Whether featuring zombies, nuclear fallout or annihilation of the human race by robots, apocalypses are a popular theme for many forms of entertainment, including comics, television shows and games. We love speculating about the demise of our own species, as proven by the success of movies like The Day After Tomorrow and the number of websites dedicated to the Mayan Doomsday Prophecy. Yet all apocalypses are not the same, of course, and each has its own particular landscape and consequences for survivors.
In this list, we explore seven of the most popular video games set either during or after apocalypses on Earth and, in one case, on another planet. We take a look at the games themselves, their particular scenarios and, finally, the likelihood of anything like the set-up actually happening in real life. Sure, the narratives of some of these games might be a little grim, but playing them can be a lot of fun.
Image: Telltale Games
The Walking Dead cover artwork
7. The Walking Dead (Telltale Games)
The Walking Dead won a slew of awards, including “Game of the Year 2012” from Wired, USA Today, Complex and GamesRadar. It has received a great deal of critical praise for its story and character development – rather than focusing primarily on fast-paced action like other, similar games – and it has been credited with reviving the adventure game genre.
Based on the comic series of the same name (which also inspired the TV series), the Walking Dead game takes place during a zombie apocalypse – although the zombies are referred to as “walkers” because of their lumbering movements. Most of the world has been infected, leaving only small pockets of survivors (as far as we know), including the characters in the game. The player is Lee Everett, a convicted murderer who finds himself the caretaker of eight-year-old Clementine. He must steer both of them through the perilous environment of the game while interacting and forming relationships with other characters.
That kid is gonna need a whole lot of therapy…
It’s not the land but the human population that has been devastated by the zombie apocalypse. Although there are fewer people, resources are scarce, seemingly because all industry has been abandoned. The survivors must scavenge and occasionally battle for what they need. And the dangers in this world aren’t only the slow-moving zombies but also the faster and more intelligent human enemies.
Fortunately, we don’t need to worry about people actually turning into mindless, flesh-eating monsters. Although there have been cases of people going berserk and biting or eating other humans, this has generally been due to effects from drugs or mental illnesses. “CDC does not know of a virus or condition that would reanimate the dead (or one that would present zombie-like symptoms),” David Daigle from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is quoted as saying by The Huffington Post. So no need to practice those head shots just yet!
Image: Bethesda Softworks
Fallout 3 cover artwork
6. Fallout 3 (Bethesda Game Studios)
Released in 2008, Fallout 3 was named “Game of the Year” by several publications, and in 2009 it was included in IGN’s “Best Video and Computer Games of the Decade.” However, while critics were positive about the game, it also sparked some controversies. Fallout 3 was initially banned in Australia because drug references in the game were deemed too true to life. In Japan, some of the game’s nuclear elements have been changed in view of local sentiments, while in India it was not released on the Xbox 360 – most likely because of the worry that the mutated cows, called “Brahmin” in the game, might offend Hindus.
In Fallout 3, the player inhabits a nuclear wasteland in which they must embark on a quest to find their missing father. The perspective can be either first or third person, and the player is allowed to be accompanied by up to two other characters – a canine called Dogmeat and another non-player individual. The player’s character, known as “The Lone Wanderer,” must flee an evil military leader called Colonel Autumn, fighting aggressive mutants and enemy humans while avoiding dangerous radiation levels along the way.
You could really do with a square meal, Mr. Mutant. Here, eat lead.
The Fallout 3 universe is set in 2277, two centuries after a devastating nuclear holocaust. The action takes place in a section of the USA known as the Capital Wasteland (which includes Washington D.C.). It is mostly uninhabited, except for a few small human settlements, and is overrun by violent human mutants, criminals and robots. Much of the action takes place underground, either in shelters or subway tunnels, which were inspired by the Washington Metro.
Although paranoia surrounding nuclear war probably peaked during the Cold War, this certainly doesn’t mean the menace is over. Nuclear weapons remain in the arsenals of several countries, some of which have threatened to use them. Should there be a nuclear war, the world could indeed resemble a wasteland, and 200 years afterwards the effects would still be felt. People would be infected with all manner of diseases, and there would very likely be radioactive sites. Lack of resources could also easily send human society into chaos.
Image: Gearbox Software
Borderlands cover artwork
5. Borderlands (Gearbox Software)
Unlike most of the games on this list, the apocalypse in Borderlands happens not on Earth, but on Pandora, a planet that has been colonized by humans. Released in 2009, the first-person role-playing shooter game has received accolades for its visuals and cutting-edge content-generation system, which allows for millions of possible weapons. Critics, on the other hand, accuse the game of being too predictable and lacking a solid story.
At the beginning of the game, players are asked to select a character from a possible four, all with their own skills and weapons. The characters are fortune hunters attempting to find a vault full of alien weapons technology on Pandora. In the past, the planet had been colonized by mining company the Dahl Corporation, who were there to take advantage of the rich mineral deposits and to try their luck at finding the vault, which they suspected was hidden on the planet. However, the corporation abandoned Pandora, and most of its population, when a rival company threatened to invade.
Image: VISO Games
We wouldn’t fancy facing these spiderants.
Okay, perhaps this one isn’t post-apocalyptic per se, but it’s still pretty darn close – after all, a shady organization has destroyed a planet and left the populace behind. Pandora is a wasteland when the player arrives there, with the remaining humans living in various settlements in a state of anarchy. They survive by scavenging on what was left behind when the corporation jumped planet. The dangerous alien creatures of Pandora live in hibernation during winter, only to emerge in spring. And to make matters worse, bandits wander the land menacing everyone with whom they come into contact.
Although this game’s scenario is a little far-fetched, it’s still not completely beyond the realm of possibility. Already, there are plans by wealthy entrepreneurs to mine asteroids in our own solar system, so as technology advances, there’s no reason to think we wouldn’t be lured farther afield – especially as we plunder our way through resources here on Earth. And of course, once we’re there, who’s to say what kind of life we might encounter, peaceful or hostile?
Image: Eidos Interactive
Deus Ex cover artwork
4. Deus Ex (Eidos Interactive)
In Deus Ex, the setting is more mid- than post-apocalyptic – a not-too-distant future where society is slowly falling into chaos. The game has received rave reviews since its release in 2000. “For a complete package of plot, style, depth and action, few games rival Deus Ex,” says Daily Radar. It was also named “Best PC Game of All Time” by PC Gamer magazine – although it’s also available for Mac, PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 (via the European PlayStation Network).
The player in Deus Ex is JC Denton, a UN Anti-Terrorist Coalition agent who finds himself caught up in an elaborate conspiracy as he does battle with terrorists, who are plentiful in this dystopic world. The Illuminati crop up in the game, as do Hong Kong Triads and the Majestic 12. JC himself has been nanotech-enhanced, giving him certain superhuman abilities. And the whole shebang takes place at night, adding darkness to the already bleak setting.
Will JC stay and fight Paul Denton, or run?
The world of Deus Ex is one that has been plunged into disorder by the “Gray Death” pandemic. This virus is, in fact, a result of self-replicating nanotechnology; Majestic 12 got their hands on it and plans to utilize it to control and ultimately rule the world. The only cure is “Ambrosia,” a nano-engineered antidote that is available only to a select few.
So is a world like that of Deus Ex possible? Researchers into nanotechnology believe it may well be used to augment our looks and abilities in the future. Unfortunately, there is also a very real danger that, if not properly regulated, unscrupulous governments or organizations might choose to create their own nanobiological weapons, or develop chemical agents that could attack vital areas of the body like the central nervous system. As for the existence of the Illuminati and similarly shady groups – well, we’ll leave speculation on that front to the conspiracy theorists.
Image: Namco Bandai Games
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West cover artwork
3. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (Ninja Theory)
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West has its roots in the ancient past, based as it is on the old Chinese story Journey to the West. When the game was released in 2010, it was praised for its use of motion capture, an emotionally engaging storyline, and its brightly-colored art, which made a refreshing change from the usual dull, dark tones of apocalyptic games.
The main character in Enslaved, and the one controlled by the player, is Monkey, who escapes a slave ship along with a young woman named Trip. Trip manages to place a headband on Monkey, which forces him to obey her orders and will kill him if she dies – guaranteeing that he will protect her. The pair must work together to survive their journeys and ordeals, with Monkey the brute strength and Trip the brains of the duo.
Monkey needs to be quick on his feet to save his and Trip’s skin.
Although the original story is old, the world of Enslaved has been fast-forwarded a century and a half from the modern era into a post-apocalyptic future. A global war has wiped out most of the planet, leaving behind robot soldiers designed to kill or kidnap any people they come across. As this was a war involving mechanical rather than nuclear weapons, the landscape is not barren wasteland but rather nature gone wild.
The scenario of military robots killing people indiscriminately is one that some people have already begun to warn us about. At present, autonomous robot weapons are being investigated by several militaries, and the activists of “The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots” say using these machines in combat can only lead to more carnage. Without human emotions to get in the way, these automated killers could be liable to target even civilians without hesitation. And this is before taking into account possible malfunctions. A frightening thought indeed.
Image: Valve Corporation and Sierra Entertainment
Half-Life 2 cover artwork
2. Half-Life 2 (Valve Corporation)
Much like its forerunner, Half-Life, 2004’s Half-Life 2 is loved by game critics. It won a very impressive 39 “Game of the Year” awards and even a couple of “Game of the Decade” props. Its popularity is said to be due to a package of superior graphics, sound, AI and storyline. “Half-Life 2 is a technically amazing, sharply honed first-person shooter that pulls all the tricks that made Half-Life such a beloved experience,” says GameSpot reviewer Jason Ocampo, although he does go on to say that the game frequently isn’t challenging enough.
Players in Half-Life 2 take on the persona of theoretical physicist Gordon Freeman, who has spent years in stasis following the incidents of the first Half-Life game. As Freeman, the player has to make it past zombies, alien parasites called “headcrabs” and human soldiers by improvising traps for his enemies and using weapons like the “Gravity Gun” – which can help him make lethal projectiles out of random objects. Along the way, he’ll also be required to solve physics puzzles in order to make escapes.
A Hunter has you in its sights.
Half-Life 2 is set in a world that has been ravaged by aliens who entered a portal accidentally created by Gordon and his colleagues during Half-Life. By Half-Life 2, Earth has surrendered to the invading Combine Empire. Humans are subordinate to the aliens – who now rule the world – and are being stopped from reproducing.
There are some people who believe that interdimensional alien contact is already happening. Computer scientist, author and UFO expert Jacques Vallée has put forth a theory called the interdimensional hypothesis (IDH), which suggests that we have been visited by species from alternative dimensions to ours throughout history, and that this in fact explains the reported existence of mythological creatures or the supernatural.
Although IDH is held to be more of a belief than a proper scientific premise, there are scientists researching the possibility of multiverses. Let’s hope that if Earth’s neighbors ever do decide to visit us, they turn out to be friendly.
Image: Sony Computer Entertainment
Tokyo Jungle cover artwork
1. Tokyo Jungle (PlayStation C.A.M.P. and Crispy’s)
It’s a wild, wild world in Tokyo Jungle. The humans have disappeared under mysterious circumstances, leaving the animals to roam the city. Released in 2012, it could be one of the quirkiest post-apocalyptic games on the market. “Tokyo Jungle is a celebration of classic games, with their ridiculous plots, repetitive tasks, excessive violence and all,” Ellie Gibson of Eurogamer.net writes. “It pulls off the impressive and nigh-on impossible trick of being an original homage. Also it lets you set a giraffe on a bear.” Roar.
The player has many choices for their in-game character in Tokyo Jungle. There are dogs, cats, tigers, lions and many more to choose from, and all have their particular skills and weaknesses. In survival mode, the goal is just to try and not die – so make sure you eat plenty and avoid predators. The player also needs to reproduce by mating with another animal of the same species, which actually sounds easier than it is.
We’re rooting for the lion in this face-off.
The post-apocalyptic world of Tokyo Jungle is one in which humans have disappeared but their material artifacts remain. There are buildings, trucks, and even articles of clothing, which the animals sometimes wear. However, nature is in the process of reclaiming the city, with vegetation growing up where the structures have begun to decay and disintegrate.
There are ways that people could conceivably disappear from the planet, without damage to the environment or wildlife in the process. This could happen through an epidemic that only affects humans, for example, or thanks so biological weapons engineered to kill only Homo sapiens. (The reason eventually given in the game for the disappearance of humans is incredibly far-fetched – but we won’t spoil it here!)
If we were to be wiped out for any reason, cities might indeed look a little like they do in Tokyo Jungle. Untamed by man, plants could start to grow out of control, and animals would be able to wander the streets freely. Until the next extinction event, anyway.
Fancy your chances against these zombies?
This is just a small selection of the games set in post-apocalyptic worlds that are currently available. Fortunately, most of the scenarios contained within them should remain in the realm of fantasy, but there are some that might just be closer to our real future than we would like to hope.