Apocalyptic events like nuclear wars and zombie outbreaks always seem to result in exhilarating games with unforgettable stories. From Ellie and Joel’s journey in The Last of Us to Gordon Freeman’s struggles in Half-Life 2, there have been some powerful narratives told in the most inhospitable video game worlds.
The best among these stories are from fun games with memorable characters, well-written dialogue, and unbelievably detailed lore. These video games can make players laugh and cry, completely immersing them in the brilliant narratives and all of their twist and turns from start to finish.
10 Half-Life 2
Following the devastating events of Half-Life, Half-Life 2 begins with the mysterious bureaucrat known as the G-Man waking Gordon Freeman up from his stasis. The protagonist finds himself in a city occupied by the alien Combine forces, which he was partly responsible for unleashing.
Players follow Gordon’s treacherous journey of redemption, with his efforts in finding ways to overthrow the oppressive Combine regime obviously stemming from his deep guilt over causing it. A cast of memorable characters from the resistance are introduced, including Alyx and Eli. Together, they overcome seemingly impossible situations across 13 exciting chapters. Unfortunately, the game leaves too many questions unanswered — players never really get a satisfying conclusion to their epic journey. Just like Gordon, they’re once again put in stasis… at least until Half-Life 3.
9 Far Cry New Dawn
Far Cry New Dawn is set in the year 2035, in which a new world is emerging in the wake of the “Collapse,” a devastating nuclear exchange that wiped out most of the population. The game follows a group of survivors who must make their way through Hope County and unite the last of humanity through a powerful township called Prosperity.
New Dawn takes a lot of gameplay elements from previous installments in the Far Cry series, but it does introduce something new with its compelling narrative. The protagonists’ furtive steps towards rebuilding in an unknown world are met with unexpected dangers. While there aren’t too many heavy-hitting scenes, the game does tell an immersive story of recovery and the pursuit of hope above all else.
8 Mad Max
Mad Max is a game based on the iconic movie franchise of the same name and presents its brutal world exactly as players would expect it. Its barren desert landscapes and unforgiving canyons are all expertly weaved together with a dieselpunk theme that encompasses the entire Wasteland. This same Wasteland is the one that Max Rockatansky is so desperate to escape, which is only possible if he builds the ultimate vehicle — the Magnum Opus.
Players control Max as he goes on a wild ride that includes adrenaline-fuelled fights against the War Boys, a whirlwind romance, and a few brutal twists thrown in for good measure. Mad Max is a criminally underrated game that makes up for its somewhat predictable plot with great character development and fast-paced action.
7 Days Gone
After the Hooligan Virus turned most of the population into mindless man-eating Freakers, Deacon St. John goes on an impossible mission to find his wife Sarah, whom he initially believed was dead. Along the way, Deacon begins to uncover horrendous details about the virus that almost wiped out humanity.
Aside from making zombies scary again, Days Gone gives players an impressively detailed narrative that weaves together stories about warring encampments, evil scientists, and power-hungry cultists. It seems like a lot, but the game’s pacing and clear overarching story bring it all together to create a completely thrilling experience. It leaves players wanting to learn more about the characters and conspiracies, in large part thanks to its intriguing cliffhanger.
6 Metro Exodus
Metro Exodus thrusts players into the unforgiving nuclear winter of the Moscow Metro. They control Artyom, a storied hero who is growing tired of the mutated monsters, dilapidated buildings, and dwindling food supply. Artyom is sure that somewhere out in the East, there’s hope for a better life.
Players journey across one of the bleakest video game worlds and follow along as Artyom and his crew uncover signs of life outside of the Metro. Their group must survive attacks from both monsters and violent humans as they struggle to find their new home. It’s a moving story of persistence, with its narrative masterfully attuned to its changing seasons, taking players from a grim winter to a hopeful spring.
5 Fallout 4
In what is often considered the best game in the franchise, players control the Sole Survivor as he navigates The Wastelands and the multiple storylines of Fallout 4. After being cryogenically frozen for more than 200 years, the protagonist embarks on a journey to find his son in the chaotic post-apocalyptic landscape.
Fallout 4’s world is full of fascinating stories about warring factions and decrepit settlements. With its overarching narrative guiding players until the very end, it creates a detailed and engrossing image of a country destroyed by a nuclear holocaust. The game never loses its focus on the Survivor’s story, but it also gives players a significant role in the crucial decisions that ultimately decide the fate of The Wastelands and its people.
4 Gears Of War 2
The fictional planet of Sera is once again under attack from the alien forces of the Locust Horde who are planning on taking down the last livable city, Jacinto. Familiar characters introduced in the prequel make up the Delta Squad in Gears of War 2, with players controlling the endearing Marcus Fenix.
The crew’s mission turns out to be a long and often harrowing one, with each casualty hitting hard for players who have grown to love the squad members. In between their action-packed faceoffs against the Horde and unbelievable maneuvers in the Hollow, the game portrays more intimate stories at just the right moments. Gears of War 2 is an incredibly exhilarating adventure that brilliantly pauses to let players breathe and absorb the character’s individual stories.
3 Death Stranding
In one of the most mind-bending games of the decade, players control the courier Sam Porter Bridges, who goes on a challenging mission to unite the cities across a post-apocalyptic America. He learns more about the Death Stranding, which is the event that initially caused BTs and Timefalls to start destroying the earth.
Death Stranding is a genre-defying game with a narrative that’s almost impossible to fully comprehend at first glance. It takes players on a surreal journey across a bleak new world where they find out Sam’s true significance in both the past and the future of the United Cities of America. With just the right amount of humor, perfect musical score, and a truly original story, the game is an instant classic that fans will not soon forget.
2 Horizon: Zero Dawn
Horizon: Zero Dawn has one of those rare apocalyptic worlds that is actually teeming with life and full of visually stunning environments. It follows the story of Aloy, an outcast of the Nora tribe who must traverse verdant mountains, lush forests, and frozen tundras to uncover clues about her past and her world’s history.
The game brilliantly uses Aloy’s story to guide players through the complex narrative of Zero Dawn. As Aloy learns more about the cause behind the machines’ aggression and her role in recovering the lost knowledge of the ancients, players see her grow from a young outcast to a strong warrior. It’s a satisfying story arc that leaves players feeling as if they’ve grown alongside Aloy. Players helped her recover not just crucial information about her world, but her identity and sense of belonging.
1 The Last Of Us
This is a game that needs no introduction. In many ways, the relationship between The Last of Us‘ best main characters redefined storytelling in video games. Joel and Ellie’s journey across a world ravaged by the Infected is a riveting one full of shocking twists and heartbreaking moments. The chaos and ruins of the cities serve as a stark contrast to the pair’s newfound hope as a strange but inseparable family.
While its gameplay may be dated, its moving story still holds up today. Players who delve into the terrifying post-apocalyptic game will find themselves cheering for Joel and Ellie as they work with the resistance to find a cure. Joel’s character development is fascinating to watch — from a hardened survivor to a loving father figure who will do anything to protect Ellie. The Last of Us is a pivotal game in the genre that every player should experience at least once.
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