Follow TV Tropes


Video Game / Project Zomboid

Go To
Oh, it's such a perfect day...
These are the end-times.
There was no hope of survival.
This is how you died.
Project Zomboid is an isometric zombie survival Western RPG being developed for PC by The Indie Stone, a British team of four developers. It takes inspiration from games like Survival Crisis Z and XCOM. The team was at first known for having extremely bad luck as it rushed to meet the schedule to release a demo in 2011. On 8th November, 2013, the game secured an Early Access launch on Steam, and it remains actively worked on in Early Access to this day.

The game was initially set in a fictionalised version of Muldraugh, Kentucky; a small town by the side of a highway which includes a number of businesses, a large logging camp, some light industry, and various classes of housing. It has since expanded to a detailed simulation of the whole county, large enough to require vehicles to realistically travel from one end to another. There's also a day-night cycle, a cycle of seasons, and even a simulation of nature slowly taking over the abandoned areas. Farming, trapping, fishing, carpentry, cooking, trapping, character customization, skills and perks are all present; moreover, your character can also be afflicted with depression, boredom, hunger, thirst and illness as they try to survive. And of course, the game also simulates swarms of zombies that potentially number in the hundreds, and possess detailed visual and hearing systems to make sneaking past them a tough but fair challenge.


Compare and contrast with Dead State, a different take on a zombie Western RPG from an indie developer, with less simulation but more focus on the story and Turn-Based Combat.

This game contains examples of:

  • Acid Reflux Nightmare: Going to sleep with a excessively full stomach has a chance of causing the player to wake up early with both the panic and anxious moodles.
  • Action Survivor: All player characters start out unskilled and unequipped, with no more advantages than some basic professional training.
  • Aerosol Flamethrower: The Engineer profession comes with several recipes for turning household cruft into tactical saviors, and hairspray is one. Rather than the traditional flamethrower, however, the Engineer makes an incendiary bomb out of spray, sparklers, and aluminum foil.
  • The Alcoholic: The character can get drunk in order to reduce panic. If you get drunk enough, your character will randomly stumble around.
  • Advertisement:
  • All-or-Nothing Reloads: Averted. Maybe not in the case of magical reloading of semi-automatic pistols in "Easy" mode, but otherwise any activity involving ammunition can be interrupted by sprinting, then continued later with little or no redundancy.
  • An Axe to Grind: Getting your first axe can be a transcendent experience in Zomboid. Not only is it a sublime weapon, it's superb for battering down locked doors and almost required for felling trees for your lumber and carpentry.
  • And Then John Was a Zombie: In most cases, this is how you died. You can even sit there and watch yourself stumble around looking for more brains, if you want. But see also Previous Player-Character Cameo.
  • Anti-Grinding: The effectiveness of skill grinding has varied somewhat over the game's history, as the developers have tried to make up their minds how difficult it should be for one character to be good at everything. Currently, most skill-building actions provide only small amounts of XP, so those skills are very slow to train unless you've got an XP multiplier going, either from your starting occupation or traits, or by reading a how-to book.
  • Awesome, but Impractical:
    • Combat, full stop. While a competent player will have no trouble with a half-dozen or so zombies, any more than that and the best option is usually to just run, no matter how well equipped you are. Melee combat is silent but extremely dangerous (a single bite or scratch could result in you eventually zombifying), the shotgun is devastating and safe to use but it attracts zombies from all over the map to your position, and Molotov cocktails attract zombies and run the risk of burning down your safehouse, as well as potentially killing you.
    • With that, the Police Officer profession. Former police officers get huge bonuses to using the highly impractical firearms in the game, and little else.
    • The sledgehammer. As weapons go, it packs a serious punch, and it can take a pounding itself. But it's heavy. Even using it for its intended purpose—demolishing a bit of wall—will probably make you rest for a couple of hours, so imagine if the wall is an endless row of zombie heads. Heck, at its weight, even though it's the only way to get access to some areas, you probably won't want to carry it unless you're sure you'll need it.
    • Generators. After the electricity goes out, it's exciting to have some semblance of "advanced civilization" again, but it has few uses anymore: no TV channels are broadcasting, nor does electricity run heat in houses (you need a fireplace for that). Electricity only has four uses after the main power grid goes down: freezers, stoves, house lights, and recharging car batteries. Two of these are redundant: you don't really need an electric stove (you can use a campfire, BBQ, or the rarer wood-burning stove), and houselights are just a luxury (which might even attract zombies). You do need electricity to recharge car batteries, but this is very infrequent - they hold a charge if they're not plugged into a car, and even active use in your current car takes a long time to drain. A freezer is useful for keeping food from spoiling, but on a scale of months, all of the original fresh food in the game world will spoil - even food that was originally frozen when the game starts in July will spoil by the first winter. After that, the only food that can spoil is food you make - opened cans, cooked food, fresh meat you get from trapping and fishing. The answer is simply not to over-hunt a region so you've got stacks of uneaten meat sitting around and going to waste. Moreover, generators guzzle a lot of gasoline if you run them continuously, which you have to do if you're keeping food in a freezer - and gasoline is a finite resource. You only truly "need" to run a generator every few weeks, for just a few hours to recharge car batteries.
    • The Engineer profession. High metalworking skills are somewhat useful, but metal building supplies are rare enough that it would be difficult to use them on a large scale anyway. One of the big draws to the Engineering profession is that it allows you to make pipe bombs, which is impossible to learn if you're not an Engineer (it can't be taught by any instruction manual). The problem is that pipe bombs aren't devastatingly effective, and Molotov cocktails (which anyone can craft) do pretty much the same thing. The blast from pipe bombs can kill a dozen or so zombies but they're not a cure-all against large hordes of several dozen. Their real benefit is from all the fire patches they make on the ground, to ignite the rest of the horde. Molotov cocktails make a smaller blast and only a few fire patches - but you only need to ignite one zombie to start the rest of the horde burning. Thus the Engineering profession uses up a lot of high cost skill points for skills that are either uncommon or you can make up for through other means.
  • Batter Up!: The baseball bat is one of the best Blunt weapons. Add nails for extra damage but reduced durability.
  • Big "NO!": The demo character gets one if the raider shoots his wife.
  • Blade on a Stick: One of the most primal examples of the polearm, since Chipped Stone + Tree Branch = Wooden Spear. Sadly, the spear sucks as much as a handmade spear should.
  • Booze-Based Buff: Alcohol can substitute for painkillers, anti-depressants, sleeping pills, and beta-blockers. However, drinking too much will make the player drunk, and mess up coordination.
  • Boring, but Practical:
    • The "end game". Technically there is no such thing, but if you choose to play for maximum survivability it's feasible to set up a sustainable, well-fortified life for yourself where risky scavenging is a thing of the past. You can stay inside, only needing to clear stray zombies from your walls every few weeks. This monotony of farming and water purifying can go on indefinitely.
    • Stomping on downed zombies. While it can take up to dozen hits to kill a single zombie, it will let you save weapon durability and ammo.
    • In previous builds, the Park Ranger profession. While it didn't help with combat or barricading, given how much it rains in Knox County, the weather resistance actually came in pretty handy. Now Park Ranger just gives you a moderate bonus to Foraging and Trapping and a small boost to Carpentry, plus increased movement speed in forests, which is good especially in the mid/late game but certainly isn't quite as ubiquitously useful.
    • The Fire Officer profession just gives you a boost to your fitness and carrying capacity with no traits points malus, allowing you to make a well-rounded character who can easily change gears in survival strategy.
    • The Veteran profession gives you a decent boost to strength and firearms accuracy, but the big draw is a unique perk called "Desensitized", which essentially makes you immune to the entire panic system. Normally, panic is a huge part of the game, simply panicking if you see too many zombies (though this allegedly gets somewhat better over time). You can take beta blockers to make panic go down, but the in-game mechanics for consuming them are drastically slower than the rate at which panic increases. Panic ruins your accuracy with all weapons, even axes but particularly with guns. With the Veteran profession, it becomes functionally possible to face off against a horde of dozens of zombies while using a pistol to calmly pick them off one at a time.
    • Sledgehammers - not as a weapon, but in base construction. A lot of attention goes to building defensive walls out of wood, or even metal, but all constructed walls can be worn down by zombies over time, and a large enough horde can reduce them to matchwood in minutes. How to easily build a zombie-proof base? Simply find a two-story building, drop a sheet rope out a window, then use the sledgehammer to destroy the stairs (make sure you do it in that order). Zombies can't climb, so you can rest easy on the second floor. The one catch is that zombies can knock down sheet ropes, so if you leave your base you might not be able to get back in: make sure to hide an emergency sheet rope inside secured by a barricaded door. If you want a permanent, self-sustaining base, find a two story building with access to a wide, flat roof (like a warehouse or hotel second floor), so you can set up rain collector barrels and plant crops.
    • Another neat trick is that zombies can't climb through cars (in the current game mechanic), so you can use them to permanently block off access to buildings or bridges. Though this isn't a perfect solution, because when the game reloads and the cars respawn they move slightly, which may allow zombies to get through the gaps.
  • Born Lucky / Born Unlucky: Your character can have either traits to supplement your playstyle.
    • The former will increase the likelihood of necessary items appearing all throughout town and occasionally have military units/scavengers patrol the streets, killing zombies for you, in your sleep.
    • While the latter reduces the number of supplies by roughly half.
  • Burn the Undead: Zombies can be killed by conventional combat, although there is at least an implication that it takes Removing the Head or Destroying the Brain. Still, only fire can completely get rid off them, because Everything Fades is averted. Used-zombie disposal means starting a fire and hoping you can convince it to consume the zombie bodies you're bored with, without spreading to the houses and so forth you still want to loot or sleep in. Even then the cremated remains will stick around, at least for a while.
  • Character Customization: With twenty occupations, more than fifty traits (positive and negative), and twenty skills to train and use in-game, you've got a lot of room to make characters that play very differently from one another. Maybe you can't even run to the end of the block without needing to catch your breath, but you can read how-to books in double time and don't need to eat much. Specialization is encouraged by most skills being very slow to train unless you get an XP multiplier on them from somewhere.
  • Continuing is Painful: If your character dies, you can begin another on the same map - without any skills or inventory, at a random point on the map.
  • Cosy Catastrophe: Zig-zagged, much like any zombie apocalypse. Surviving the first few days is easy enough if you just avoid zombies and go for easier food sources. It gets worse after a few months, when you've exhausted pre-existing food supplies, then the electricity and water cut off. But if you manage to survive several months, by the point you've got a self-sustaining base and you're growing your own crops, you're pretty well set to keep going indefinitely.
  • Crapsack World: And not just for your character. The game is unwinnable by design: "These are the end-times. There was no hope of survival. This is how you died." At least you can't say you weren't warned. With updates that incorporate the "erosion" mod, the sack gets even crappier as time passes, with weeds growing, walls cracking, and pavement flaking gradually.
  • Crazy Survivalist: The raiders. You can be this as well.
  • Critical Encumbrance Failure: Averted. While reaching your maximum weight capacity with only a few grams of nails can lower your stamina effectively, the actual weight limit where you literally break your back is roughly double that weight.
  • Crowbar Combatant: Until the pick-up and place modes for furnishings were added, crowbars actually had no use besides combat. Now they can also be used for stockpiling floor tiles, but they still make pretty good head-bashers.
  • Darker and Edgier: The final game, as currently advertised, looks as though it will essentially be a grittier, more realistic Survival Crisis Z.
  • Defog of War: The darkness of night can make exploration extremely hazardous, especially indoors after the power goes out. There are various solutions for raising light levels, both stationary and portable, ranging from cigarette lighters to jury-rigged lampposts. Another example of defog would be taking beta blocker pills to counteract the loss of peripheral vision that comes with panic.
  • Disposable Woman: Kate Smith, the demo character's wife, can survive the tutorial (and, in fact, be perfectly fine aside from the leg injury), depending on the player's actions... but plays no further role in the story either way.
  • Deadline News: With the addition of radio and TV reports this became inevitable. Kentucky News Radio broadcasts this twice, once when the quarantine is overrun by thousands of undead, a second time when the station is attacked directly.
  • Developers' Foresight:
    • In the tutorial, leaving the oven on while you run off to listen to the radio will result in your house burning down.
    • Merely nailing boards over a window does not block all visibility through it, you need to cover up the gaps with either a curtain or a sheet.
    • Water can be drawn from anything with a tap (kitchen sink, bathtub, etc.) and can be stored in any empty container, be it a plastic bottle or a cooking pot.
    • Take too many pills and it could kill you.
  • Do Not Run with a Gun: Ironically, running with a gun is encouraged, if one attempts to redirect the horde away from your camp. Popping a shot is enough to alert the entire horde to the direction where gun fired.
    • Some lighter weapons, such as a pistol, are recommended to make this plan successful, anything heavier like a shotgun also works, as long as you don't carry much.
  • Downer Beginning: You start off the tutorial with your things stolen, no food, a wife with a broken leg, and zombies everywhere.
  • Downer Ending: There’s no chance of rescue or a game win screen; you will die eventually.
  • Drop the Hammer: You can fight with two different hammers: the ordinary clawhammer, or the boring sledgehammer. Both are essential for more hammery tasks, but both also make productive holes in zombie skulls.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: The game is littered with these. Knowing that you're infected and running out onto the street to die in a blaze of glory are fun parts of the game.
  • Empty Room Psych: Occasionally, you will find a garage, or shipping container, or something, that has no windows or doors you can open the easy or hard way. If you come along with a sledgehammer, however, you'll be able to crack that baby open and find the sweet shelves and crates inside. Just don't expect them to hold loot any better than the other random loot you've found everywhere else. Except for the gun shop.
  • Endless Game: Well, endless in that the game doesn't end until you die. In some early releases the game was not technically endless because you could not keep yourself fed and hydrated without scavenging, and theoretically you could strip the entire map. (The size of the map makes this an unlikely feat.) However, now that food can come from farming, fishing and trapping, while water can come from rain-catching and boiling groundwater, setting up a lifestyle that is well-protected and fully self-sustainable is feasible.
  • Equipment-Based Progression: Zomboid does not play this as straight as "you need this item to advance to the next act of the plot", because there is no plot. Nevertheless, certain tools act as "gatekeepers" for segments of gameplay. You need a screwdriver for electronics and gun modding; a fishing rod to fish; a trowel to plow for farming; and an axe, saw, and hammer to take full advantage of Carpentry. The straightest use of the trope would be the sledgehammer, as there are some structures that simply cannot be looted unless you can destroy one of the walls.
  • Everything Fades: Averted to a great extent. Eventually, the plan is that bodies will remain on the map until they gradually decay (leaving skeletons behind which will never disappear unless taken) and rain will eventually be able to wash away any outdoor bloodstains. In the current version, every single corpse will remain on the map permanently, while blood spatter decals will remain until a map segment is reloaded or until you clean them manually with bleach and a towel. This provides a visual record of the player's exploits that is either gratifying or galling, depending on how you feel about undead carcasses and gore in your path. (Also don't forget, each corpse is a moveable mini-container, if you're really that desperate to organize junk.)
  • Failure Is the Only Option: Like Dwarf Fortress and many other survival games, you already lost the game by the time you played it and you will die, despite your best efforts.
  • Fatal Fireworks: Americans in northern states might have been excited by the prospect of exploiting Kentucky's more lax pyrotechnics laws, but alas there are only sparklers available. (Non-American readers, see the other wiki for details of terminology and regulation.) However, if you happen to be of the Engineer profession, those sparklers can become the fuses of incendiary bombs, with hairspray as the fuel.
  • Fog of War: Zomboid uses a sophisticated line-of-sight lighting system to prevent the bird's-eye view of the action from being an unrealistic advantage. The sense of hearing is subtly accounted for, but nonetheless the profusion of opaque obstructions inside buildings—to say nothing of a dense forest—adds to the suspense considerably. Especially at night.
  • Fork Fencing: Flatware is always available to drive into zombie eye sockets, if you dare to get that close. Just don't expect to get more than one shot with any given fork.
  • From Bad to Worse: Paypal decides to limit their account. Then Google Checkout decides to mess with them. Then a there was a car bombing near their flat. Then two of the devs were robbed.
  • Frying Pan of Doom: You'll probably want to use it for "small animal meat" stir-fry most of the time, but in a pinch a frying pan can crush zombie skulls as well as any other object of a similar weight and shape with a convenient handle.
  • Gateless Ghetto: Justified in that the town is under quarantine. As the game goes on, the infection will spread, the quarantine lines will either expand outward or be overrun, and more areas of the map will thus become open for player exploration.
  • Ghost Town: Eventually. At the start of the outbreak the town is fairly heavily populated with NPCs, but the vast majority of them die in the first few days and the rest will hole up and hide, leaving the streets deathly quiet.
  • Golf Clubbing: Golf clubs are okay, but they can't beat a baseball bat for pure zombie-smashing effect.
  • Guns Do Not Work That Way: Optionally averted, in some respects. Zomboid is not a shooter game, and guns are not dwelt on. There are only five models in four classes, for example, compared to more than a dozen melee weapons. And yet, apparently more thought was put into portraying firearm use realistically than into many games that pride themselves on their Gun Porn. See All-or-Nothing Reloads and One Bullet Clips for details, but the most telling detail out of the gate is that the player is allowed to choose how realistic they want their reloading to be: Easy, Normal, or Hardcore, with Hardcore venturing into territory normally associated with Receiver.
  • Handicapped Badass: It's a rule of character creation that all handicapped characters are this, for a certain definition of badass at least, as picking negative traits that qualify as disabilities generally give you a ton of positive trait points to compensate, with deaf giving you the most points of any negative trait in the game.
  • Heal It with Booze: When the First Aid system was added, disinfecting flesh wounds became rather important. If you can't find household disinfectant or sealed alcohol swabs, whiskey will do. Drinking it can also provide some small pain relief. (And it's also useful for lifting your sadness or making a Molotov Cocktail.)
  • Heal Thyself: Although there is no instant health, you can still treat injuries by bandaging them and getting plenty of food and rest while waiting for them to heal naturally, using pills to treat any pain. With later updates came more detailed medicine and a dedicated First Aid skill to develop. The injury-prone survivor has disinfectants and bandages of varying sophistication to deal with flesh wounds, and may be unfortunate enough to have to splint themselves for several weeks for a broken leg. That's in single-player mode. In multi-player, one can also serve as The Medic.
  • Heroic RRoD: Overexertion can be your undoing if done recklessly, to the point where you can kill yourself by just surviving the wasteland alone.
  • Hide Your Children: Although the developers are still actively debating amongst themselves and the community as to whether or not children will appear in the game, the 'no' side of the argument is currently winning.
  • House Fire: With the way zombies burn and fire spreads, it's not hard to start one (or more) of these yourself with an ill-advised Molotov Cocktail or a carelessly-placed campfire. Firefighting does in fact exist in the game, but once a typical house is more than seared, you and your little bucket of water may as well kiss it goodbye.
    • Putting a propane tank inside the oven is a very good way to cause one, for whatever crazy reason you'd want to (maybe as a final hurrah for a trapped and bitten character with no way out?).
    • In later releases, some procedural variety was applied to the map, so you will occasionally find a house that's been pre-burnt to the ground.
  • Hyperactive Metabolism: Averted. Eating will increase healing rate, but will not give you instant health. It does increase a point of your strength instantly, but temporarily if fed enough.
  • The Immune: Downplayed. One radio channel states that the zombie virus is mainly spread through air and only a small amount of people (including the player character) are immune to airborne infection. However, no one is immune to infections via bites or scratches.
  • Improvised Weapon: This can be considered a core of the game, since almost none of the combat-ready items were meant to be weapons, firearms excepted. Baseball bats, a hammer, and boards of wood can be used as weapons. Get some nails, and you can have yourself a spiked bat. Get an empty bottle, a rag, a torn sheet, or a sock, along with some gasoline, and you have a Molotov Cocktail.
  • In-Universe Game Clock: The default timescale is 24:1—you play one game day in an hour. In single-player you can fast forward through tedious activities at a few different speeds, and this happens automatically when you sleep. In Sandbox or multi-player, you can customize the timescale from as fast as 96:1 to as slow as real time. The game clock tracks not only time of day, which is important since night can get very dark, but also the date. The weather changes according to the calendar, to the point of forcing wardrobe changes to avoid heat stroke and frostbite.
  • Insurmountable Waist-High Fence: When it comes to literal waist-high fences, this is generally averted, as anything that is waist-high can be vaulted over by players or zombies—it just takes a little extra time. (There's even a skill for this, Nimbleness.) The part that is bizarrely played straight is that those fences can have gates, which can be opened and closed just like doors, and like doors have a chance to be locked. A locked gate cannot be opened from either side, even when you can step a foot to your left and just climb over. Another oddity is that the player can erect a barbed wire fence. Climbing one of these will not injure you, even though things like broken windows absolutely will. This is probably a temporary oversight.
  • Inventory Management Puzzle: A very real element of surviving. You desperately need everything.
    • You can also only add/remove items from containers like plastic bags or backpacks if they're equipped, and you have three 'equip' slots total including the 'wear on your back' option for certain ones.
  • Isometric Projection
  • Item Crafting: Used to make several items in the game, as well as upgrading existing ones.
  • Kill It with Fire: How? Why, with Molotovs of course! Or, if you're too lazy for that, just build a campfire and persuade one trend-setting zombie that the shortest route to your juicy brain goes right through it. Zombies swarm together, of couse, and they ignite one another stunningly well. However, beware that pyrocombat is often Awesome, but Impractical. While zombies are good fuel, fire does not kill them quickly, nor does it affect their mobility.
  • Luck Stat: The "Lucky" trait, which improves your loot and weapon repair rolls.
  • MacGyvering: The setting being what it is, there is a little of this sprinkled throughout. The greatest concentration comes with the jury-rigged "traps" that the Engineer profession knows how to make: incendiary bombs from hairspray and sparklers, smokebombs from coldpacks and newspaper, etc.
  • Magikarp Power: Negative starting traits that give penalties to trainable stats can be overcome with enough training, and the most severe ones (particularly Obese) can give you a ton of points for traits that give you abilities no training can get you, meaning it's theoretically possible for you to create an obese nerd character and eventually turn them into a Genius Bruiser. This is extremely difficult, time consuming, and dangerous to accomplish, however.
  • Master of All: With infinite time and resources, you could become this, but it's not likely. If you didn't start with bonus ranks and an XP multiplier in a skill because of your occupation and traits, it will probably be very slow to train. Some, like First Aid, just don't have enough opportunity to practice (you hope), while others, like Electrical, depend on a huge supply of scavenged items to practice on. The Character Customization encourages specialization.
  • The Medic: After the later addition of a First Aid skill and a sophisticated medical system, one can choose from a couple of medicine-related jobs and advantages to get a leg up—or one can gain First Aid experience the old-fashioned way through simple bad luck. Still, in single-player it's purely a case of Heal Thyself, and First Aid is not an easy skill to build. In multi-player, however, The Medic can come into their own by examining and treating (with skill-dependent reliability) other unfortunate survivors.
  • Mercy Kill: How do you skip the tutorial? Smothering your wife with a pillow. You Bastard!.
    • The game's wiki notes that many first-time players do this accidentally.
  • Molotov Cocktail: One of the weapons in the game.
  • Morale Mechanic: Being around zombies (especially large numbers or when surprised) can cause increasingly severe versions of the "panic" moodle, which lowers your combat accuracy and causes tunnel vision. You can reduce your panic with beta blocker drugs and alcohol, and your tendency to panic will naturally decrease the longer you survive and the more zombies you kill. Also, the Veteran occupation is immune to panic.
  • Must Have Caffeine: Surprisingly, Hot Cuppa is one of the most valuable edibles in Project Zomboid, as it decreases fatigue, thirst, hunger, stress and unhappiness all at the same time. The best part? It does not expire and leaves no utter side effects to the character drinking it.
  • Nintendo Hard: If you don't know the game well, expect to die quickly. If you do know the game well, also expect to die quickly.
  • No Stat Atrophy: Played straight, as far as the skills on your character sheet. But there is "stat atrophy" in the sense that the game considers things like hunger and thirst to be "stats". Many of these will absolutely deteriorate if you do nothing about them, sometimes quite quickly.
  • Official Fan-Submitted Content: invoked In later releases, you'll find that the environment slowly changes as the weeks and months of neglect pass, with grass overgrowing and pavement falling apart. This feature was originally a popular fan mod called "Erosion", which the developers liked enough to officially fold into the base game. Some other features were also borrowed from the mod community, such as being able to randomize or save your character build.
  • One Bullet Clips: Avert it or play it straight—it's up to you! The fiddliness of reloading guns comes in three flavors. "Easy" will deduct loose cartridges straight into your gun (one at a time with a shotgun). "Normal" will make you eject, fill (tediously!), and insert individually-tracked magazines into semi-automatic guns. "Hardcore" will make you do that and use a separate key to chamber a round. Working the action when a round is already chambered will even eject unspent cartridges onto the ground.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: The "Zombie Lore" feature allows you to customise the zombies present in the game and their physical abilities and parameters. By default, the game uses the classic "Romero" zombies: fast shambling undead, dumb as doornails, average strength and toughness, no special infected, no zombified animals, one bite always infects without exception. If you want a workout, you can set the speed to "Sprinters". If you're terrified of the idea of zombies that think, set cognition to "Navigate & Open Doors". You can max out the speed, strength, toughness, intelligence, memory, spell, hearing and sight of your zombies if you want to deal with what are effectively vampires (and want a serious challenge).
  • The Pen Is Mightier: Pens and pencils are counted among the "bladed" weapons. They are not recommended.
  • Point Build System: The foundation of Character Customization. Each occupation comes with a positive or negative number of points to be spent on positive and negative traits. Some of these may come with free skill ranks, but after that all skills can only be improved through practice.
  • Previous Player-Character Cameo: Zomboid manages this within a single release. There is certainly more than one way to die, but zombie infection is easily the most common. If you die while infected (even if something else killed you) you will quickly get back up and join your new zombie brethren. Game over, right? Well, yes, but you can still load that same save, and you will be able to spawn a fresh character into the same world, with all the changes you had already made intact. This includes not only any fortifications or stockpiling you had accomplished, but also the fact that "you" died and became a zombie. You can find and rekill your former self, which you'll want to do if you had been carrying good loot. You may have to track yourself a ways from your death-spot to recover backpacks and the like, but anything you had been holding in your hands will be lying on the ground right where you undied.
  • Reality Ensues:
    • While most Zombie Apocalypse games have the player character conveniently immune to the virus, this game has infection as a mechanic. And there's no absolute cure for it, meaning it's present for much of the game.
    • If you break a window with your bare hands, you'll cut up your hands up and will need to bandage them.
    • Don't expect the ameneties of modern society to be accessible to you forever now that the society has in many cases literally died off. After a month or two, the electricity grid and (particularly devastatingly) water works will fail. Hope you didn't just rest on your laurels and you managed to stockpile plenty of receptacles and build wells or rain collectors, or you're in deep.
  • Reduced to Ratburgers: When the power finally goes out, and all the existing perishable food perishes (a spoiler spoiler!), if you want protein, you will need to fish or trap. Until you get quite good at it, trapping will only produce "small animal meat": mice, rats, or squirrels.
  • Rolling Pin of Doom: The rolling pin is not a great weapon, but it's there if you need it. Better to use it for making bread and pies, if you know how.
  • Run, Don't Walk: Inverted. The character used to be only able to walk, until the developers realized the game wouldn’t be so dark running around like Benny Hill.
  • Sanity Slippage: So far, the worst you can get with your sanity, is panicked. It startles your character upon seeing zombies, but later versions promise it to get worse, like affecting your ability to work with Non Player Characters worse.
    • In earlier versions, the player will see ghostly versions of zombies everywhere, even more so as the insanity gets worse.
  • Save Scumming: The game autosaves every time you sleep or close the game, so this is extremely difficult to do, although still hypothetically possible (though prone to causing bugs) if you manually back up your savegame files, or forcibly close the game.
  • Sawed-Off Shotgun: You can make one. Only standard shotguns can be looted, but Shotgun + Saw = "Sawn Off Shotgun". Damage and range goes down, spread goes way up, and weight lightens. According to the item's icon, only the barrel is sawed, not the stock.
  • Scavenger World: As would presumably follow a zombie apocalypse.
  • Schmuck Bait: The Mall. The likely place where the first (numerous) survivors of the Zombie Apocalypse would ever go and so did the likely disease of said apocalypse along with it. Despite of this, it has abundant valuable resources to survive and are still intact even up to the game's timeline. Good luck getting there though.
  • Serial Escalation: Surviving a single day in this game is relatively easy. Surviving a week is challenging but doable. Surviving a month is hard. The longest verified time that a player has survived in the current version? Over eleven months. Worth noting that the eventual cause of his demise was not the zombies, but rather the fact that there was no more food left on the map and farming and hunting haven't been implemented yet.
  • Short-Range Shotgun: The shotgun is really only useful up to a few feet. A few feet less if it is sawn off.
  • Shovel Strike: You can fight with a shovel, but it's better used for landscaping.
  • Skill Scores and Perks: There is a hard line between these. Perks are occupations and traits, which you choose a balance of at character creation. With a couple exceptions, these will never change through play. Skills, on the other hand, may start with a few free ranks from your perks, but otherwise they increase only through practice.
  • Sliding Scale of Video Game World Size and Scale: In terms of scale (literal scale, not scope), it would be very hard to find a game that surpasses Zomboid on the realistic end of the meter and is set in the real world. The game map mimics real-world Kentucky's dimensions shockingly well, down to the level of municipal zones (e.g., residential vs. commercial) and often individual buildings or other landmarks. The scope is nothing to sneeze at either, being somewhere on the order of 13km x 10km, covering two cities and the wide space between and around. Future plans call for this to be extended even further, to Fort Knox and Louisville. Most likely, even if you did find competition on either score, none would have even a fraction of Zomboid's count of enterable, fully-furnished buildings. Even if you weren't able to fight zombies and scavenge houses within it, the map alone is an exceedingly ambitious project. Travel within the map, on the other hand, is quite compressed when measured in real time. By the game clock, it's roughly plausible.
  • Smoke Out: The Engineer profession comes with several recipes for turning household cruft into tactical saviors, and one option is a smokebomb: newspaper, rags, and a therapeutic coldpack. Even non-Engineers can learn this one if they get lucky, and Electrical skill can upgrade the bomb with timers, proximity triggers, and remote switches.
  • Spread Shot: The shotgun is basically a wedge of death. Wider if you saw it off.
    • Currently, the shotgun is only a Wedge Of Death because there's no code for 'slight damage' on zombies with ranged weapon.
  • Sprint Meter: If you run around a lot, you will get a exhausted moodlet that will prevent you from running, and will make your melee attacks weaker. If you do so while heavily encumbered with loot you can actually injure your back.
  • Stat Grinding: There is a character sheet of twenty skills, from Blunt Weapon Maintenance, to Sneaking, to Cooking, plus two physical stats, Strength and Fitness. All are rated from zero to ten, and there are only two ways to improve them. Either you start with a few ranks by choosing certain occupations and traits from the start, or you grind them up through use. The grinding can take a very long time without an XP boost of some sort, discouraging a player from trying to be good at everything at once. Occupations and traits that come with free skill ranks generally also come with a mild XP multiplier in those skills. There are also a series of how-to books that can be scavenged, each covering two ranks of one skill and providing a large XP boost over those ranks if you take the time to read the whole thing. Only five skills have books so far, but there are plans to include more.
  • Survivalist Stash: A late addition to the game was randomly applying "scenarios" to houses for some variety while you loot. You may find a corpse surrounded by empty liquor bottles, for example. Probably the most interesting is the Survivalist Stash, a house that may have some or all of the first-floor openings barricaded, probably has a greatly increased number of zombies inside and out, and has its kitchen and bathroom cabinets filled to the brim with canned food, guns, and ammo.
    • Not to mention, of course, that creating and maintaining your own Survivalist Stash is one of the most straightforward ways to succeed in the game. There's always nomadism and hand-to-mouth scrounging, but they're arguably harder.
  • Tactical Door Use: Unless you tweak the "Zombie Lore" settings in Sandbox mode, zombies cannot open doors—the normal way. So in an emergency, closing a door behind you with a horde right on your heels will at least give you a moment to breathe. You might be able to sneak out the window while they're busy, too, because the other tactical use of doors is that once a zombie gets started on trying to batter one down, it takes a fair bit to distract them. However, for long-term fortification purposes, the best way to use doors is to not use them. Instead, dangle a rope from a second-story window, then board up all the ground-floor openings completely. Those former doors are not now useless; rather, they make a great focal point for incoming zombies so that you can sneak out and brain them from behind.
    • While locked doors were always there, a later update added the magic of keys. Occasionally, a zombie will have a house key on its body, generally of the house they're in or near. The game tracks which keys are for which doors, and it even remembers when you bash down the door and scavenge the doorknob to install on your own door later. While the ability to lock and unlock your own doors is useless in single-player (again, unless you decided to grant zombies door privileges), in multi-player on the other hand...
  • Taught by Television: TV programs are a handy source of knowledge and experience in the early days.
  • Too Awesome to Use: In some ways, the shotgun. Its noise will attract zombies from all about, making it more useful when there already is a zombie horde, not to mention ammo is somewhat rare.
    • Sprinting. A great way to avoid an amassed group of zombies but will also attract a lot more attention if one happens to literally run into other unexpected hordes. Skilled players usually do this to redirect the hordes away from their camps.
    • The axe can be too awesome at first. With enough scavenging, you can accumulate a surplus, but until then its usefulness for felling trees might make you reluctant to swing it at zombies.
  • Training from Hell: You'll likely to take this one yourself in a town you live in, as skills provided by jobs from the beginning in comparison are relatively low. By endgame, you can pretty much survive a lot longer than others... if you survive.
  • 2xFore: Planks are a very basic item, being the staple of the carpentry segment of the game. You can also choose to grasp one end and direct the other end at a zombie temple, if you must. You can even shove some random nails into it if such misuse is not unforeseen.
  • Unexpectedly Realistic Gameplay: The game is rife with this. If you can't open a door, you break a window and climb in, obviously; but if you don't take the time to remove the glass from the frame, now you have a bleeding hand to fix (you might actually need a "tweezers" object to deal with it). Accidental fall from a second story? Broken leg, naturally; but okay, it's easy to make a splint from sticks and rags. However, you'll need to keep that on for weeks (already very generous), with your movement speed being not at all zombie-compatible the whole time, even with painkillers. And then there's the "Hardcore reloading" option for firearms. One key will eject or insert a magazine, or start tube-feeding rounds into a shotgun, while another will work the action to chamber a round. If you work the action when a round is already chambered, you will actually eject unfired rounds onto the floor.
  • Universal Ammunition: Averted to an extent, but only because the guns are so distilled. There are four classes of ammunition for four models of gun. (Not counting that you can saw off a shotgun.) In Zomboid, all pistols are 9mm, all shotguns are... shotguns (presumably 12 gauge), varmint rifles are .223, and hunting rifles are .308. This is not hard to swallow when your scavenging of guns & ammo occurs in Kentucky households or even police armories, where these would in fact probably be the most common chamberings. But then there are some dedicated gun stores you can break into. The lack of firearms or munitions outside these constraints requires a bit more suspension of disbelief when looting shelves that were originally stocked for NRA dues-payers.
  • Utility Weapon: This one is played to the hilt, since the "weapons" without non-combat uses are outnumbered by those that can serve much more mundane purposes. Pans for frying, knives for slicing, hammers for hammering: you name it, it can be used to sustain your life by destroying zombie brains or by doing what it was made for.
  • Video Game Time: When a game combines homemaking activities that would not be out of place in The Sims with zombie pounding combat of a similar feel to Dead Island, it's only natural that finding the right timescale would be a tricky thing. If the same scale were used for everything, then either cooking a stew would take literally hours of your life away, or running from zombies would look like The Flash. The balance here lies in an In-Universe Game Clock that runs twenty-four times faster than real time (play one day per hour, adjustable in Sandbox or multi-player), and an Acceptable Break from that Reality when it comes to tactical movement and combat. Moving and fighting look like normal speed, though according to the clock they are happening much too slowly. More relaxed activities take a fairly plausible amount of in-game time to complete, as do gradual changes like getting hungry or tired. Since some of these activities would still take an unreasonable amount of real time to complete, like reading a 300-page how-to book or getting a night's sleep, single-player allows you to switch into some "fast-forward" speeds. (Doing this with even the slightest chance of being approached by a zombie is an easy way to die.)
    • Some activities, on the other hand, take bizarre amounts of in-game time. One of the worst offenders is filling gun magazines in Normal or Hardcore reload mode. Presumably because the developers wanted this to happen in "tactical" time, it takes more than thirteen minutes of game time to get fifteen rounds into a pistol mag. There is even a Reloading skill, and while it might speed up that time, performing this tedious task does not build the skill!
    • When multi-player was introduced, there was the obvious question of how to handle sleeping, since time could not be sped for some players and not others. Originally the answer was to disable tiredness and sleeping altogether, but that caused a different sort of tedium. Nighttime can get dark enough that some players would consider it too risky to venture out, so being awake was just as boring. Later, the option to allow/require sleeping was added to multi-player, with the convenience that if all players on the server are asleep at the same time, time will in fact speed up.
  • With This Herring: Averted. Even though you started with no items as you spawn, you spawn in a random home location with local items just so happened to be available for you to survive. Just praise to the gods that you'll get a backpack to have all stuff you need.
  • Wizard Needs Food Badly: As the game goes on, you will need to look for food to eat. Start going hungry, and your strength goes down, and your healing time decreases. Starve yourself, and you start losing health, along with a massive decrease in strength.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: Using pure Max Brooks rules - no fast infected, no special infected, no zombified animals, only headshots kill, and no immunity - a single bite will infect you, no exceptions, with the only currently confirmed cure for a zombie bite being immediate amputation of the affected limb.
  • Zombie Infectee: Getting bitten will almost always cause this. Getting scratched has less of a chance. Once infected however, it is only a matter of time before you join the zombie ranks. This is why in multi-player one would generally be expected to follow through on the trope: Get some distance from other survivors and do the honorable thing. (Leaving your loot behind, of course.)
    • Brilliantly, this seems to work even if you get infected and then die from a different cause (certainly not from accidentally setting yourself on fire with a carelessly-thrown molotov, that's for sure); watch your character collapse...and then get back up, with the permanent "Zombiefied" moodlet.
    • Better still, see the entry on Previous Player-Character Cameo.
    • Varying on your choice to edit the world prior to launch, you can choose how bad infections are: They can be instant, take hours, days or weeks. Or if you really just want to increase your survival chances, disable infections altogether. Doesn't stop you from getting gangrene or the common cold, though.
    • Speaking of colds, there's the Hypochondriac disadvantage. Getting a cold while being a hypochondriac will net you fake moodles about being zombie-infected. It's not hard to see through this as a player, but far more sinister is that the same thing can happen after you've suffered a skin-breaking wound from a zombie, whether the wound caused zombie-infection or not. One of the moodlets that gets steadily worse over the course of a real or fake infection is "stress", and in the hypochondriac's case it's likely to directly reflect the player's state of mind, as they wait for these all-too-familiar symptoms to either lead to the inevitable or miraculously blow over (which can take a few days).
  • Zombie Gait: Officially, the game observes this. Zombies can vary in speed, and they lurch faster when they go for the kill, but even the fastest are very easy to outrun, assuming you're not winded, wounded, or overburdened. However in Sandbox mode, or when configuring a server for multiplayer, there are many parameters of "Zombie Lore" that you can tune to your preference. The "Proper Zombies" preset uses "fast shamblers" for speed, but you can dial it up to "sprinters" if you want a workout. You can also choose several levels of intelligence for zombie pathfinding, if you aren't utterly terrified at the thought of zombies using doorknobs.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: