Beneath a Steel Sky (DOS, Amiga)
In this mélange of various dystopian nightmares, such as the Orwellian or Zamyatinian states, you play Robert Foster (since he was fostered by natives) who learns that the LINC supercomputer, controlling all things in Union City (Sydney), will eventually need to connect to Robert’s human mind to function. Robert’s father is currently connected to LINC, and the successor must be a blood relative. All somewhat reminiscent of Asimov’s “Transfer,” the work of William Gibson or other similar authors.
The game takes place in a near-future scenario where a bleak and oppressive landscape dominates, a version of Australia ruined by over-pollution and nuclear fallout damage. Like any point-and-clicker, the purpose is to gather various objects and use them to solve logical puzzles, either by combining them or by using them on their own. You'll also have the help of Joey, a little robot and sidekick with character, who will provide comedy value with various quips and jokes.
Although BASS suffered a tormented development, it received glowing reviews at the time, many of which praised the atmosphere and writing of the game. BASS retains cult status and was released as freeware for use with the SCUMM Virtual Machine, making it playable on modern PC’s. You can find it on GOG.com at this address.
Wasteland (C64, DOS, Mac)
Wasteland is an important title, particularly in the RPG genre, since it is one of the first to feature an immersive, persistent environment and use of character recruitment. One of the developers, Brian Fargo, eventually went on to work for Interplay who developed Baldur’s gate – featuring a similar party-based system – and, more importantly, Fallout, Wasteland’s spiritual successor.
The game plays like any other RPG, with your mix of attributes and three classes to choose from, merchants, free exploration and roll-based attacks. Text descriptions upon the enemy’s death are hilarious, and the “paragraph” feature of the game makes it a little closer to a pen-and-paper campaign. This feature requires you to switch between written snippets in the manual whenever an in-game encounter demands it.
The desert landscape, post-war setting and minor innovations which come with the game make it a welcome candidate in our post-apocalyptic video games list.
Left 4 Dead Series (Various Platforms)
A good old George A. Romero brain-chewing fest mixed with intense action and a multiplayer-mode which, quite frankly, “Roxor boxerz and sox.” Though we are still technically in a post-apocalyptic scenario, the premise deviates from the usual cybernetic warfare or post-nuclear setting. Here we face the “Green Flu” in a zombie-ridden America, where once innocent-looking kitchens and tunnels surely lead to your demise. Left 4 Dead 2 has largely replaced the first game, with added maps, new content and a streamlined multiplayer mode.
Both games were developed by Turtle Rock and lead-designer Michael Booth, receiving numerous awards commending both gameplay and re-playability – which no doubt Valve will milk-out even more with DLC and micro-transactions. The game plays like any standard FPS, where you run-and-gun through a blood-fest of decayed zombies.
Much has been said about L4D and I will not digress further, but I can only add that with its mix of solid single-player and multiplayer features, a gripping atmosphere reminiscent of “28 Days Later” and numerous ways to splatter those rotten-fleshed nasties make it one of the post-apocalyptic video games worthy of mention.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Series (PC)
With Codename: Outbreak, the Ukrainian-based GSC Game World had the initial sketches for what was to become their most polished franchise in S.T.A.L.K.E.R., a series of shooters with an in-depth story involving a post-apocalyptic setting in a second Chernobyl disaster. Though GSC aren’t new to releasing commercially successful titles, having done so with the popular and more than playable RTS Cossacks, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is really their first serious bash at the FPS genre.
The first game is Shadow of Chernobyl, while the prequel (or second game released) is Clear Sky, containing remodelled areas, weapon maintenance/customisation and new ways to detect anomalies. Call of Pripyat is the third game and sequel to Shadow of Chernobyl featuring vast improvements in optimisation and the new X-Ray 1.6 engine.
The first game was published in 2007 and, though buggy, received critical acclaim for both the game’s looks and playability, grabbing a special award from Gamespot for “Best Playable Atmosphere.” The second was released in 2008, and third in 2009. The games are shooters at the core, but RPG elements are added such as trading and RPG-style inventory with limited equipment, elements which are improved in the later releases.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is indeed good fun. The oppressive feeling in the zone and desolate steppes convey the eerie post-nuclear atmosphere elegantly, but also add some sense of urgency for the player, just that tinge of impending danger found in the survival-horror genre. Throw those rusted-bolts around the withered grass and things may not be the same again.
Fallout Series (PC, Various)
The first Fallout is undoubtedly one of the pillars of the RPG genre, receiving praise from critics and consistently high scores in magazine reviews, It deserves to be played, not only by enthusiasts of the genre but by any gamer. The second game was developed by the same team, featuring the same engine, gameplay and a chess-playing radscorpion. Bethesda developed and published Fallout 3, which abandons turn-based combat in favour of FPS elements though most of everything else is kept. Fallout: New Vegas sees the return of some of the original developers, minus Tim Cain, and has been received equally as well as the third game in the series.
The games hugely differ from each other in terms of gameplay. The first two have a flavor belonging to the old RPG school, with turn-based combat, slow exploration, attention to dialogue and timed main quests. Fallout 3 and 4 still feature the Pip-boy and GURPS point-system, and though retaining most of the setting and story, are a mix of FPS and RPG, where weapons and action are as important as other elements.
The premise of a conflict brought about by gradual lack of resources, a conflict which ultimately culminated in nuclear holocaust between the major superpowers, legitimizes Fallout’s place amongst our post-apocalyptic video games’s list. It doesn’t just deserve that honor though, since it has regularly been included in “all time best” lists by Gamespot, IGN and others.
Cuban Missile Crisis: The Aftermath (PC)
This is a real-time tactics game set in the 1962, where Kennedy and Khruschev don’t negotiate successfully and World War III breaks out. The game is similar to Blitzkrieg since both were developed by 1C, perhaps most famous for the long line of IL2 flight simulators, and it features an array of units and various alliances (European, Anglo-American, Socialist etc…).
Though there is nothing which is as distinctive as the previous games, particularly in terms of atmosphere, it is still worthy of mention due to the hypothetical historical scenario set out. All the player really does in the game is play out that post-1962 world war scenario, with all the devastating repercussions which that entails, after all which remains of the major powers is a series of coalitions.
CMC is fun to play and being an RTT everything is real-time, though slightly different from RTS in that there is no resource management, and implementing combat strategy is rather more important. Units can still be upgraded, and generally gameplay is not bad at all.
There you have some notable post-apocalyptic video games for various platforms, though mainly for PC. Enjoy being the lone wanderer in strange and arid lands, and should you meet a cheating chess-playing radscorpion make sure you use that flying liver attack.
All references from author's own experience and covers from respective games.