PlayStation players are full of weighty emotions right now with The Last of Us Part II’s long-awaited and controversy-laden release on the PlayStation 4. Some players have willingly offered up their delicate heartstrings to be teased, pulled and unexpectedly yanked by the storytellers at Naughty Dog; others—of a more cynical variety—have embarked on a continuing quest to fuel a storm of outrage and tarnish what would otherwise have been another stellar Naughty Dog launch. The less said about all that, however, the better. The point is: The Last of Us Part II is dominating current gaming discussion, which for non-PlayStation owners, can feel a little bit like being the only vegetarian in a world-class steakhouse. So how’s an Xbox, PC or Switch owner to satisfy their cravings for games of the gloomy, gritty and gory variety without splashing out on a PlayStation 4 this late in the console generation? Well, luckily, this industry is never short of titles that fit any (or all) of the aforementioned adjectives. Take a gander through some of our favourite titles that hit similar gameplay, tonal and story notes to Naughty Dog’s pair of post-apocalyptic epics! (Note: for simplicity’s sake, both games will be referred to as one entity,‘The Last of Us’, from here on out.
The Walking Dead
While they may differ in terms of gameplay (The Walking Dead’s rarely-used shooting mechanics are, after all, about as engaging as calibrating a touchscreen), TellTale’s The Walking Dead and The Last of Us share that crucial central theme of father-daughter relationships; oh, and both are also conveniently set in a zombie apocalypse. Just like with Ellie, players grow to care about The Walking Dead’s Clementine like a little virtual surrogate of their own child—whether they actually have a child or not. In fact, for many players these games awakened all-new maternal/paternal instincts where, before, there was only apathy—or else outright hatred—at the sight of children in games.
Resident Evil 2 (Remake)
There’s no doubt that the grizzled main cast of The Last of Us would, if faced with Resident Evil 2’s Leon S. Kennedy, struggle to stifle all manner of condescending sniggers and pitying winces. Leon’s ‘fresh outta the academy’ attitude and his debut game’s not-so-somber tone may present some striking differences when compared to The Last of Us, but come time to knuckle down and put bullets in heads, the two titles each reveal a leg firmly planted in the same gameplay ground. It’s the frantic low-ammo, high-stakes gameplay that makes Resident Evil 2’s recent remake a solid stand-in for those needing their fix of tight-chested “gotta make these bullets count” action.
Metro (Particularly Exodus)
Both the Metro series and The Last of Us present players with the ‘slow-motion car crash’ style of game world. That is to say, worlds that are simultaneously horrific and yet nigh-on impossible to look away from. Wandering the dilapidated ruins of once great civilisations and meeting the dregs of society that linger within them define the experience of both games. With Metro Exodus, the franchise’s most recent entry, the comparison grows yet stronger as interpersonal relationships are given greater focus and, no longer restrained to Moscow, the entirety of post-apocalyptic Russia is open for the plot to explore. If it’s Naughty Dog’s bleak vision of the apocalypse you’re after, Metro will leave you satisfied (well, maybe somewhat miserable too).
This War of Mine
If Metro—with its radioactive mutants and one-man-army protagonist—keeps things a little too ‘sci-fi/action’ to truly match the despairing tone of The Last of Us (not that Naughty Dog’s game is exactly realistic), then consider turning your attention to 11 bit studios’ This War of Mine. Even more so than the other soul-crushing entries on this list, This War of Mine is a game that’ll extinguish any flicker of hope left inside your already downtrodden heart. Set in a war-torn city, This War of Mine’s themes and overarching tone of human suffering are reinforced by the gameplay of managing scarce—and always insufficient—resources and constantly facing horrific ethical quandaries. There’s a reason This War of Mine has been endorsed by the Polish education system. It’s a truly harsh game that portrays the worst sides of humanity in more ‘real’ terms than any school textbook. And if that wasn’t enough to entice any would-be The Last of Us player, both games share the same amount of syllables and phonetic rhythm (the LAST of US - this WAR of MINE). They’re quite literally mirroring each other!
The Evil Within
Forget tone, forget narrative—hell—you can even forget cover shooting; Tango Gameworks’ The Evil Within is for players who are hankering solely for some of that fungus-zombie monster gameplay. It may not be a flawless experience, but when it comes to facing off against hordes of angry, shambling humanoids with an arsenal of slow-firing but powerful weapons, The Evil Within and The Last of Us possess a lot of shared DNA. With Shinji Mikami, writer and director of Resident Evil 4, at the helm, it was never surprising to see The Evil Within work as a zombie-like shooter. More surprising is how The Evil Within plays like a less polished, arcadier alternative to The Last of Us with its pulse-pounding clicker fights. For players looking to land impactful headshots and sprint around with zombies nipping at their heels, The Evil Within isn’t the worst The Last of Us substitute in the world.
There really is no need to sulk (too much) about missing out on The Last of Us. While very few games hit EVERY single note of Naughty Dog’s two emotionally-charged, apocalyptic odysseys, countless games successfully recapture specific components of Joel and Ellie’s adventures—in addition to bringing gameplay, story and stylistic features of their own. We’ve covered just five examples, but there are no doubt hundreds more. What games would you recommend to fill someone’s The Last of Us-shaped hole? Let us know in the comments!