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Survival Games – Which Ones to Pay Attention to?

"There are more survival games popping up with each passing day, but which ones are worth your time?"

Lifeless is a first-person sandbox survival game, it has zombies in it. You now have a 100% accurate mental image of how it plays.

I don’t mean to be so unenthusiastic, but it is hard to get myself excited about yet another game chasing this bandwagon. The survival genre is and has been for a while now one of the most burgeoning in all of gaming. Seemingly every time I log into Steam I see a new release with the ‘survival’ tag. It is getting harder and harder to effectively sort out the clones from the ones that are worth your time.

If you wanna trace this craze back to its source you’re pretty much looking at two specific games: Minecraft and Day Z. The former needs no introduction, it is everywhere. It’s the truest phenomenon to come out of gaming since Call of Duty, there’s more Minecraft related merchandise on sale at my local supermarket than there are stars in the sky. The test of creativity and endurance it presents to players arguably kick-started this whole renaissance.

Minecraft Merch

Day Z started off as a popular mod for the military simulator Arma 2 but has since evolved into it’s own standalone product. The game presents a very dire but oddly beguiling scenario: You, some other people and a bunch of zombies are all thrown into a map with no rules but the ones you impose on each other. It’s a veritable wild west of dreadful circumstances where simply getting from place to place is a nerve-wracking experience. Day Z isn’t as big as Minecraft, but thanks to a lot of YouTube and press coverage it has managed to build up an incredibly sizable following.

When you have bonafide hits like these two you’re bound to get other developers looking to ride their coattails. Some games though have managed to carve out their own identity, or at the very least been successful on their own terms. I’m gonna highlight three of these for y’all now and hopefully you’ll find something among the pile that appeals to you.

Don’t Starve:

Released last year by Klei Entertainment (the developers of the excellent Mark of the Ninja, among other things), Don’t Starve functions similarly to Minecraft, but distinguishes itself in a few key ways. First and foremost is it’s downright lovely art-style, lovely in a bleak way that is. Tim Burton is an obvious inspiration as is the imagery of otherworldly creatures conjured up by writers such as H.P. Lovecraft, it’s a really visually arresting game. Don’t Starve’s adventure mode also has more of a story and objective than most of it’s contemporaries, with the supposed antagonist “Maxwell” narrating and commenting on the player’s actions as you struggle to locate him. The story stuff is all optional though, if you just want to forgo it and see how long your wits can last you in this unsettling world then you’re free to do so.

Don't Starve

And that’s where the meat of the game lies. Many survival games test your ability to overcome the environment as much as they do your ability to defeat enemies, but Don’t Starve places a particular emphasis on the dangers of your surroundings. It’s a game where gathering firewood and setting up a nice camp for yourself is more pertinent than building some crazy golden pickaxe or something. Few games in the survival genre do it’s name justice like this one does.

Don’t Starve is available now on PC, Mac, Linux and PS4 with a PS Vita version coming in September. Don’t be surprised if it comes to other platforms too.

Miasmata:

Now this one here is a real interesting case. Miasmata was quietly released on PC two years ago by a little known developer called IonFx who before this mostly specialized in mobile games. Unfortunately, it sort of came and went with little fanfare or coverage, which is a huge shame because despite a few quirks and some drab visuals it’s one of the purest and most unique exercises in self-preservation I’ve ever seen.

The character you control in Miasmata is trapped on a seeming uninhabited island and ailed by an unnamed disease that among other things causes rapid dehydration. The main thrust of the game is to search the island for whatever fungi or plantlife you can find in order to create medicine and hopefully cure the diseases, or at least offset it’s effects for a time. As you do this you must also contend with the dangers of the island, from being hunted by it’s sole aggressive creature to just making sure you don’t go too fast down a steep incline and fall to your death.

My favorite part of Miasmata though is how it handles its map system. Parts of the island you stumble upon only appear on your map after you manually triangulate your location in relation to whatever landmarks you’ve found. This cartography system adds a whole other layer of survivability for the player to consider. It really helps sell the idea that you’re out here relying on your wits and your wits alone. There isn’t a whole lot of moment to moment action to deal with in Miasmata but the tension it manages to sustain while you’re playing it is damn near unmatched.

The Stomping Land:

In The Stomping Land you are a hunter-gatherer who must survive on an island among other hunter-gatherers and oh look lets just cut to the chase: You’re hunting fuckin’ dinosaurs.

There’s just something really cool about an island where dinosaurs are a constant threat but also your main source of food. And the way The Stomping Land treats it’s big reptile buggers is of particular note. These aren’t the kinds of flimsy dinos that easily crumble when attacked, these are proper monolithic bastards who are not to be trifled with. Often times the preferred strategy to dealing with one is to hope another dinosaur comes along and gets into a fight with and wears its health down rather than you taking it head on yourself. The smaller dinos are easier to kill but provide less fulfilling meat, so you’ll eventually have to attempt a go at one of the larger ones if you intend to survive for very long.

Like any good hunter you use various tracking techniques such as studying footprints and the vocalizations of the different species to locate your prey. But this is a multiplayer game, and although some folks may be friendly and willing to collaborate there will also inevitably be more nefarious players up to no good. It’s always a risk when tracking  that someone could be following your trail, looking to cash in on the same prey as you or worse: take you down personally.

The Stomping Land is one of the best realizations of that pre-historic man vs beast setup I’ve yet seen in games. There’s a real sense of actually living off the spoils of the island in a way that humbles you just as often as it empowers you. It’s a great cross between more realistic survival techniques and the pulpy ideals of our greatest dinosaur hunting dreams. It’s still in Steam early access right now so not every gameplay system is quite fully realized but if the final product capitalizes on even a tenth of it’s potential then we’re in for a special treat indeed.

So, there’s what I think of as three of the most interesting games out there right now in the survival genre. Of course, there are other games that I would also recommend such as Rust or Starbound, but for now I just wanted to focus on the ones that do something a little differently.

What do you think of survival games? Do any of these releases interest or do you have recommendations of your own to throw out there? Be sure to let us know down in the comments.

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