Atomic energy is the single most destructive energy human beings have been able to control... barely. The problem is, we're also quite dependent on it for some of our energy needs. This can have disastrous results, and the Chernobyl power plant leak and fallout is a testament to that. Such human drama and strife even became worthy of a TV show, namely HBO's Chernobyl.
The show is now being hailed as one of HBO's best; that's saying something for a historical/period show that isn't about World War II or the medieval era. We also can't help but be curious about the ramifications of nuclear energy; sadly, not many other TV shows explore this. Hence, we turn our gaze to video games since they not only depict the devastation of atomic energy but also let us experience it one way or another. Here are 10 of those games to scratch that irradiated itch.
10 MAD MAX
Mad Max might be a little too far-flung from the initial collapse of society but the atmosphere you get here is mostly intact and similar to nuclear fallout. Cities are gone, there is no law, and everyone's either dying or eating someone else to survive. It's a lot harsher than the containment mini-apocalypse in Chernobyl. Nevertheless, it gives us all a glimpse of what eventually would happen if every city in the world experienced what Chernobyl did.
We do feel that a disclaimer may be in order: Mad Max is mostly about the adventure and not the survival. In fact, the survival mechanics of the game have been dumbed down and are nearly nonexistent (like in the films too). Hence, this game ranks the lowest in this list. Still, it's a rather fun trudge through a post-apocalypse Down Under.
9 THIS WAR OF MINE
If you're after the air of hopelessness that permeates in HBO's Chernobyl, you might find few games capture that same atmosphere better than This War of Mine. There's no nuclear fallout or radioactive plague in This War of Mine. It's actually just war but seen through the eyes of the normal civilians instead of combatants.
Think of it as a depressing version of The Sims from EA. Here, you'll have to manage the needs of hungry, sorrowful, and sick civilians who are caught in the middle of a war. If you want to know what a true rock-bottom survival situation feels like, This War of Mine is the perfect game. It lets you experience the weight of human drama in the event of a true modern crisis.
8 ESCAPE FROM TARKOV
Like This War of Mine, Escape from Tarkov doesn't involve radiation or nuclear energy. What makes it similar in atmosphere to HBO's Chernobyl is the feeling of being enclosed in a quarantined area. The game lets you start as a survivor in Tarkov where most of the sane and regular civilians have fled. This leaves only the bandits and the scavengers of society to play a secret power struggle.
First and foremost, Escape from Tarkov is a survival game. In it, you must escape the city which has been blockaded by the UN and the Russian military. Along the way, you'll meet similar players or mercenaries who want what you have (usually weapons). Hence, Escape from Tarkov is a high-risk, high-reward experience where you can lose everything you have to others. That sounds awfully familiar.
7 CALL OF DUTY: MODERN WARFARE
For immersive purposes, one of the best way to experience the desolation of Chernobyl is through a first-person perspective. In that regard, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is similar to Escape from Tarkov. It's a more arcade experience and is usually centered around the British SAS and US Marine Corps. However, Modern Warfare gave us arguably the best Call of Duty mission ever: "All Ghillied Up."
It takes place in Pripyat, Chernobyl - the biggest city in the region which became a ghost town because of the real-life fallout. Moreover, the mission sees you playing second fiddle to a hardened sniper/commando; the two of you slither your way into Pripyat to get to a high-value assassination target. The game's portrayal of Pripyat's bleakness and gloom is eerily accurate and haunting. The mission can even double as a digital tour of the real-life place.
6 NEW FALLOUT GAMES
It's only mandatory that the latest Fallout games land somewhere on this list. After all, they are inspired by the effect of human hubris and carelessness. By "new" Fallout games, we mean Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, and Fallout 4. If we are to suggest the closest one in the atmosphere to HBO's Chernobyl, then take a good long look at Fallout 3.
The nuclear post-apocalypse version of Washington D.C. simply has a beautiful melancholy; it's something even the two technically better and newer Fallout games cannot replicate. It shows a former shell of one of the most powerful civilizations on Earth. Despite the grimness of the situation, life somehow still persevered. Think you can do the same when that time comes? Figure that one out in Fallout 3.
5 ORIGINAL FALLOUT GAMES
For a lot of roleplaying game (RPG) purists, the new Fallout games hold no candle to the original two games. Fallout 1 and 2 were jewels introduced to the gaming community at the turn of the millennium. They are vastly different than the new ones (as is evident in the turn-based isometric gameplay) but storywise and with the number of choices you can do, they are arguably better.
The first two Fallout games are darker and more mature than the new games. Oddly enough, they do share the same premise and story; you're usually a Vault (bomb shelters turned into underground cities) dweller and circumstances have forced you to come to the surface. There, you'll have to learn the new rules (or the lack thereof) in a world destroyed by nuclear winter.
4 WASTELAND 2
Wasteland 2 is what the new Fallout games should have been if they were made closer to the original two games. It's a belated sequel to 1988's Wasteland but it follows a similar design scheme and gameplay perspective to the original Fallout games. In fact, it also explores an alternate future where a full-blown nuclear war exploded between the United States and the Soviet Union in 1998.
The game takes place in 2102, where you play as a ranger in Arizona. You'll soon start exploring the wasteland full of mutants, bandits, and other anomalies brought about by the end of the world. Like the original two Fallout games, Wasteland 2 is also an RPG. That means you have plenty of choices on how to survive or interact with what's left of humanity.
3 METRO GAMES
Metro is everything you'd ever want in a post-apocalypse horror/action FPS. The trilogy (Metro 2033, Metro: Last Light, and Metro Exodus) is set in a fictional future. It also explores a post-apocalypse brought by a nuclear war between world powers and Russia is involved. The humans of Moscow were then forced to flee to the expansive Russian subway system as makeshift fallout shelters as well as cities.
In all three games, you play as the protagonist Artyom as you explore the horrors of both the Metro subways and the irradiated surface world. Turns out, humanity's penchant for chaos and destruction did not stop with the apocalypse. Several factions each vying for control have formed in the Metro amidst the mutants in the surface and limited resources. It's up to you to try and save everyone, even if they're trying to drive themselves into extinction.
2 S.T.A.L.K.E.R. GAMES
None of the games above have featured Chernobyl solely as their primary setting. Hence, the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games are special and unique; they took the bull by the horns and made a game out of it. No one has ever replicated the experience brought by these games. The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games (Shadow of Chernobyl, Clear Sky, and Call of Pripyat) faithfully reimagines Chernobyl...then adds mutants, mercenaries, and supernatural elements.
You play as a S.T.A.L.K.E.R., or a mercenary/scrounger living off the quarantined lands of Chernobyl. Apparently, at the heart of the region or the ground zero, there exists an abstract entity which can grant you a wish. As a result, everyone wants a piece of that urban legend. It's not just the locale and the story which is promising but also the gameplay. All three games seamlessly combine FPS mechanics with some survival RPG elements. The result is the best Chernobyl or nuclear fallout survival game at the moment.
1 SPECIAL MENTION: CHERNOBYLITE
You know a horror game is up to something sinister when it has "Chernobyl" in its name. Chernobylite isn't exactly out yet (it's still under development) but it already looks poised to take the crown from the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games. Similarly, it's also a survival FPS and horror mashup. The developers even promised a 3D scanned recreation of some of the creepiest spots in Chernobyl itself in-game.
You'll have to learn how to survive both military personnel and supernatural threats. Do note that it's a crowdfunded game on Kickstarter, meaning it has no publisher. However, it already has a release date set sometime in August. There's no doubt that Chernobylite is the closest we'll get to ever experiencing the fictionalized and exaggerated horrors of Chernobyl without being there. Keep an eye out for it.