Post-apocalyptic works of fiction have been around for a long time. In the realm of video games, the post-apocalyptic setting usually reminds us of just how fragile the human civilization is, and some of the best games ever made take place precisely in one such setting.
Be it nuclear war, ecological catastrophe, a zombie pandemic, or any other form global cataclysm that brought the world as we know it to its knees and paved the way for a new order to arise, here are some of the best post-apocalyptic games released to date!
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S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl
Release date: March 20, 2007
Developer: GSC Game World
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is a beloved franchise that is bound to be the first association for many whenever the term “post-apocalyptic” is mentioned.
Released in early 2007, the first S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game – S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl – was the result of years of hard work, having gone through multiple major overhauls throughout its development cycle. Quickly enough, it amassed a cult following, spawned two sequels (both of which were more like standalone expansions than full-fledged games), and a proper sequel titled S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 has also been announced recently, following its cancellation years prior.
However, for now, we’ll be focusing on Shadow of Chernobyl and the two games that followed: Clear Sky and Call of Pripyat. While all three games feature a similar setting – the irradiated, anomaly-dotted, mutant-infested exclusion zone around Chernobyl following a fictional second incident – each game follows its own narrative strand.
S.T.A.L.K.ER. is a FPS game with RPG and survival horror elements, and the core mechanics remain the same for all three games. There is a weight-based inventory system, the weapons and armor all have stats and durability, and the player has to manage hunger, bleeding, and radiation poisoning as they explore the Zone and brave its many dangers.
The subsequent games expanded upon the core formula in a number of ways e.g. Clear Sky improved the original’s barebones faction system and allowed the player to repair and upgrade weapons while Call of Pripyat also introduced more open levels and improved the game’s RPG elements.
In any case, if you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic games but still somehow haven’t played any of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games in 2020, now is the time, especially since S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 will launch in the near future!
Release date: March 16, 2010
Developer: 4A Games
Formed by former employees of the studio behind S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Metro 2033 was based on Dmitry Glukhovsky’s novel of the same name. Aesthetically, it is very similar to S.T.A.L.K.E.R., although the gameplay is quite different.
Most notably, most of Metro’s levels are claustrophobic and rather linear, which is understandable considering the setting i.e. the Moscow Metro which had become a new home for the people of Moscow following a devastating nuclear war.
Apart from the more linear level design, Metro 2033 also doesn’t feature many RPG elements. There is an occasional choice to make but dialogues are very one-sided since the protagonist doesn’t speak, and there is no inventory system. However, the player still has to be careful, utilize stealth, and count their shots, especially on higher difficulties.
That said, while Metro 2033 is mainly similar to S.T.A.L.K.E.R. from an aesthetic and thematic standpoint, it plays differently, featuring levels that are more tense and filled with more scripted encounters. That is not to say that Metro 2033 is a bad game – after all, if it were a bad game, it wouldn’t be on this list. Quite the contrary, it did an excellent job at delivering a proper survival (horror) experience, and even if we look at it as a regular FPS game, it has some well-designed arenas, and the shooting is quite satisfying, too.
Metro 2033 has also received two sequels. The first is Metro: Last Light, which feels much more like a fast-paced FPS game as it doesn’t put a lot of stock in slow-paced survival horror, unlike its predecessor. The second one, Metro Exodus, did a decent job at balancing the FPS and survival elements, but it also featured more open and diverse levels, thus encouraging exploration and helping prevent the setting from going stale after two games of tunnel-crawling.
Ultimately, we feel that the original Metro 2033 is the best of the bunch, but all three games are worth playing if you haven’t done so already.
Fallout: New Vegas
Release date: October 19, 2010
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Along with S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Fallout is another classic franchise that is sure to be among the first names mentioned when post-apocalyptic games are brought up, and rightfully so. This series has spawned a number of games, but Fallout: New Vegas is often regarded as the best of the bunch.
So, what makes New Vegas so good? First and foremost, there are the superbly-written story and engaging characters that make New Vegas stand out as a very unique and memorable narrative experience, which is no wonder considering that it was developed by Obsidian Entertainment. In that respect, many feel that it completely overshadowed the mainline entries, Fallout 3 and Fallout 4.
When it comes to the gameplay, New Vegas is an action RPG, featuring both ranged and melee combat. It uses the same Gamebryo engine as Fallout 3, so the combat is similar as well. The V.A.T.S. automatic targeting system is still there and it makes for some very gory kills, and the perk system is still there, featuring a variety of combat and non-combat perks. There’s also a crafting system and a reputation system, as the players standing with the many in-game factions will inevitably shift over the course of the game.
All in all, Fallout has a very distinct feel to it, mixing serious storytelling with comedy, and while most regard New Vegas as the best game in the series, we’d say that the first two games – Fallout 1 and Fallout 2 – are also worth playing. Meanwhile, we feel that the rest aren’t quite as good, but you might like them if you like Fallout’s style.
The Last of Us
Release date: June 14, 2013
Developer: Naughty Dog
The Last of Us is among the most noteworthy PlayStation 3 exclusives that was released in the twilight days of Sony’s 7th generation console. It is easily one of the best games ever made in general, post-apocalyptic setting or not.
The game takes place years after a mysterious new species of the Cordyceps fungus started turning people into zombies, and few games have managed to depict dilapidated cities quite as beautifully as The Last of Us has. Graphics and art direction aside, the story is one of the game’s strongest suits, as it delivers an emotional and memorable experience with a cast of very well-written characters.
On the gameplay front, The Last of Us isn’t terribly complex. It features both melee and ranged combat, as well as stealth mechanics which are very important on higher difficulties. The player will have to scavenge for ammo, count their shots, time their melee attacks, and take enemies out one by one if possible. As already stated, the gameplay formula isn’t that complex but it has just enough depth to keep things interesting over the course of the campaign without going stale, so it is executed very well.
Now, if you want to play The Last of Us, you have three options:
- Playing the original on a PS3
- Playing the remaster on a PS4
- Streaming the original via PSNow on PC
Unfortunately for PC and Xbox users, the game remains a PlayStation exclusive and it’s unlikely that it will ever be ported to any other platform. Luckily, PSNow is more affordable than it used to be, and we’d say that paying $10 for a 1-month subscription in order to play this masterpiece (along with some others, potentially) would definitely be worth the money.
Release date: April 26, 2019
Developer: SIE Bend Studio
Days Gone is another PlayStation-exclusive zombie game, and though it might not be as good as The Last of Us, it is a very different game with its own set of merits.
Set in rural Oregon, Days Gone is an open-world action game with some light survival and RPG elements that has pretty much all the usual traits of a modern AAA open-world action game: exploration, enemy camps, uninspired side quests, a crafting system, and rudimentary stealth mechanics.
However, while it may seem a bit generic at first, Days Gone actually executes its formula reasonably well. It starts out a bit slow and takes time to really build momentum, but when it does, it becomes extremely addictive and difficult to put down. While the stealth sections and shootouts with human enemies are nothing special, taking on massive zombie hordes single-handedly has never been more fun – a shame that it is reserved mostly for the endgame.
In the end, Days Gone may feel a bit like a lukewarm experience. The story starts out well but makes a few stumbles, all the while the gameplay is addictive but can get repetitive after hours and hours of the campaign. It may not be among the best games ever made or among the best PS4 exclusives, but it is worth playing if you’re into zombie games and like exploring vast open worlds.
The Walking Dead
Release date: April 24, 2012
Developer: Telltale Games
The third and final zombie-themed post-apocalyptic game on this list is Telltale’s Walking Dead series. Based on the famous comic that has also spawned the (in)famous TV show, The Walking Dead is the game that kicked off the avalanche of episodic narrative games in the 2010s.
Gameplay-wise, The Walking Dead plays a lot like a traditional point-and-click adventure, and most of the actions that the player can take are contextual. It features some fairly simple puzzles but the dialogues and the story are what drives the game forward.
Naturally, if you haven’t played Telltale’s Walking Dead yet, you’ll want to play through the entire saga, which includes the four main “seasons”, as well as the optional 400 Days and Michonne DLCs. You can get the whole series as part of The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Series which is available for Windows, the PlayStation 4, and the Xbox One.
Release date: November 8, 2019
Developer: Kojima Productions
Few games were as polarizing upon release as Death Stranding was, so some will inevitably object to its inclusion on this list. Being Kojima’s first independently-developed game following his messy split with Konami, Death Stranding was shrouded in mystery and weirdness that only served to fuel the speeding hype train.
Death Stranding was supposed to be different, and when it finally came out, it was different indeed – just not in the way that everyone wanted it to be. The gameplay mostly comes down to traversing the game’s open world while using various tools to try and get to a destination as safely and/or as quickly as possible without damaging the cargo that the player is delivering.
Of course, the game also features ranged and melee combat, as well as rudimentary stealth mechanics that are nowhere near those of Metal Gear Solid V, though this is understandable considering that Death Stranding was never supposed to be a stealth game.
Both the combat and the stealth sections often feel included as a means of breaking the monotony of post-apocalyptic package delivery, and while they are quite effective at that, there is little depth to this aspect of the game and the player will be able to breeze through enemy encounters after acquiring some useful gear, boss battles included.
However, there is a unique melancholic beauty to Death Stranding, and while making deliveries might feel like the last thing in the world you’d call “fun”, it can often be rather satisfying. The graphics are definitely one of the game’s strongest suits, and rarely have in-game character models looked so good. As for the story, while unique and memorable, it could have been paced and delivered better, all things considered.
At the end of the day, Death Stranding isn’t for everyone, and you will either love it or hate it. If we look past the grindy repetitiveness and shallow combat, Death Stranding is worth trying out for its atmosphere and overall experience. While it was originally supposed to be a PlayStation 4 exclusive (and still is, for the time being), Death Stranding will also come to PC in June 2020.
Release date: September 1, 2015
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Another highly recognizable name in the realm of post-apocalyptic fiction, Mad Max got his own AAA video game in 2015, titled simply “Mad Max”. The plot is not based on or tied in with the 2015 film Mad Max: Fury Road nor any other of the earlier Mad Max films. But obviously, it features the same setting and tone, taking place in an arid wasteland where gas is the most precious commodity.
When it comes to the gameplay, once again there are all the usual elements that you’d see in most modern AAA action games. As previously mentioned when describing Days Gone, the game has an open world that the player can explore on foot or using their upgradeable car, the Magnum Opus. However, while stealth and firearms are included, the accent is on melee combat this time around, and it is most reminiscent of the combat system seen in the Batman: Arkham series.
Mad Max ultimately received average and above average reviews, so it’s not exactly among the best games ever made, but it is definitely another game that’s worth trying out if you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic stories and settings.
Release date: October 4, 2011
Developer: id Software
Next, we have a game heavily inspired by the Mad Max movies – id Software’s 2011 game called Rage. At first glance, the setting is nigh-indistinguishable from Mad Max, placing a heavy accent on vehicles, dark and dilapidated structures, and arid wastelands.
Rage plays a lot like your usual FPS game with some RPG elements, as the player has to make use of cover and manage their ammo and supplies. Apart from that, the game also features an open world that the player can explore, and seeing as Rage was inspired by Mad Max, it obviously also features vehicular combat with upgradeable vehicles.
All in all, if you’re a fan of Mad Max, Rage is yet another must-play, as it has received very positive reviews at launch. A sequel titled “Rage 2” was also released recently, but it was developed by Avalanche Studios and wasn’t as well-received as the original. Nonetheless, if you end up liking the first Rage, you might as well give the sequel a go, too.
Release date: September 19, 2014
Developer: inXile Entertainment
These days, whenever we’re talking about RPGs, chances are we are referring to action RPGs. However, traditional RPG games are far from dead, and games like Wasteland 2, among others, are always there to remind us of that.
Wasteland 2 is played from a top-down perspective, it features turn-based combat, and the player can control a party of a total of seven characters at a time. This obviously means that there is a lot of room for customizing one’s playstyle and that the encounters are more about strategy than speed.
That said, Wasteland 2 is, in a way, more similar to the original Fallout than the later Fallout games. Its combat system, along with its plot and branching storylines, all made it stand out, leading to favorable critical reception upon release.
As of 2015, Wasteland 2 has received a Director’s Cut version that not only features updated graphics and extra voiceovers, but it also expands the gameplay mechanics by adding new RPG elements and adds a new and refined UI that also makes the game more controller-friendly. In any case, if you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic settings and traditional RPGs, Wasteland 2 is a must-play.
I Am Alive
Release date: March 7, 2012
Developer: Darkworks, Ubisoft Shanghai
Next, we have something a bit different. I Am Alive is a game that features a much colder, realistic, and down-to-earth exploration of a hypothetical post-apocalyptic future. There are no fantasy or sci-fi elements, no monsters, and the only enemies that the player will encounter are other survivors of the catastrophic Event, much like the player’s own character.
The game takes place in the ruins of a fictional American city, placing an accent on the story and the characters, all the while the gameplay reflects the cruel reality that the game is trying to portray. Ammo is extremely scarce and head-on combat is dangerous as enemies can always swarm and overwhelm the player, thus encouraging the player to utilize stealth or even bluff their way through encounters by threatening enemies with an empty gun.
On top of that, the exploration is also important in I Am Alive, and while scavenging for resources, the player needs to manage the main character’s stamina when undertaking physically arduous tasks such as climbing for long periods of time.
Ultimately, I Am Alive won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but if it sounds like it might appeal to you, then you likely won’t regret trying it out.
Release date: February 23, 2017
This might be an odd game to see on the list, as fast-paced hack ‘n’ slash/bullet hell hybrids aren’t usually the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to post-apocalyptic games, but Nier: Automata is definitely worth mentioning here.
As mentioned above, the combat is a mix of traditional hack ‘n’ slash action and bullet hell elements, complemented by various RPG elements that, when combined with the way the dialogues are presented, lend a very JRPG feel to the game. However, while surely unique, we feel that combat is perhaps the least significant part of Nier: Automata.
Rather, what most take away from this game is its creatively-delivered story and well-written characters that will stick with you long after you put the controller down. Not only that, but the design of the machines that inhabit the depopulated ruins of Earth also makes for a memorable setting, not to mention that the soundtrack is some of the best that you’ll find in a game.
All things considered, much like Death Stranding, Nier: Automata isn’t for everyone, and chances are you will either love it for its unconventional storytelling, atmosphere, and quirks, or you will hate it for those exact same reasons.
This War of Mine
Release date: November 14, 2014
Developer: 11 bit studios
While not exactly a post-apocalyptic game, This War of Mine features a bleak setting that might as well be post-apocalyptic. Namely, it has the player take control of several civilians who are struggling to survive in the ruins of a fictional war-torn city.
This War of Mine is a survival strategy game, and the goal is to keep the survivors alive and healthy while scavenging for supplies at night and fortifying the hideout during the day. The game has a lot of replay value and the graphics are highly evocative, making for a very visually striking experience.
Release date: April 24, 2018
Developer: 11 bit studios
A more recent release from the developers of This War of Mine, Frostpunk is also a post-apocalyptic survival strategy game, albeit with a different setting and on a larger scale than the previous game. As the title may suggest, it places the player in the midst of a mini ice age that came about as a result of a massive volcanic eruption.
As it usually goes with strategy games, the player needs to gather resources and build up their city, all the while making sure that all the needs of the population are met and that there is balance in the community. This includes the basics like heating and food, but there are also other factors to consider such as political turmoil and religion.
In any case, Frostpunk features beautiful graphics, striking art, and engaging gameplay, plus it has been received well by fans and critics alike, so it’s another post-apocalyptic game that you should definitely try out if this is your genre.
And those would be our picks for the best post-apocalyptic games released so far! Naturally, there are even more games out there, so if you feel that we’ve overlooked a title that you feel is worth mentioning, feel free to let us know in the comments and we’ll see about adding it to the list in the future!