Die

Developer: The Fun Pimps
Platform(s): PC
Release date: May 2014

7 Days to Die injects Minecraft’s successful first-person block-building and crafting formula into the zombie survival mix. Once you gather enough materials, you can try combining them in different ways in the crafting menu to see what you can come up with. How long your houses and tools will last against the zombies depends on the strength of the materials you built them with.

If you pay the developers $35, you can play the alpha version now and receive future updates for free.

7 Days to Die

Above: 7 Days to Die is basically Minecraft with zombies.

Image Credit: The Fun Pimps

Dead State

Developer: DoubleBear Productions
Platform(s): PC
Release date: March 2014

Citing games like the first Fallout and the original XCOM as inspiration, Dead State takes the turn-based role-playing game approach to explore humanity’s long-term survival odds in the zombie apocalypse. The game starts two weeks after your plane crashes in Texas, and you wake up in a school inhabited by other survivors. From there, you must accept the burden of leadership and look after the school and the people living inside. They’ll give you missions and other intel the more you talk to them. But in return, you must give them food, heal them when they’re sick, and do anything you can to keep their morale from dropping.

Dead State

Above: Dead State uses the fog of war: You can’t see enemies (zombies or otherwise) until someone from your group spots them.

Image Credit: DoubleBear Productions

Zafehouse Diaries

Developer: Screwfly Studios
Platform(s): PC
Release date: Out now

As the name implies, Zafehouse Diaries relies more on your imagination than on fancy graphics to convey its brutality. Seeing your actions play out through text descriptions instead of realistic graphics is a refreshing change of pace. Polaroid photos represent the various members of your group (randomized in each playthrough), and moving them around is just a matter of dragging small tokens across a crude hand-drawn map.

Success in looting and establishing new safe zones depends on how well your crew members work together. To improve these relationships, you can spread rumors about them and customize it to fit their personalities. When someone dies, a splash of blood falls on the page, followed by loud zombie moans and a gruesome description of how they met their doom.

Zafehouse Diaries

Above: Most of your strategic planning unfolds during this map screen.

Image Credit: Screwfly Studios

Project Zomboid

Developer: Indie Stone
Platform(s): PC
Release date: TBD

In its current state, the open-world action RPG drops you into the 2D zombie-filled city of Muldraugh, Ky., where you try and survive as long as you can before the horde devours you. Like other games on this list, you have to search buildings for useful items. What’s unique to Project Zomboid, however, is its obsession with detail: alarms can go off if you break into a house (attracting more of the undead), you can use bed sheets to cover windows (so zombies can’t see you) or rip them apart to make bandages, and if you get sick, you’ll need tissues to muffle your cough when zombies are nearby.

Project Zomboid has no release date yet, but you can still buy and play an early build here. The developers are also planning to have it on Steam’s Early Access page before Christmas.

Project Zomboid

Above: This would be a good time to find a house and hang up those bed sheets.

Image Credit: Indie Stone

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