The end of the world is coming, at some point. I don't just mean Fallout 4 coming out, because that's just a digital end-of-the-world situation – or at least, the end of you playing anything else this side of Christmas. No, I mean the actual end of everything. It'll be here before any of us know it.
When, exactly, will that be? Buggered if I know. Five billion years? Something like that, I expect. Unless the Russian automated nuclear retaliation system Deadhand goes rogue and wipes us all out rather sooner than that. Or Black Friday turns really nasty. However the apocalypse lands in our laps, one thing is for certain: most of us won't be around to appreciate the aftermath.
And to bring this piece immediately back around in a neat little narrative circle, we return to video games. These interactive indulgences allow players to see the end of the world in vivid detail, to live through it, pluck its strange-tasting, stomach-knotting fruits and murder its gloriously grotesque armies of mutated freaks. But if there's one thing I've noticed from all of the titles set within Armageddon-like situations, it's that the end of the world can be pretty damn pretty.
Obviously we've got Fallout 4 coming, on November 10th, with its better-than-Skyrim graphics and presentation and all that fancy bells-and-whistles guff that we've been conditioned to expect from current-gen systems or God Help those whose products don't meet our fidelity and frames-per-second demands. But Bethesda's after-the-bombs-fell RPG series has long been something of a looker – and I'm including the original isometric titles in that statement.
The Capital Wasteland in 2008's Fallout 3 might have been brown and, well, a bit dull a lot of the time; but it stirred within its wanderer a sense of awe and wonder. And that's a feeling that that carried on over to the less-brown and rather-more-orange (not actually a proper) sequel of 2010's New Vegas. But a desert setting didn't really hypnotise me in a video game until I clamped eyes on September 2015's Mad Max by Avalanche.
See, there's a real beauty to the desolation of Max's adventure – and it's not just achieved by having you carry dogs around. It's the emptiness specked here and there with society's death; the detritus of a failed world, catching your eye and reminding you that not only is it not boring to look at, but that there was once something more here.
Article continues after the video below
There are other approaches to this desolation, of course – it's not just deserts and gruff men obscenely attached to their cars. 2012's PlayStation-exclusive Tokyo Jungle, for example, was set in a city reclaimed by nature – which meant playing as a four-legged beast rather than a hairy bloke with some guns down his not-washed-in-decades pants. Its beauty came not from its setting – all concrete greys and flora greens, mainly – but from the fact that it successfully convinced me that, actually, Pomeranians could fight hyenas and not immediately die.
Wait, no, not that. I meant to say: it successfully convinced me that a wild, untamed world could exist inside mankind's artificially erected borders and boundaries. We might be in charge right now, but all it takes is the mysterious disappearance of all of humanity and nature will move in and set up shop.
There's also the more straightforward gorgeousness of the apocalypses shown in both Gears of War and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Both tell a tale of a large, oddly proportioned man fighting a shit-ton of enemies in a world that has been royally fucked by mankind's inability to balance a hunger for power with protecting the very ground its built its society on; and both are set in environments that you can genuinely pause in, take a look around and appreciate. That is, when killer robots and ground-burrowing nasties aren't attempting to decapitate you. (Which they frequently are, sorry about that.)
Admittedly, Gears goes for brown and grey while Enslaved opts for what we like to call "colour", but I don't see one approach as being considerably more appealing than the other, as both possess a kind of beauty. If war has gone and fucked everything up, there's no reason that stuff has to be colourful. Look at Ubisoft's I Am Alive for the best example of that attitude in action. But don't play it, it'll annoy you too much.
New on The Creators Project: It Doesn't Get More Metal Than Ferrofluid Skulls
Borderlands, The Last of Us, Destiny – whatever it is you're playing, and however it shows its version of a fucked-up world, there's always something to gain from it, something to drink in with your eyes. And these games frequently succeed in drawing the player into their scenery, triggering feelings of needing to know just how it all went wrong. We explore, we poke around in the corners of abandoned shacks and recklessly venture into darkened caverns full of god knows what because we need to know what happened here.
So next time you're out exploring whatever end of the world you might have recently encountered, remember to stop worrying about stocking up on water and tinned meat, and remember to look up. Look around. Soak it all in (not the radiation). And realise that, even though it's ended, the world is a pretty nice place.
Just don't forget to take your gun with you. Pretty does not equal safe, and Deathclaws don't give a damn if you've only popped outside your safe house to see the view.
More from VICE Gaming: