5 of Gaming’s Darkest Futures
Games are many things. They are excellent tools of escapism, they are allegories for issues we face in the world, they are even explorations of what could have been and what could still be. Sometimes explorations of our future lead us to deep, dark pits. They show the apocalypse, demonic invasions, galactic societies on the verge of collapse, and so much more.
Today, I’ve collected five of the darkest futures that games have brought to us.
The world of DOOM is not just dark because of the demonic invasions. If you look deeper, there is the cultish atmosphere of the UAC, the devastating energy crisis that demanded the usage of Argent Energy, and still plenty of demonic invasions.
The story we got in DOOM (2016) was one of tragic necessities warped into cultish subjugation and demonic control. The reason that the UAC was harvesting Argent Energy from Hell was that humanity had backed itself into a corner. They had produced technology and funded industry beyond the planet’s needs. There was not enough energy, be it nuclear, coal, renewable, or whatever. They were at the mercy of Samuel Hayden and the UAC, who had discovered an infinite source of energy.
Officially, the energy was something unique to Mars, but UAC workers knew the truth. Argent Energy was a dark power harvested from Hell itself.
It was only natural that, in the development of energy based on a dimension of demonic conquerors, some people would become corrupted. The biggest score for the demons was the corruption of Dr. Olivia Pierce, who led the Lazarus Research Facility, and promoted demonic worship. Her research led her to becoming a disciple of the demonic leaders of Hell, and her assistance was required to open the portals that allowed for the demonic incursions. She and her researchers, who she had also allowed to become corrupted demon worshippers, triggered the Lazarus Waves to initiate the invasion. Those who were not corrupted by the Argent Energy of the Lazarus Waves ended up being devoured by the demons let loose on the facility.
With DOOM Eternal we will get even more answers. We will learn about the Night Sentinels, the soldiers who defended Argent D’Nur with the Doomslayer to their final breaths, with their souls becoming trapped in Hell. We will learn about the Betrayer, who worked with the demons to open Argent D’Nur to invasion. We may even learn the Doomslayer’s true origins.
This one is pretty cut and dry. Fallout follows the descendants of the survivors of nuclear apocalypse, but the truly sinister nature of this reality started long before the bombs fell in 2077.
Fallout revolves heavily around Vaults, fallout shelters with a dark secret. These Vaults were contracted by a shadow government who wanted to test people’s reaction to living underground for extended periods, but on top of that they were also all labs for sinister human experiments.
Vaults would subject people to things like psychotropic rage drugs, cloning experiments, cryogenic freezing, genetically enhanced zombie fungus, and even the infamous Forced Evolutionary Virus. Each Vault was designed with a single experiment in mind, with a limited number of control vaults to simply monitor standard human interaction in the Vaults.
Some of the Vaults were less about exposing people to things and more about the environments they fostered. There were two Vaults, Vault 68 and Vault 69, that come to mind. Both of them were filled to capacity with a twist, there would be only one man in Vault 69, and only one woman in Vault 68. There was 999 of the other sex, but that was it. No special drugs or unusual plants, just 1,000 people locked in a giant metal box protected from a nuclear hell.
Others, like Fallout 3‘s Vault 101, were given the order of strict isolation. Under No circumstances were they ever allowed to open the doors, no matter how bad things might’ve gotten inside.
Previously, I mentioned the Forced Evolutionary Virus. That is just another piece of Fallout’s dark future. FEV was developed by the government as a means of creating super soldiers to fight the Chinese, before everything got nuked to sh*t. FEV was never properly finished, and would later result in the creation of Super Mutants, Centaurs, and Mutant Hounds, as well as Fallout antagonist The Master and ghoulish tree mutant Harold. FEV was the most dangerous of pre-war experiments that still affect the wastelands to this day. Super Mutants and their accompanying horrors terrorize settlements across the United States, killing or kidnapping their residents. Those who are taken alive are either eaten or mutated with FEV.
The only way for the wastelands to free themselves would be an entire genocide of Super Mutant kind and the permanent destruction of FEV. Of course, each of the various wastelands of the country have their own issues, be it the tunnelers who devour Deathclaws with ease, giant Scorch Beasts who can spread a bizarre plague, or even a group of scientists who have essentially abandoned the idea of moral codes, putting scientific advancement above human life.
“In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.”
Warhammer 40k has intrigued and enticed people for over 30 years. It’s a future/fantasy hybrid full of daemons, Chaos Gods, Space Marines, and psychic powers. The whole setting isn’t meant to be taken too seriously, but it is still a pretty bad place to live as a person. The average human could be captured and “recruited” by any number of Imperium agencies, Rogue Traders, Chaos Cults, or Gene Stealers. Their planet could be under endless siege by Tyranids, Orks, Warp Daemons, or Traitor Legions. The whole thing is a big mess where the average person has the short end of every stick.
The only way to survive is to either run so far under the radar that your too insignificant to even be considered as a Servitor for some Mechanicum Tech Priests, or go so far beyond average that you get recruited to one of the better Imperium Agencies, like the Inquisition or a good Space Marine chapter in the Adeptus Astartes. Either way you’re still subject to annihilation at any moment if a random warp storm passes by, or your ship loses its Gellar Field Generator while you’re in the Warp and you get bombarded by the full insanity of the Warp. It’s like I said before though, try not to take it all too seriously.
If you’re lucky, you might be able to rise from a lowly planet-bound merchant to a full fledged inquisitor and fly around the galaxy doing inquisitorial things like squashing rebellions and uncovering gene stealer cults, making the galaxy a safer place.
Or, on your first mission, a psycher loses their cool and turns your skin inside out by accident. Either way you just have to try and live your best life, even if you die trying.
There is no mention of dark futures without the authoritarian, alien-controlled regime in Half-Life 2.
You, as Gordon Freeman, come into the world years after inadvertently opening up the planet to global invasion. The world that you knew during your tenure at Black Mesa in Half-Life was conquered in the Seven Hour War, and the authority of the Combine is unyielding. When Gordon returns in Half-Life 2, he finds himself in City 17, which has a major Combine presence. What we find out about the world underneath the surface is troubling to say the least. First of all, the Combine have created a machine that projects a bizarre anti-fertility field across the Earth, preventing the new birth of any human children.
Next, on a more surface level, the planetary society has been reconstructed in a way that everyone is organized into numbered cities.
Within these cities, they are three classes of people: Citizens, Civil Protection, and Combine Soldiers. The Civil Protection and Combine Soldier units are a part of the Combine government, who are led mostly by Overwatch, what appears to be an AI system who provides orders and controls automated systems.
The Citizens, on the other hand, are completely at their mercy. Civil Protection acts more as a heavily militarized police force, enforcing curfews, manning immigration, and beating civilians who might be dissenting. There are moments when apartment blocks are locked down, with CP patrolling and Overwatch declaring that anyone who steps forward with information about Gordon will receive extra rations, and all who do not will have their ration privileges temporarily revoked.
The world may seem dark on the level of the authoritarian Combine, but it goes deeper. There are forces at play beyond human comprehension, and humanity is just their plaything. Of course, I am referring to the two opposing forces of unimaginable power: The Alien Advisors, also known as the Shu’ulathoi, and the enigmatic G-Man.
These beings showcase incredibly powerful abilities, such as being able to manipulate time and space, use telekinesis, and teleport. The Advisors work behind the scenes as the group that advises and controls Dr. Breen, the human face of the Combine Earth government. They are shown as bizarre slug-cyborgs with powerful telekinesis.
The G-Man is at least somewhat opposed to the Advisors, but as a singular entity appears to be much more powerful. He has a human appearance, but is almost certainly not human. As the Advisors assist Dr. Breen, G-Man has assisted Gordan, Alyx, and even the long-lost Adrian Shepard from Half-Life: Blue Shift. What he intends to do is mysterious. In Half-Life, G-Man is the one who provided the large crystal which caused the Resonance Cascade that opened Earth to alien invasion in Half-Life. Later, he disables a nuclear weapon that would have destroyed the facility, ideally ending the Cascade. At the end of Half-Life, he puts Gordon into stasis for nearly 20 years before unleashing him in City 17, right when the Resistance needed him to topple the Combine. When G-Man tries to return Gordon to stasis at the end of Half-Life 2/the beginning of HL2: Episode 1, it takes the full force of the Vortigaunts to stop G-Man.
Who is the G-Man? Why does he have such an interest in Gordon, Alyx, and Adrian Shepard? Who does he serve? We may never know these answers, but the implications of these questions eat away at Half-Life fans to this day.
Cyberpunk 2077 is a dark future unlike any other. The area of Night City is especially dark and twisted. Based on the original Cyberpunk 2020 tabletop game’s description, Night City was created to be the ideal city, but it was never destined to achieve this goal.
The city was heavily funded by megacorporations who wanted a city without laws that affected their business practices. They helped create Coronado City, and when the brain behind it, Richard Night, died in 1998, the city was renamed after it’s founder and became Night City. Night City almost immediately found itself in conflict, with corporations fighting against gangs and mob bosses. The mob managed to wrest control of Night City until about 2009, when criminal activity was an all-time high. This period was known as the Mob Wars, which ended in 2011 when the Arasaka Corporation sent in a paramilitary group to annihilate the remaining mob leaders, and corporations installed puppet leaders into the government.
While Night City was embroiled in conflict, the world was experiencing a shift in warfare.
The first of four Corporate Wars took place before the Night City Mob Wars, between 2004 and 2006. The war was violent, expensive, and all over acquiring an airfare company. The two main corporations, Euro Business Machines and Orbital Air, fought for the control of TransWorld Airlines. They used cyber attacks, terrorists, proxy soldiers from developing countries, pirates, and more to try and force the other to surrender their bid on TWA. The First Corporate War ended with Orbital Air winning, but it set the precedent for conducting business through combat rather than diplomacy.
Corporate Wars continued much in this way throughout the 2000s and 2010s, with the Third Corporate War happening almost entirely on the Net in 2016. Cyberpunk 2077 takes place over 50 years after the Fourth Corporate War, the most violent war, which was a playable campaign in the tabletop Cyberpunk 2020. The war began quietly in 2021, but escalated from a shadow war into the full blown Hot War in June 2022 between major military and weapons companies Arasaka and Militech. Cities like Hong Kong and Rio de Janeiro were reduced to lifeless rubble, and the war became so violent that countries started stepping in trying to stop the conflict. Eventually, Militech allied itself with the U.S Government and forced Arasaka back into Night City. Here, the company was defeated, but not without their skyscraper tower being destroyed, crushing large amounts of city around it, including buildings like the Japanese Consulate and the Night City Stock Exchange. The city was irreversibly changed by the conflict of the Fourth Corporate War, and that is the city we see in Cyberpunk 2077. Arasaka, Militech, all of those corporations still exist in 2077, and are still in Night City. What we do about it is up to us, it seems.
What are your favorite dystopian futures? Are there any that you think deserve a spot on this list? Is there anything on here that you disagree with? Talk about it in the comments below.