If you read our last game review, “7 Days to Die; Minecraft + Horror? Amazing!” you’ll know that I briefly touched upon the subject of survival games. In this article, I’m going to expand upon that, and talk about it in more detail. Before I do, I want to be clear, I’m not talking about survival horror games. Specifically, I’m referring to the open world, crafting heavy, exploration-styled games.
Recently, I purchased, “Astroneer.” This game, while pretty fun and a great time waster, is more or less a carbon copy of “No Man’s Sky.” Most of the game’s core elements are pulled, or at least inspired from “No Man’s Sky”: the crafting system to the space exploration theme, even the buggy UI. This in itself is no huge issue, the game is very young in the development process. It has plenty of time to become its own thing. But, this is a game coming out less than a year after “No Man’s Sky’s” release, that is essentially the same product. Out of curiosity, I began looking at similar games on Steam; and to my surprise, there were many more. This led me to ask, are we seeing a boom in the survival genre?
In short, I would say yes. If you look on Steam as I did, you can see a huge list of popular survival games that have exploded onto the scene in recent years: “Ark: Survival Evolved,” “DayZ,” “Subnautica,” “The Division,” “H1Z1,” “Rust,” “The Long Dark,” “The Forest,” “Feel the Snow,” the list goes on. Specifically, it goes on to 400 more entries.
These games have become so popular that you can see their core mechanics melding into popular triple A titles; “Fallout 4” is one such title. It added a whole new crafting and structure building system similarly seen in the most popular survival games. It expanded upon this later on with adding a survival mode, bringing the game fully into the genre.
Triple A titles aside, there are going to be imitators. In fact, if you go back and look at popular gaming trends, this concept has been recurring throughout all of gaming’s history. For example, after “World of Warcraft’s” success, there have been countless MMORPGs trying to copy and alter their formula. “Elder Scrolls Online,” “Star Wars: The Old Republic,” “EVE Online.” All of these games exploded into the MMO scene after “WoW’s” massive success. So, it’s easy to see how this trend has applied to our, relatively young, genre. But it does beg the question, is this a bad thing?
Ultimately, I don’t think so. This is because there is a strong competition between “WoW” and many of the aforementioned titles; this created a series of shallow games merely trying to imitate “WoW” with the sole intentions of one-upping it. There was and still is little intent of perfecting a craft or trying anything truly new within many of these new MMORPGs. I don’t see this in the survival genre. While one can make the argument that the Zombie Survival sub-genre has a certain degree of competition, most survival games outside this sub-genre have a wholly different feel and approach. This allows them to exist within the market while not in direct competition.
Take the game I mentioned earlier, “Astroneer.” I own that and “Subnautica.” If you haven’t heard of “Subnautica,” it is an oceanic survival and exploration game. While “Astroneer” is focused primarily on space exploration and discovery, “Subnautica” instead has a much larger emphasis on base building and construction. Both games are centered around surviving harsh and alien environments, but each takes an entirely different approach. This concept can be applied to the entire genre. While most have a similar grounded concept at their core, their approach and themes vary. This leads us to having a huge library of creative and innovative titles taking vastly different approaches to the same core concept.
While this genre expands, and improves, I think we will see several groundbreaking titles sift their way out of the woodwork. Each new wave of releases, be it in early access or full studio products, gets slightly more polished. This new genre has the benefit of procedural adaptation and improvement. Whenever a game like “Don’t Starve” comes out, all of its “early access” counterparts take note and improve their games accordingly. This leads to an overall quality increase over time. This said, it is only a matter of time until we get a truly fantastic game. Many felt like “No Man’s Sky” would be this game. But due to overhype and unrealistic publishing schedules, the game fell drastically short. But this doesn’t mean that it was a complete bust; many new games are adapting “No Man’s Sky’s” concept of procedural generation to fantastic effect.
Overall, I can understand many people’s frustration at the current state of the survival genre. It is saturated and muddled to be sure; but I think its growth and expansion is ultimately a good thing. It’s leading to a better understanding of what makes these types of games work; and it’s setting great examples, both good and bad, for aspiring game designers. I think it’s going to take a few years for things to balance out, for carbon copy cats to fall to the wayside and for the more inspired games to emerge. If anyone is interested in getting into this genre here’s a small list of games I recommend:
“Minecraft”: It’s hard not to have heard about this game, but you cannot ignore the impact it has had. It’s worth your time.
“Subnautica”: This game combines breathtaking visuals with an intense and challenging exploration experience. The crafting and base building mechanics are fun and well worth a buy.
“Don’t Starve”: This is what a Tim Burton Survival game would look like: great artistic feel and atmosphere. I should warn you, though, this game is brutal. Prepare to die. A lot.
“DayZ”: This can arguably be called the first Zombie Survival game of its kind. Originally a MOD for “Arma” and “Arma 2: Operation Arrowhead,” this hardcore survival game now has a standalone version spurred out of sheer popularity. This should speak for itself.
And finally, “No Man’s Sky”: Before many of you object, the game isn’t actually that bad. There is a lot to the game that is lackluster, but it’s an overall fun experience. The planets are all legitimately unique and there’s huge amounts of content to explore. As well, a new patch just released adding even more content to an already massive experience. It’s fun and worth the buy if it’s on sale. I will be honest, it is nowhere near worth the $60 price tag.