With Fallout 4 hype reaching a fever pitch, and the release date looming, I thought it’d be a good time to discuss my top 5 favourite games set after everything has gone to hell. The post-apocalypse is one of the most iconic video game environments, and the bare canvas provided by the end of modern society allows developers to paint rich stories full of intrigue, hope, and despair. Or alternatively, blow up and kill way more stuff than usual. The post-apocalypse has provided us with bountiful video game experiences from the wild and bizarre to the heart-breakingly real, so without further ado, my Top 5 Post-Apocalyptic Video Games.
- Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War – Relic Entertainment
I feel almost like I’m cheating by including a Warhammer 40K game on this list, but it cannot be denied that though clichéd now, the sci-fi universe that gave us “the grim darkness of the far future” is full of solid post-apocalyptic fiction, even though you could argue that in Warhammer 40K, the apocalypse is ongoing.
“Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War is an incredible power fantasy on a truly military scale”
Dawn of War features a fairly standard story of Space marines versus the Eldar, Orks, and Chaos Marines on the planet Tartarus, that should be familiar to anyone who is familiar with any other Warhammer fiction, but where Dawn of War really stands out is its sense of scale.
Forgoing the ‘creating armies one unit at a time’ Real-Time Strategy of something like Command & Conquer, yet not having the globe spanning scale of something like Civilization, gave Dawn of War the unique selling point of fielding huge armies that fought in gloriously detailed combat, and commanding the battlefield minutia from close up. Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War is an incredible power fantasy on a truly military scale, (something which its more Company of Heroes inspired sequel lost) and still stands as a great example of the RTS genre, using its unique, end-of –the-galaxy setting to further fuel that fantasy.
- Left 4 Dead 2 – Valve Software
Left 4 Dead 2 is a masterclass in cooperative gameplay. Pitting four survivors against endless hordes of zombies in small collections of thematically similar levels seems too simple at face value, but Left 4 Dead 2, by making the levels have enough unique features to seem varied, and by making the gameplay so tight and balanced, more than makes good on its simple premise.
Left 4 Dead 2 is another game on my list that uses its setting, the world on the brink of collapse after a zombie outbreak, not for unique story telling opportunities but for unique gameplay opportunities. The endless hordes of zombies that satisfyingly fall apart into hunks of meat and ribbons of blood as you and three friends blast away with assault weapons makes up for the story told purely in small, disconnected vignettes.
Left 4 Dead 2 is not a game that gives you a story, it gives you the options to craft a story yourself. The adrenaline rush experienced during the last moments of a Versus campaign, as your group of survivors rush to the exit, low on life and ammo and pursued by player controlled Special Infected is second to none, and the panic of a team of survivors desperately trying to rescue a downed team mate while in the midst of a horde of zombies leaves a lasting impression.
- Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars – EA Los Angeles
Bizarrely, another RTS for the list. The universe of Command & Conquer exists in an alternate future where the impact of a mysterious meteor cause the barely contained growth of the incredibly toxic, incredibly useful, mineral Tiberium on the surface of the Earth. In the days of C&C1, the world was still much as we know it now, but by the time C&C3 comes around a large proportion of the surface of the Earth has been rendered inhospitable. The majority of the population live in war torn, irradiated wastelands across the globe, mutations run rampant, and the global political theatre is dominated by stalwart good-guys the Global Defense Initiative, and their terrorist counterpart, the Brotherhood of Nod. And it is in this desperate, hopeless world of conflict and environmental disaster that Command & Conquer 3 sets its story of global betrayal and, quite literally, interstellar mystery.
Command & Conquer 3 is arguably the pinnacle of the series, and though it isn’t quite as soaked in campy, B-Movie traditions as its sister series Red Alert, it’s here in Tiberium Wars that the gameplay is at its most refined.
- Fallout 3 – Bethesda Game Studios
“The Capital Wasteland is beyond massive, and bursting with content from full blown quests spanning multiple characters”
There HAD to be a Fallout game on this list. There HAD to be. The original Fallout was hugely influential on the style of wasteland that future games crafted, and Fallout only further developed its identity over its long and storied history.
Fallout 3 has you take up the mantle of The Lone Wanderer, a man or woman born and raised in an underground vault designed to protect its inhabitants from a nuclear war. After being thrown from the vault as the result of a series of events beyond their control, the Wanderer finds themselves in a vast wilderness, and, though given a rough idea of your overall objective, told to go forth and explore. And that is the shining brilliance of Fallout 3. The Capital Wasteland is beyond massive, and bursting with content from full blown quests spanning multiple characters and areas to small snippets of story told from nothing more than the placement of a few choice pieces of scenery.
Fallout 3 is a game to which you can lose literally hundreds of hours, and not even finish the main questline. Where every single player creates a different character with different gear and a different story because the game is that ridiculously gigantic. It is overflowing with character, story, and experiences.
So what could beat such a game? Apart from Fallout 4, of course.
- The Last of Us – Naughty Dog
“Never has a game used the end of the world to tell a story that is both so dependent on its setting”
The Last of Us is one of the most beautiful, shining examples of post-apocalyptic fiction that has ever been made. There, I said it. The Last of Us isn’t about the apocalypse. Not really. It’s about surviving, not only physically, but mentally. It weaves the story of Joel, gruff smuggler, and Ellie, young girl in his ward, expertly into the backdrop of a world ravaged by an uncontrollable, lethal fungal infection.
The Last of Us combines the effortlessly charming and realistic characters of a Naughty Dog developed game with weighty, tightly paced stealth combat that always keeps you just on the edge of running out of supplies, forcing you to use your wits to survive. But whatever enjoyment there is to find in the gameplay, it’s doubled, tripled, quadrupled by the story. The Last of Us has to be played to be understood, its narrative must be experienced. Never has a game used the end of the world to tell a story that is both so dependent on its setting, yet also so far removed from the realities of the setting itself. It’s a masterclass in storytelling and pacing, and sets the bar for single player story focused experiences sky high. The Last of Us is one hell of a journey, and is my favourite game set after the apocalypse.