S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl
Set in an alternate history where a second nuclear disaster occurs at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Exclusion Zone, S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl is an open world sandbox game that’s as much a first-person survival sim as it is a roleplaying game as it is a shooter.
Cut adrift in “The Zone”, you play as a titular Stalker - a sort of cross between a bounty and treasure hunter. You’ll deal with the various factions vying for control of The Zone, fight off its mutant inhabitants and navigate the perils presented by its invisible radioactive anomalies.
In the days before the arrival and popularization of the Souls series, S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl was seen by many PC gamers as one of the most hardcore gaming experiences out there. The game's pseudo-sequels, S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Call of Pripyat and S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Clear Sky were also quite well received.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl is only available on PC.
Metro 2033 & Metro: Last Light
Considered by some to be a more-modern, cleaned up take on the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise, Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light are first-person shooters set in the ruins of Moscow following a nuclear war where the survivors of the conflict are forced to live in the city’s underground metro system.
Players take control of a survivor named Artyom, and must navigate both the very human dangers inhabiting the society of the Metro system itself - as well as the mutants and monsters that lurk within its shadows.
Though the gameplay of Metro is very much a classic first person shooter with some light horror elements, there’s a lot of interesting survival elements that serve to give it a slightly different flavor to other post-apocalyptic games.
For example, the world of Metro uses bullets not just as ammunition but also as currency - forcing you to think about and spend your limited resources wisely in a way that’s a little different to the usual.
A third game, called Metro: Exodus, is currently in development.
Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light are available for PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One.
A somewhat more-literal interpretation of the post-apocalypse, the Darksiders series is a super-stylized take on the biblical myth of The Four Horsemen.
Developed by Vigil Games and released in 2010, the first Darksiders sees you take up the mantle of War. You start out the game being framed for the crime of starting the apocalypse too early, wiping out mankind and pissing off pretty much every cosmic entity involved in the process.
The second game Darksiders 2 is a sort-of side story / prequel that centers on Death. Where the first game was a hack-and-slash adventure heavily-inspired by The Legend of Zelda series, Darksiders 2 incorporated and emphasized mechanics and elements from loot-driven dungeon-crawlers like Diablo.
Meanwhile, the third game - Darksiders 3 - will see players take control of the series’ first female lead, Fury, as she embarks on a quest to kill the Seven Deadly Sins.
According to publisher THQ Nordic, Darksiders 3 is due to release in late 2018.
Darksiders and Darksiders 2 are available on PC, Linux, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and the Wii-U.
Enslaved: Odyssey To The West
Developed by Ninja Theory, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is a story-driven third person action game that adapts the 16th century Chinese novel to a more post-apocalyptic setting.
Based 150 years in the future on a ruined Earth populated by what’s left of humanity and the war-machines that wiped them out, players take up the role of Monkey, a scavenger (voiced by Andy Serkis) who is forced to team up with another survivor, Trip, as she tries to return to her home within the ruins of New York City.
Though the focus on narrative and character development make comparisons to something like The Last Of Us easy, Enslaved is set apart from other post-apocalypse it due to its colorful, unique setting and kinetic combat sequences.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is available on Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC.
A follow-up to 2010’s Nier, which was itself a spin-off of the popular Drakengard series, Nier: Automata sees players take control of android soldiers called YoRHa who defend the remnants of humanity and attempt reclaim a ruined earth from an army of mechanical invaders from another world.
At least, that’s the pitch. Played out from the perspective of a pair of androids, named 2B and 9S, Nier: Automata first tasks players with fighting off the enemy - and then later understanding them. Rather than just being a game about survival, Nier: Automata is a really a game about empathy, humanity and what it really means to be human.
It’s a game where every detail of the world feels considered and deliberate and while, yes, it does have a great combat system and engaging sense of visual style to it, it ends up being so much more than the mere sum of its parts.
Nier: Automata is available on PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One.
Set in an post-apocalyptic alternate-history version of steampunk England, Frostpunk sees you take control of a small band of survivors who set forth from London after a new Ice Age begins. You’re tasked with building up a small settlement around a single working generator and managing heat, food, housing and healthcare for your citizens.
[Related Content: Frostpunk review: A richly conceived and vividly realised city sim]
As time passes, you’re even tasked with passing laws that constrict or protect the freedoms of your citizens in order to try and build up a better quality of life.
Like their first game, 11 bit Studios’ Frostpunk plays on and plays up the moral dimension that’s often conveniently omitted in most city sims. If This War of Mine asked you what compromises you were willing to make for the few, this one asks what you’ll do for the good of the many.
Frostpunk is available on PC.
Deadlight is a sidescrolling survival horror platformer developed by Tequila Works and released in 2012. In both form and function, it’s very much a Braid-era indie game.
Players take up the role of Randall Wayne, a former park ranger who sets out to cross through a zombie-infested Seattle to reach a safe zone, where he believes his family will be waiting.
Mechanically, Deadlight plays like a fascinating spiritual successor to games like the original Prince of Persia and more-recent fare like Limbo.
As you might notice from the rest of this list - there are a lot of post-apocalyptic games out there, but relatively few that opt for this perspective - and even fewer who are able to execute on that perspective so cinematically.
Deadlight is available on PC, Playstation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.