Admit it, you think you'd be kickass in a zombie apocalypse--even Joss Whedon approves. And you think you have it all planned out; where you'd go, what you'd loot, and even which friends and family members you'd leave for zombie bait. That's cool, because really, who hasn't? But if you think you can hack it in a real zombie nightmare without listening to our advice, then all you are is a rookie meatbag just waiting to get chewed.
What makes us experts in the zombie apocalypse? Games, of course. Thanks to countless hours of in-game research, we've learned all there is to know about becoming invincible, zombie-killing cowboys. Lucky for you, we're willing to share the lessons we've learned over the following pages; partly because we're really looking forward to the final episode of The Walking Dead, and partly because when the undead apocalypse begins we're not going to have time to hold your hand...
Getting bit means game over
This should be a no-brainer to zombie veterans, but it's alarming how many survivors screw this up. So let's get this out of the way: If you get bit, you're done. Gone. Finished. Game over. The same applies to your friends, your lovers, that one wizened mentor and yes even your dog. You're not going to stumble onto a miracle cure, and there's an exceedingly small chance you're immune. If zombies have feasted on the meat that is you, it's only a matter of time before your innards are outtards or you're shambling along with the rest of them. We don't know how many times we're watched seemingly intelligent game characters try to hide their bite marks or mourn their travel buddies long after they've have expired and nine times out of ten, it just winds up in more gnashing teeth and surprised cries of, Holy crap, he's turned!? Really people, if we all just understood this basic zombie law, there would be a lot less headless bodies to bury.
Hoarding is an essential life skill
Not a hoarder now? You will be. As zombie games have beaten into our soft, juicy brains, the key to staying alive in a zombie outbreak is collecting anything and everything you find along the way. That typewriter ribbon? Take it. Those first aid packs? Take 'em. Those herbs, darts, bullets, pass cards, bottle caps, asthma medication, dog food cans, vials of mysterious fluid, and alien artifacts? Take it ... take it all. You may think you're being greedy and even a touch obsessive but the last thing you want is to find yourself locked out of a mansion's basement because you forget to nab that strange relic from library. This is where it pays to have extra people around to help carry the load - but remember, savvy survivors keep the good stuff to themselves.
Kids are a drag
Don't get us wrong, we love kids. They're super-cute, consistently funny, and make for convenient living backpacks. Kids are, in a nutshell, awesome... except when they're slowing you down. In any other non-apocalyptic situation, having to run with a youngling or wait for them to stop talking to random dogs isn't a big deal. When you've got zombies on your six, however, that's when you're going to regret picking up that pint-sized travel buddy from the abandoned preschool. Look, are we saying it would have been better for Lee to accidentally nudge Clementine off the train in The Walking Dead? Or for Chuck Greene to have waited out the clock on his daughter's Zombrex dose in Dead Rising 2? Absolutely not. Do we think it would have made sense for Lana to go all lone wolf in Amy or for Leon to conveniently miss the call about the President's daughter in Resident Evil 4? Not necessarily. We're just saying things would have been a little... you know... easier. Hey, we're just putting it out there.
There's strength in numbers. Also, headaches.
You can try going solo in a zombie apocalypse, but odds are you won't make it past the driveway. You need people who can watch your back, partners who can stab like pros, and chumps you shoot in the leg and leave for a diversion. As we've learned in both Left 4 Dead 2 games and Borderlands: The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned, the more bodies you have on your team, the more firepower you have at your disposal (and the better odds you won't be the slowest--aka tastiest--one in the pack). Then again, with more people comes more problems; and there's always a risk of facing a Walking Dead: Episode 2 situation wherein you'll have to decide who gets to eat and who gets to starve. This can be tough if you've grown fond of your fellow groupies. Unless one of them happens to be that jerk Kenny, in which case the choice is easy.
Pharmaceutical companies are always behind the outbreak
We hate to say it, but the conspiracy theorists are on to something. [Spoiler] From what we know of Dead Rising's Phenotrans and Resident Evil's Umbrella, the self-appointed healers of humanity are usually the ones responsible for all the trouble to begin with. If you'll remember: Phenotrans released zombie wasps to drive up the price of its Zombrex, and Umbrella Corporation, well, they're just really evil people. If it's medical attention you need, you're better off searching upturned ambulances for supplies or befriending a doctor. And while we're add it, go ahead and replace pharmaceutical companies with mega corporation, emergency government, local militia, and any other organized group that seems to have it together.
Always pack a flashlight (also, batteries)
Zombies are terrible at unlocking doors, fashioning tools, or carrying a decent conversation, but they're surprisingly adept at hiding in the darkest part of a room and scaring the ever-loving crap out of humans. Knowing this, the smart apocalypse survivor always carries a working flashlight and a small stockade of batteries at all times. Over and above being handy for illuminating unseen supplies (see slide #3), flashlights are also good for scanning the shadows and blinding undead horrors. They're especially handy if you happen to be a tortured horror writer and your zombies are of the imaginary shadow variety with an aversion to light, a la Alan Wake. And yes, we're calling those zombies.
Boats are your best friend...
Fact: Zombies are terrible swimmers. They're uncoordinated, full of holes, and too stupid to use a life jacket. If you want a reprieve from the undead hordes, making like Lee Everett's crew in The Walking Dead and seeking safety on open water is one of your safest bets. To clarify, this doesn't mean stripping down and diving in. For one, you're going to want to keep your clothes dry and your weapons unclogged. For another, The House of the Dead games have taught us there's all manner of rotting Ebitan zombies and Mofish just waiting to mow down on juicy landlubbers. Instead, you're going to want to invest in a good boat, so that by the time all hell breaks loose on the streets, you'll be miles away en route to your island safe house. You do have an island safe house, right? Right?!
...until they're your worst nightmare
Having a boat is an advantage, sure, but choosing to take solace on the water comes with some huge caveats. The first rule about boat club is never, under any circumstances, give a ride to anyone who is bitten, bleeding, or appears moments away from wigging out on your crew. If you've played Resident Evil Revelations, you know all it takes is for one douchebag to get addicted to the T-Abyss virus, and it's goodbye pleasure cruise. The second rule? Even though you've got a nice little cushion against underwater monsters, games like Resident Evil 4 have shown us that there's always a chance some pesky Del Lago or other seaborne terror can easily spoil the trip (side-note: bring spears).
Lastly, if you do find a boat, there's going to come a point when you're going to have to make tough decisions about which of your fellow survivors gets a seat. That, and you're more than likely going to have to kill a few looters to protect your ride. We recommend painting a giant Do Not Steal sign to protect yourself from the latter. As for the former, we suggest holding some kind of seat contest. With bullets.
Always have a Plan B
You know the saying God laughs at those who make plans? Well so do zombies. Except they tend to also claw and/or chew the faces off anyone who makes plans. The thing is: Zombies are irrational. They're also terribly unstructured. If your plan depends on zombies following some kind of script, make sure you have a Plan B ready to go when the first idea goes up in flames. The Walking Dead games are a classic example of how walkers can mess up even the best laid plans, and why always knowing the quickest exit from a house, school, motel, or cannibal farm is a smart idea. And remember, if you're relying on the military to do the thinking, you might as call it quits now. From what we've seen of military responses in Yakuza: Dead Souls, Left 4 Dead, and Resident Evil 3, when the government gets involved it either leads to bigger monsters or a crater sized hole where Raccoon City used to be.
Aim for the head (unless they're in space)
There's no place for pacifists in a zombie apocalypse. Eventually, you're going to have to spill some infected blood, and unless you want to avoid unloading all your ammo in one walker, we suggest aiming for the head. The science around this is still fuzzy, but from what we can gather from House of the Dead and virtually every zombie game in existence, the undead need their brains to function. A precision shot to the cranium should do the trick or, in absence of a gun, a nice shiv through the eye or sharpened hockey stick through the ear. The only exception to this rule is in the case of Dead Space 2's Necromorphs, which require systematic dismemberment to take down. Unless they're those damn baby crawlers, in which case, your best strategy is to pray to your chosen deity and hope they finish you quick.
There was never, and never will be, such thing as a "safe zone" (sorry)
This one may be hard to swallow. The last bastion of humanity? It doesn't exist. That zombie-free safe zone you heard about over the radio? Sorry man, but in the legendary Ackbar's famous words, It's a trap!" There may have been a gas station or prison that protected humans for a few nights in the beginning, but dollars to donuts those places are Zombieville now. At the very most, you may get invited to spend the night at a government installation, but you better believe that base is either days away from getting overrun a la Left 4 Dead, or housing some experimental walkers in a nearby hangar, a la every cliched zombie movie. Oh, and just in case you're thinking about hiding out in the quaint town of Ravenholm, don't. Unless you dig headcrabs.
You can never go wrong in a mall
George Romero had it right. In lieu of an actual safe zone (which, remember, don't exist), malls are the next best thing. They're a one-stop murder shop, brimming with vital supplies, food, and a cornucopia of zombie killing tools all at 100% off their regular sale price. There's a reason shopping centres have featured prominently in the likes of Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead 2, and Dead Island. More than just digital homages to the classic film Dawn of the Dead, these temples of mass-consumerism are a survivor shangri-las. If you're lucky enough to find one that hasn't already been looted, consider yourself the winner of the apocalypse lottery. Reversely, if you find yourself stuck inside a mall that's become a zombie hangout, consider yourself dead.
Killer plants are a great line of defense
We're not sure this is a real strategy, but given mankind's obsession with Plants vs Zombies, we figure there has to be some truth to it. Then again, fungus is alleged to be the reason behind The Last of Us's troubles, so we're divided on the whole trust mother nature thing. At the very worst, you'll have a nice salad. Just mind the teeth.
Zombies have (and will) outlive us all
Here's a fun fact: Did you know that zombies have existed for centuries? It's true! From playing Call of Duty, Red Dead Redemption Undead Nightmare, Castle Wolfenstein, Stubbs the Zombie, and other historical texts, we can prove with absolute certainty that the undead have be lurching throughout time in a number of different forms. Heck, if the Dead Space series is to believed (and really, why should it not?), zombies are also a common enemy in the dark outer reaches of space. How will this help you to survive? Beats us. But hey, we just gave you something to talk about the next time you have to hide out in a storm cellar or something.
What have we learned?
That about covers it. Now you should be ready to take on the undead hordes and hopefully survive until winter when they all die off and leave humanity to begin rebuilding itself. Wait... they do die off in winter, right? Think you know better? Let us know where we went wrong and if there's a lesson we left out. Otherwise, we'll see you on the road...
Keep the zombie ball rolling with our list of Zombies that give zombies a good names and our musings on Why we can't quit zombies. And for extra kicks, check out the Creepiest enemies in otherwise cute games.