Genre Highlight: Survival

            It’s 2018 and the Steam store is so chock full of indie/early access survival titles that most people are hesitant to get into the genre at all. Luckily there are also quite a few that have stood out among the rest and have made the genre a fun one to enjoy, and we will be looking at a couple of those games today.

            For a brief history of the survival genre, there were a few games like SOS by Nintendo that were made when we started seeing consoles in homes more often, however none of these survival like games really made the full dive into the genre and therefore it wasn’t something of discussion. It wasn’t until 2009 that we would really see a game that people started following in large numbers, Minecraft. Back then it was still an early access title and wasn’t properly released until 2011, and as most of you know has grown much more since then. That along with DayZ (released in 2013) helped show players what the genre has to offer and the potential that it had, leading to the mass amount of survival games made within the past five years.

            Minecraft is such an intriguing game because of how simple it is at its core, you spawn in a randomly generated world with nothing, and you get wood, mine materials, build a house and upgrade your gear as you go. Of course today there is a lot more to do and an actual end to the game, but the core gameplay hasn’t changed since the beginning. In addition, Minecraft has paved the way for many other survival games that use a similar formula.

            There is something satisfying about mining and placing each block, because you know you have complete control over your environment, and before you know it six hours have passed as you stand atop your refined castle. You can keep things simple with your basic blocks, or can you get into the complicated redstone components and make fortresses that are fully automated to your design. Or you can live in a basic dirt hut and focus purely on exploration or progression. But that’s the beauty, you can choose exactly how you want to play the game, and it gives you the tools to do just that. This is what keeps me coming back to Minecraft year after year, and what will continue to bring people back for years to come.

            The other game I wanted to specifically mention is Subnautica, a recently released survival game where you play as a member of a crashed spaceship on an watery planet, teeming with vibrant and unique life. Even though this game came out recently, it has been in an early access state since 2014 and made a lot of good progress from then until its release. We can look at Subnautica and shove it into the survival category, but to do that and nothing else would be a crime as there are a lot of good things going on beneath the surface that you don’t see from a trailer.

            First and foremost, unlike a lot of other survival games, the world is not randomly generated. Every piece of coral and every biome is thought out and constructed to fit what the developers were going for. Some might say that makes the game a bit stale when replaying it, however I would argue that it instead gives the player a feeling of nostalgia as they explore the same world on a fresh play through.

            The second part of Subnautica that grabs me is the amazingly unique creatures you encounter in your journey. The basic fish don’t serve much purpose besides being a food source, but they are all visually appealing. However, the “enemies” of the game are what give this game a unique feeling of curiosity and fear as you play it, causing you to constantly watch your back and it gives you the sense that you are not welcome on this alien planet. Combine this with a very subtle storyline that moves along as you progress, and you’ve got yourself a deep, immersive experience that will suck you in and give you a good time.

            Of course these are just two examples of good quality survival games, there are a lot more that could be written about but we’ll save that for later. To wrap things up I want to take a look at this genre’s future.

            Unlike other genres, repeating the same thing can get tiring rather than exhilarating in a survival, and if you aren’t careful you’ll end up sick of the genre. So that begs the question, what will survival games do to remain relevant?

            Perhaps they’ll simply continue changing how crafting systems work besides a UI change, turn-based survival games have some potential, and we could even see a shift where they introduce more strategy into survival games for a more challenging experience. Regardless of what changes we see, I definitely think that the genre will have to find a way to bring people back; otherwise fans of the genre will simply continue playing the survival games they know and love forever. No matter what happens, I am confident that this genre will keep moving forward and stay just as relevant as it is today.

Author: Joseph Musgrove