Everyone has their own post-apocalyptic fantasy. Whether it’s scavenging an old supermarket for food, building a zombie survival base, or traveling the unknown with a faithful companion, people often envision what they would do if the world ended.
Video games give us the ability to live out this fantasy. Because of that, the post-apocalyptic genre may seem oversaturated with games trying to strike what the market want. And sure, there are a ton of dystopian games out there, each with its fair share of death and destruction, but there’s no denying that a select few games have left an unshakable mark on the video game medium and are must plays for any gamer.
Just in this year alone, post-apocalyptic games such as Mad Max, The Division, H1Z1, and Dying Light have and will hit the market, each with its own aura of hype. But before you spend your time fighting the undead and looting their corpses in 2015’s next big IP, check out this list of the games that did global catastrophe in the best way possible.
10. Tokyo Jungle
It might not be the first game you expected to see on this list. In fact, you probably didn’t expect to see it at all. But there’s something inherently special about Tokyo Jungle.
In a genre that sees multiple new releases each year, Tokyo Jungle elbowed its way into the limelight by being unique. Its premise is wacky and confusing, but hilarious and intriguing at the same time. Never have I played a game that allows me to be a Pomeranian on one play through and a crocodile on the next. The over 80 animals types that you unlock in Tokyo Jungle change how you have to approach it entirely, as you learn the strengths and weaknesses of each.
Although the graphics were borderline laughable at release, the gameplay made up for it. And just because you’re running around Tokyo as a lapdog doesn’t mean that there’s no story. I often wondered where humankind had disappeared to, and the payoff when I finally found out was oddly satisfying for such a weird game.
There’s a reason why many people call Tokyo Jungle “Grand Theft Auto with (insert animal name here)”. It’s over the top, unexpected, and a whole lot of fun. There’s a lot of well-known games on this list that you may have already played, but don’t overlook Tokyo Jungle.
9. Left 4 Dead
Left 4 Dead didn’t have much of a story, it didn’t have much of character development, and it didn’t have much variation. But what it lacked in plot it made up for in fun.
In many ways, Left 4 Dead can be considered one of the best co-op games of all time. Firing away at zombies with a select arsenal of weapons and three best friends was a blast. You didn’t keep playing because you wanted to know the ending, you kept playing because of the enjoyment you were having. The premise of each of the four scenarios playing out like a zombie flick was a nice touch, especially because of all the unscripted moments that could happen at any second. Even the credits rolling after you reach the safe house displaying everyone’s stats fleshed everything out perfectly.
Playing Left 4 Dead is a lot like going to see a summer blockbuster with your friends. You know what you’re seeing isn’t going to win any Academy Awards, but you’re going to have a hell of a lot of fun regardless.
8. State of Decay
In many ways, State of Decay is the zombie game I’ve always wanted. Setting out on an open world with buildings to loot, undead to kill, and a base to build is my ideal post-apocalyptic fantasy.
State of Decay certainly had hype surrounding it before its June 2013 release, and rightfully so. However, not many people expected it to be as good and as addictive as it was. It tugged on so many gamers’ apocalyptic heartstrings that it was easy to ignore the technical glitches that plagued it.
To this day it never ceases to amaze me how close State of Decay is to the perfect zombie game. I still remember my heart pumping as I stealthily looted a house before it was overrun by “freaks,” or the excitement I had when I moved to a bigger and better base that I could upgrade to my liking. The only thing State of Decay is missing is the ability to experience it with friends. Here’s hoping that the inevitable sequel has that one missing component.
7. Fallout: New Vegas
Here’s where things get a bit tricky. I could rank the Fallout franchise as one, but that’s a bit of a cop out considering this is a best games list—and not a best series one. So for now, let's talk about New Vegas, and hey, read on to see if Fallout 3 makes the list as well.
I’ve put hundreds and hundreds of hours into New Vegas. Every single time I start a new playthrough, I find new areas to explore, quests to complete, and characters to meet. Not only is its depth staggering, but the writing—found in its many one-off side missions and abandoned new locations—is superb. It also bucked the good-decision-bad-decision trend and presented choices with a gray area. You could often make a decision that you thought was right, just to find out the complete opposite.
Fallout 4 is coming later this year but until then, New Vegas fills the void that many of us have. Thankfully, four years later, its quality and quantity still hold up.
6. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl
You know, for games being set in the apocalypse, not many of them are scary. That’s not really the case with S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl. The first-person shooter survival-horror game is just that: A horror game. As the name suggests, you’ll be stalked by eerie-looking mutants while exploring buildings in the dark, causing some interesting jump scares. It’s a lot like what you would expect in a real-life apocalypse surrounded by radiation.
The premise behind Shadow of Chernobyl is equally as interesting. Set in an alternate reality when a second nuclear disaster happened at Chernobyl, Shadow of Chernobyl refreshed a genre ripe with one zombie apocalypse after another. For its time, the setting was bleakly beautiful, and the first-person shooter elements were some of the best on the market.
It would be interesting to see a disastrous Chernobyl on current-generation hardware, but unfortunately, the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series has spun off into a free-to-play MMO. If Shadow of Chernobyl is any indication, the IP had an interesting world packed with a copious amount of stories to tell.
DayZ is really a testament to what some people would do if a zombie apocalypse ever happened. If you’ve ever played it, that sentence can be a little frightening considering people regularly lie, steal, and kill at will. But it’s amazing that DayZ is the game that gives the player that opportunity.
In DayZ your only job is to survive. How you do that is completely up to you. Though it claims to be a zombie game, the undead really act as background for you to flesh out your life in the apocalypse. Finding food, water, and medicine isn’t easy, and eventually discovering firearms and building a base is even harder, but in a real zombie apocalypse, wouldn’t that be the case?
What makes DayZ truly special is its player interaction. Will that guy you see in the distance rob you or trade with you? Will he kill you or help you? These questions are something that would be commonplace in an apocalypse; DayZ acts as a simulator for it all.
It’s impossible to write a list of the best post-apocalyptic games without mentioning the game that set the genre rolling. Wasteland came to computers way back in 1988, and although time hasn’t been too kind to the turn-based RPG, it was extremely innovative, not to mention being one of the first games to feature a persistent world that didn’t reset every time you left an area.
To put it simply, without Wasteland, there wouldn’t be Fallout. In fact, until the original Fallout’s release in 1997, Wasteland was really the only good dystopian game on the market. Its clever premise and turn-based gameplay mixed with its humor and pretty artwork were all pluses. If you ever get the chance to play, you’ll notice that many games within the genre still borrow concepts from it to this day. It’s weird to think that a Wasteland sequel took 26 years to come out, releasing just last year.
3. The Walking Dead Season 1
Let’s talk about a game that brought tears to my eyes.
It never ceases to amaze me how much The Walking Dead came out of nowhere in 2012. After the first episode released, it was the biggest buzz in the gaming community, and something almost everyone took time to try out. But the thing was, the experience that everyone had was entirely different from others. The choices you made took the story on an emotional rollercoaster that was completely personal. Characters lived and died, friendships were made and broken, and a little girl grew up all too fast in a world shaped by your decisions.
It was never about killing zombies in The Walking Dead. In fact, you rarely pick up a weapon. Talking to other characters is the most interesting part, evidenced by the stellar writing. No dystopian game out there deals with the themes and player choices that The Walking Dead did. Keep them coming, Telltale.
2. The Last of Us
The Last of Us is the perfect example of video games being works of art. Its environmental storytelling, character development, and plot all prove that not every dystopian piece of fiction has to center around a bigger cause or issue.
Setting out in a world riddled with destruction and the worst of humanity, your journey with Joel and Ellie is unforgettable. I found myself caring more about the safety of my party and less about the world around me. The people you encounter are memorable, and the beautifully realized world is one of the best ever created.
That’s not to say that The Last of Us wasn’t fun to play either. It was. Its gunplay, mixed with scavenging for resources, was a refreshing break from the heart-wrenching story. Mix that with open-level sequences that allowed you to go stealth or guns blazing, and the gameplay in The Last of Us was far and above that of even the Uncharted series before it.
1. Fallout 3
When you first decided to read this list, chances are you knew Fallout 3 would be in one of the top spots. A lot of people debate about what the best Fallout game is. In terms of depth and content, New Vegas takes the cake, but in terms of what each did for the video game medium, 3 wins the race handily.
In fact, not only is Fallout 3 the greatest post-apocalyptic game of all time, it’s one of the best video games ever made, period. It changed how we play open-world games and expanded on the idea of a true RPG. I will never forget stepping out of Vault 101 for the first time, sun blinding me on my way out. It’s a touchstone moment for many gamers out there. I quickly realized that I didn’t have to go to Megaton right away like my quest marker told me; I could go anywhere else entirely.
Setting out on an open world ready to be explored is Fallout 3’s most endearing quality. It’s ripe with things to do and memorable choices to make. Did you blow up Megaton the first time around? I know I did. Plus, Liam Neeson is your dad; it doesn’t get much better than that.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Buffalo wings, writing, sports, and video games: those are the things that I love most in this world. If I'm not crying at the New Jersey Devils or New York Giants' most recent loss, chances are I'm playing video games. During the summer, you can find me at the golf course tearing up the ground doing my best Bubba Watson impression. Oh and by the way, the first Uncharted is the best one of the series... View Profile