It’s coming up to six years since we left Joel and Ellie, in that morally ambiguous ending to The Last of Us. But now it’s been over two years since its sequel was announced at the PlayStation Experience event in 2016, and we’re getting impatient. In fact The Last of Us Part II was crowned “Most Wanted Game” at the 2018 Golden Joystick Awards, and “Most Anticipated Game” at the Gamer’s Choice Awards. It’s rare for a title to be multi-award winning before it’s even released.
We’ve been treated to a few trailers – which teased gameplay and cutscenes – and can be sure that it’ll be just as brutal, emotionally scarring and downright beautiful as its 2013 predecessor. Waiting isn’t easy, especially for something as potentially game-changing as this, but fear not; we’ve listed ten games of a similar quality and nature that should keep you occupied in the meantime.
It’s an obvious choice, so let’s get it out of the way first. In 2013, Naughty Dog took a gamble with their darkest experiment yet – and it paid off. In a post-apocalyptic world that fans of The Walking Dead would recognize, there’s a corrupt leadership and no trust among the rebels. Outside the policed zones there are brutal wandering tribes, as well as zany trap-infested settlements.
We see the best and worst of humanity. Our protagonists in this exquisitely realized world are Joel and Ellie – a hardened survival veteran, and a young girl with a secret; each of them has a tragic past. The chemistry between these two is the highlight of the experience, but everything about it is enchanting. Especially the gameplay, which was a stealthy horror twist on the Uncharted engine. Speaking of which…
Purely from a gameplay point of view, because narratively these light-hearted adventure yarns couldn’t be further from the dark gravitas of The Last of Us. That being said, they have their poignant moments, and that’s purely down to the ingenious characterization and writing.
On the surface, it’s a Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones rip-off, but there’s something about the way Nate, Elena, Sully and the other adventurers meld together that’s rare in games. In fact, it’s rare in films. We actually care about them, and – dare I say it – we want to be their friends. And let’s not forget the cinematic set pieces that put most action flicks to shame.
If it’s survival horror you’re after, there’s little better you can do than these two scare-fests. The weapon upgrades and customization can easily be compared to The Last of Us, and the over-the-shoulder gameplay isn’t dissimilar, but the story is far more hallucinatory and psychological. The characterization is nowhere near as well-rounded as Naughty Dog’s masterpiece, but we still find ourselves intrigued by Sebastian Castellanos’ past, and eventually caring about him, as he ventures through brilliantly distorted nightmarish landscapes.
It’s disturbing, it’s gory, and it might be a bit gratuitous for some, but the action, puzzles, and the head-scratching gameplay overall is so rewarding that it’s hard to stop playing. There’s little wonder Computer and Video Games called it “the game Resident Evil 5 should have been”. And, while we’re in that area…
The game that transformed the Resident Evil series from survival horror to action horror, without losing any of the series’ creepy ambiance, RE4 is still a marvel to behold – even after fourteen years. The story is second-rate – Leon and Ashley have none of the complexity and chemistry of Joel and Ellie – but what a revolution this game was.
Replacing the fixed camera angles with an over-the-shoulder view (most survival horrors soon followed suit), the dynamic of the series changed. Typical zombies were no longer the enemy, but a virus that left the host with a few human features. It was the most drastic change to the series, and the genre as a whole, until 2017…
And it’s back to its roots – back to survival horror, with much less emphasis on the action, and much more on the dread. Ethan Winters’ search for his wife on the plantation of the cannibalistic Baker family is probably the most disturbing outing of the franchise.
It’s first person – the first in the main series to be so, forgetting that weird light-gun shooter Dead Aim – which makes those intimate boss fights all the more frightening. Especially that one with Jack in the garage. And on the PS4, you can give it a whirl in virtual reality using the PlayStation VR headset; a scary, immersive experience.
Take your pick; number two is a stand-alone story, and arguably the best, but we’d recommend playing through them all. Because there’s nothing quite as harrowing and creepy as the eponymous town when it comes to exploration, solving puzzles, and running away from monsters – because fighting them is usually the last thing you’d want to do.
The Evil Within wouldn’t exist without this series, because it introduced the concept of real nightmarishness in video games. It’s survival horror with a psychological twist. Plus, the first game centers on a father saving his adopted daughter – Last of Us vibes right there.
With Alien showing us that space is the perfect setting for a horror back in 1979, it’s surprising that the video game world didn’t truly catch up until 2008. Sure, there were some creepy shooters in between, but Dead Space – with the help of a bit of 2001: A Space Odyssey artistry – truly added the atmosphere.
What The Last of Us did with exploring a post-apocalyptic world, Dead Space achieved on a space station, with puzzles, space zombies ingeniously named “Necromorphs” (such a fun word to say), and a hell of a lot of dread. Nobody can hear you scream, remember?
Stepping away from the typical shooter and stealth genres on this list, Until Dawn is still technically a survival horror. Because, well, good luck getting to the end of the game with all the protagonists still alive. The game uses a system called the “butterfly effect” which, as you’d guess, means that certain actions you make will have consequences to the narrative.
Much like Heavy Rain and other such decision-making games, this can be a very different story with each playthrough. And, like The Last of Us, you’ll find yourself clinging to the brilliantly acted characters, which includes the talent of Rami Malek and Hayden Panettiere.
The series that began in the Ayn Rand-inspired, dystopian, underwater city of Rapture isn’t quite over yet; 2K Games’ working title Parkside is set for a 2020 release. But what a series to return to; exploring the stylised art-deco horror environments, along with one of the most philosophical and political gaming storylines since Metal Gear, will forever be a joyous experience.
Plus, the gameplay is slick, and the storylines are heart-wrenching – each one will have you caring for characters and rooting for a particular ending, before a plot twist blows the whole thing open. If you missed these, we couldn’t recommend them more.
Okay, let’s forget the whole Survive thing – and you don’t have to go right back to the MSX releases – but as far as character-driven storylines, perplexing philosophy, and ethical questions go – you can’t get much better than this series. Battle-hardened cloned soldiers, government conspiracies and – early on, at least – multiple endings, make this one of the most engaging narratives.
And as for gameplay, the stealth elements here should satisfy your Last of Us cravings. Whether you’re sneaking through a nuclear disposal facility, a jungle, or a war zone in the middle east – there’s plenty of variety here. There are no fungal-infected undead creatures, but there are robot dinosaurs, telekinetic bosses, and a 100-year-old man with a sniper rifle. So that pretty much makes up for it.