The end of days has long occupied video games. In the 1990s, it was primarily nuclear devastation that the games prophesied to us, and more recently, zombies. But a few other good reasons have meanwhile crept into the interactive apocalyptic stories and are constantly discovering new facets of this topic. Reason enough to look at the best post-apocalyptic games that are still good to play today.
Note that not all of these games are primarily gameplay-wise. Above all, we want to praise games that have originally dealt with the topic. Got it? Then we can start.
DayZ (2012 – PC)
How would you survive the zombie apocalypse? That is the question that DayZ puts to 60 players simultaneously against the background of 225 square kilometers of Eastern Bloc pampas that can be freely explored. DayZ was unique mainly because of the depressing atmosphere and the captivatingly realistic world design. Rarely has one had such an intense feeling of being on one’s own at the end of the world because, in the tough simulation, a bullet goes through the head from 300 meters away while you’re searching an outhouse for loot to start a life on the screen to end anyway?
You’re constantly writing your own stories, doing your own missions between supply runs, repair missions to get to a vehicle, or attacks on hostile survivors. A game with many faces. None of them are particularly beautiful, but every single one of them is fascinating.
The Last of Us 1 and 2 (2013 and 2020 – PS4/PS5)
A ruthless action-adventure duo set in a zombie pandemic caused by a fungal infection. Love, trust, and guilt play the leading roles in these two post-apocalyptic dramas alongside well-acted and captured actors. In the second part, even the star is to blame. Not everyone liked that in 2020, but how part 2 went to the pain limit with full intention was impressive. Also, playfully a brisk and elegant back and forth between beautifully flexible stealth and open exchanges of fire, between careful planning and panicking improvisation.
What else is there to say about this? I’m not sure Part 2 will be cherished as much as the series debut in the future. But I’m glad that someone dared to set up this double pack.
Darksiders Trilogy (2010 to 2019 – PC, PlayStation, Xbox)
Darksiders is one of the most original post-apocalyptic games – or should we say “apocalypses”? At least it’s semi-biblical here? Given the martial designs by comic great Joe Madureira, you can forget that, but very loosely based on the last book of the New Testament, you can recognize some motifs here. Vigil Games is built on the basic religious idea but is otherwise a beautiful and uninhibitedly playful game universe that borrowed its rules and handling from the best.
Especially as remasters of the first two games, which also run well on the current consoles and PCs.
Fallout New Vegas (2010 – PC)
If you don’t like the new, i.e., three-dimensional, more shooter-like version of Fallout, you can also use Fallout 2 at this point, which still cuts a darn good figure from above and provides a lot of excitement with its tactical round battles. On the other hand, suppose you like it more modern and can cope with a somewhat outdated presentation. In that case, New Vegas is the crown of the Fallout creation because the story and all your decision options pull you irretrievably under its spell. The developers have also done themselves and you a favor by moving the scenario from the eastern United States to Nevada.
Meanwhile, there are also many mods that not only make the game more bug-free and comfortable but also prettier. Should you have played!
Wasteland 3 (2020 – Xbox One, PC)
The other contribution to the topic of survival in the nuclear post-apocalypse – and arguably what Fallout would be if the series had never ventured into first-person territory. In terms of play, the tactical battles with a large number of possibilities are particularly pleasing, and the snowy Colorado scenario isn’t something you see every day, either. This post-apocalyptic game rip through your bones like a cold winter wind whistles through a ruined building. It might seem a bit “play it safe” with what inXile has pulled off after all the Fallouts, but if you’re looking for a contemporary take on a classic Fallout, there’s no better place than here.
Game Pass subscribers get the game for free on Xbox One and PC because inXile is now owned by Microsoft. If I have my way, the Wasteland series can go on like this forever.
Nier: Automata (2017 – PC, PS4, Xbox One)
The only post-apocalyptic game in this list that is not experienced and told from a human point of view, but from the humanoid machines that come after us and see to it that things are right for us on earth. In terms of narrative, this Japan epic by Platinum Games and Yoko Taro is downright daring: there are 26 different endings that you can gradually unlock. Funnily enough, you don’t play through the same game multiple times. It’s more like different episodes of a TV series that go to great lengths to surprise and move you.
As far as the gameplay is concerned, the title switches back and forth quite elegantly between action brawler with sword and drone use, 2D platform, and bullet hell elements, and almost always cuts a good figure. In addition, the fantastic soundtrack skilfully rounds off an incomparable, albeit weird, experience.
They Are Billions
They Are Billions combines steampunk and post-apocalyptic in an attractive new scenario and lets you build a colony that has to defend itself against an ever-growing zombie horde. What starts as a farm becomes a metropolis with heavily guarded walls and partially automated defenses. So building sim and tower defense come together in a gripping, curious whole.
What is particularly fascinating about They Are Billions is that you always come particularly close to doom when you feel safe. A false sense of security because the previous tactic worked is arrogant, and this leads to carelessness. And before you know it, an undead has invaded somewhere and is starting to infect the first house in your painstakingly built town.
It should also be the game with the largest zombie hordes ever. Unfortunately, from the top down, it’s no less terrifying when it comes to preserving your beloved creation.
Horizon Zero Dawn (2017 – PS4, PC)
Perhaps the most colorful and beautiful post-apocalyptic game in this list comes from Guerrilla Games, which was released for the PlayStation 4. Basically, it is a fairly ordinary open-world game, but it stands out for the nature of its end of the world. Bringing up the decline of human civilization to give way to dinosaur-like machine beings as the central mystery of the adventure makes it all the more intriguing. Wandering through the ruins of humanity as the heroine Aloy and uncovering the origins of her new, primeval way of life pulls you through the long campaign well.
The interesting fight against the mechanical dinosaurs, which you literally dismantle with all kinds of weapons and traps, takes care of the rest. There are tactics involved.
Death Stranding (2019 – PS4, PC)
Death Stranding is an excellent example of why a game doesn’t have to be good per se by classic definition to be engaging. Death Stranding is tough as a game, unsatisfactory, and convoluted as a story. The story becomes concrete and melodramatic, where hints and sobriety would have been better, and willfully vague and flat, where world-building and background fiction could have used more love. Still, this extinct USA has to be experienced because nothing in the gaming world quite compares to the feeling of running errands through this extinct and artfully alienated USA.
The central threat of souls caught between life and death is also a beautiful motif that you don’t see every day. Death Stranding maintains the illusion that it has something interesting to say long enough for you to lose yourself in its scenery and end up making the experience worth the journey.
Frostpunk (2018 – PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Another great post-apocalyptic game. But this time, after the climate collapse in a new ice age. As the steward of the last city on earth, Frostpunk is arguably the ultimate doomsday. Zombies and other creatures can be fought and defeated. But Grim Reaper can’t harm her.
Few games exude such a depressing and resigned atmosphere: You stomp a settlement out of the ground around a warming reactor in the eternal snow so that the last bit of humanity does not freeze to death. Along the way, you’ll make an insane amount of grueling moral choices that will test your personal emotional compass as you weigh the good of the many against the good of the singular or few.
An incredibly exciting game, from which you sometimes have to take a step back to think about what you’ve done. Great!
I Am Alive (2012 – PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
Another game that technically falls short of its potential. I Am Alive is very bulky and not very pretty to look at. But when it came out in early 2012, it was basically what later became The Last of Us in terms of heaviness and desolation. I don’t want to give the impression that these games are anywhere near the same class. But Ubisoft dared a lot with I Am Alive when it atmospherically based the survival trip in a world covered in ash with Cormack McCarthy’s The Road.
There are some subtle moments of absolute human horror in this game. For example, I had to abandon a chained woman to her fate because I had run out of ammunition to shoot through the chains. That got to me at the time like nothing else before. If you can forgive technical and playful weaknesses, one of the most interesting post-apocalyptic adventures.