There are so many ways for the world to end: Superflu, nuclear war, climate change, zombie outbreaks. Yet, knowing how delicate the balance of society is, it's incredible to think we're all still here.
For as (hopefully) safe as civilization is at the moment, numerous movies, T.V. shows, and video games show an alternative version of the world. From wastelands populated by flesh-eating monsters to empty metropolises ravaged by nuclear fallout, these movies, series, and games depict frightening “what if” scenarios for what life would be like after a significant cataclysmic event ended the world.
With the release of HBO's new show, The Last of Us, right around the corner, we decided to take a look back at some of the best video games to feature a post-apocalyptic setting, ranking them from worst to best.
With his belongings and prized V8 Pursuit Special stolen, former lawman Max Rockatansky wanders the desert, constructing a new vehicle from the ground up and fighting the band of War Boys who left him to die.
The 2014 Mad Max game quickly pales compared to its feature film counterparts. Similarly, its gameplay can be lackluster for some, relying too heavily on the mechanics used in the Batman Arkham games and Shadow of Mordor. But at the end of the day, it's still a game that allows you to fulfill your greatest Mad Max fantasies, like building souped-up cars, battling unhinged raiders, and searching for precious guzzolene.
Tom Clancy's The Division
After a potent man-made flu is released in New York City, a joint task force of National Guardsmen and sleeper cell agents do their best to flee the city, rescue key personnel, and collect a virus sample to find its origins.
Genuinely great online-only multiplayer games are hard to find, Tom Clancy's The Division being a notable exception. Favorably compared to older MMO RPGs like World of Warcraft, it may not blaze any new trails when it comes to its gameplay or open world, but it is an enjoyable enough game to spend some time getting lost in.
A century after a massive asteroid ended civilization on Earth, a lone soldier awakes from cryosleep. Journeying through the remnants of Earth's society, he is pursued by a mysterious, technologically advanced organization known only as the Authority.
Imagine the setting and gameplay style of Fallout combined with the driving mechanics of Mad Max, and you have RAGE. Incredibly engrossing in its combat system, challenging enemies, and immersive environments, it's the ideal game for fans of Bethesda's flagship post-apocalyptic series.
Finding evidence that his wife may still be alive, a drifter travels across Oregon two years after a viral illness has turned nearly everyone into zombie-like monsters.
At the risk of this becoming a list of the best zombie games, we decided to limit the number of games featuring flesh-devouring creatures to a bare minimum. That being said, Days Gone is far and away one of the best modern video games out there, especially when it comes to utilizing a post-apocalyptic environment. The story is average at best, but the design, open world, and challenging enemies make it a game well worth playing.
Six is a nine-year-old girl living in the decrepit underwater ship called the Maw. Trying to find food, Six journeys through the Maw, evading the other inhabitants onboard, including long-armed, child-snatching janitors and cannibalistic chefs.
It may seem controversial to describe Little Nightmares as post-apocalyptic. Still, its derelict world, frightening creatures, and grim tone seem to pigeonhole it in the same category as most other entries on this list. Slightly underwhelming in its length, Little Nightmares makes up for its duration by emphasizing its eerie visuals, environments, and simple but fantastic gameplay style.
Everybody's Gone to The Rapture
In the seemingly abandoned English village of Yaughton, players try to decipher what happened to the missing town populace, solving the mystery by looking at every scrap of evidence.
As much a puzzle game as an open-world adventure game, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture has an intriguing mystery that players must work hard to unravel. The '80s setting and aesthetic of the game are worthy of praise, but the gradual process of discovering what happened to Yaughton's residents also makes it an engaging game that requires you to use your wits to complete.
In a near future where Russia has been devastated by nuclear war, returning protagonist Artyom scours through the country, traveling east with his friends and close allies.
The third and final entry in the popular Metro trilogy, Metro Exodus, is a fitting conclusion to 4A Games' most standout video game property. Building off the story of the first two games, it imagines a fascinating and downright terrifying dystopian future — characterized by hostile nuclear winters, predatory monsters, and deranged cult leaders. What more could you ever ask for?
In an alternative version of history, the U.S. and Soviet Union launch an all-out nuclear war against each other that effectively destroys civilization. Over a century later, a group of combat specialists tries to solve the mystery of their comrade's death, heading to the post-apocalyptic deserts of California and Arizona, where their compatriot was killed.
Strategy games are a staple video game genre in themselves. A rare strategy game with a post-apocalyptic flair, Wasteland 2 places you in the leadership role of a group trying to brave their nightmarish surroundings — made even better by the developers' later expansion, Wasteland 2: Director's Cut.
Gears of War 2
On the post-apocalyptic planet of Sera, the human Coalition defend themselves against the demonic subterranean species known as the Locust Horde, who plot to sink humanity's cities to exterminate the human race.
Including nearly every entry in the Gears of War series on this list is tempting. But if we limit our pick to just one game in the franchise, it'd have to be Gears of War 2. Retaining the dark and mature tone of the first game and combining it with a more fluid gameplay and an online multiplayer option, it's not for the faint of heart, but love it or hate, this ultra-metal war game practically defined the late 2000s era for the Xbox 360.
After a cataclysmic event led to the emergence of ethereal, afterlife-dwelling beings in the U.S., the country reverted into a system of colonies. Traveling from one colony to another is Sam, a courier whose job involves ferrying supplies across this strange, futuristic version of America.
As with Hideo Kojima's previous work in Metal Gear Solid, it's almost impossible to say for sure what's going on in Death Stranding. The universe and story are simply too intricate, ambitious, and avant-garde to tell what's happening. But even if the story and environment don't hook you, you still have an undeniably interesting game that could only be imagined by that lovable madman, Kojima.
Horizon Zero Dawn
In the 31st century, modern civilization collapsed, with humanity now living in isolated tribes and using primitive means to survive. So when the world's remaining machines — A.I. robots who have lived peacefully among mankind for generations — begin turning hostile, a young woman named Aloy finds out why.
Who would've thought a game with robotic dinosaurs could be this good? Yet, despite its kitschy-sounding premise, artificial creatures, and world design, the pleasure of Horizon Zero Dawn lies behind its storyline and endlessly replayable gameplay.
Telltale's The Walking Dead
Shortly after a zombie outbreak circulates across the globe, a former convict rescues a young girl, acting as her unofficial guardian and protector against the roaming waves of the undead.
It's astounding to think the best thing to ever come out of Robert Kirkman's Walking Dead universe was this 2010 gem. The single greatest game ever made by Telltale, it harkens back to the comic book feel of Kirkman's original series, tying into the general universe of The Walking Dead perfectly. Despite several middling sequels and spin-offs, The Walking Dead remains among the best choose-your-own-adventure games.
Two decades after the events of Half-Life, Earth's population has been enslaved by the oppressive alien species known as the Combine. Joining humanity's resistance movement against this new police state is Gordon Freeman, the man whose work at the Black Mesa Research Facility contributed to the Combine's arrival in the first place.
It's fair to describe Half-Life 2 more as a dystopian game than strictly post-apocalyptic. Regardless of its classification, the game is a masterpiece, upping the ante in every way imaginable from the initial Half-Life. The world design is impeccable, and the gameplay and story are well ahead of their time. We may never get that long-awaited sequel, but no matter what, we'll always have this 2004 Xbox classic.
In post-apocalyptic Washington D.C., centuries after a nuclear war between the U.S. and Soviet Union, a survivor born and raised in the underground Vault 101 escapes to find their father. This scientist has since gone missing under mysterious circumstances.
It's up to individual preferences which Fallout game you prefer — every entry in the hit post-apocalyptic game franchise is worthy of praise. But the objectively best addition to the series came with 2007's Fallout 3. Dark, gritty, and filled with disturbing imagery, it makes the original Mad Max look like a Peanuts special, boasting a fantastic open-world design and addictive gameplay style.
The Last of Us
Two decades after a large-scale viral infection triggered the end of civilization, humankind now lives in clustered cities run by authoritarian governments or on the frontier where groups of brutal cannibals roam. Hired to transport a teenage girl to a local resistance group, a smuggler realizes there's something far more to the girl than he previously thought.
Of course, we're very excited to see what HBO's adaptation of The Last of Us will look like. Looking back at the original game, it's clear HBO had a tough act to follow. Often hailed as one of the best video games of all time, The Last of Us was a critical and commercial smash hit, impacting the game industry like Bioshock, Halo 2, and Portal 2 had in the decade prior. From its complex story to its morally ambiguous characters, it is without question the greatest post-apocalyptic video game you'll ever have the pleasure of playing.
This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Richard Chachowski is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. He loves reading, his dog Tootsie, and pretty much every movie to ever exist (especially Star Wars).