Surviving The Survivor-Horror Epidemic: The Good, The Bad, And The Early
A new wave of genre is currently taking the gaming world head on. In an effort to maximise realism and in turn immersion, new games with the ‘survival’ tag are fast-arising in 2014. And they don’t appear to be running for cover anytime soon. The question is: who do they appeal to? From a fair few efforts I have made on DayZ and Rust, I have come to the conclusion that these games aren’t for the time constrained. To have a proper gaming session on one of these titles, you need at least a couple of hours to get anything done.
I have already wasted many an hour lost in the virtual haze of post-apocalyptic disaster, desperately wandering to find food in a resource-strained environment. To accommodate for the mass online audience, a vast map also has to follow suit. So it is not uncommon to be dying of starvation (and boredom), seeking out nearby landmarks to coordinate some sense of orientation. But I have had some of my most enjoyable gaming moments to date on such titles. My heart has raced and sunk like nothing else in DayZ, diving into the thick treeline at the sound of a gunshot, or even the haunting approach of footsteps. You truly fear for your virtual life in games as scarily realistic as this.
I first played the DayZ mod around the time of August. I’d finally ticked off the “super PC” (mid-range I would later discover) from my bucket list that I desired for about 8 years. This game blew my mind. The foliage and the clouds swarming about my head looked so real. I felt like I was planting my own footsteps in these surroundings; searching for rations and any tool of self-defence, in this desolate post-apocalyptic wasteland. It’s a game about nothing, where everything feels at stake. Finding a medical kit and an apple, only to be shot dead by a BOLD FACED LIAR who promised he was a “friendly,” was and still is, both heart-breaking and embittering. The shrieks of incoming zombies pierce one’s heart, and pit you right into the location of this nightmare in Chernarus. Without getting too in-depth (as the game has now been realised by most who have seen a computer before), it involves you, the survivor, to….survive. What happens beyond that is a concoction of your imagination, and a fate formed by your own decisions - or lack thereof, as many a strangers’ bullet will dictate. Without hearing much of the surrounding hype, my initial fear and fascination was firmly invested into the zombies. But within the first hour, I discovered the true fear : other people. It is game mechanics in their most unadulterated form, effectively allowing the game to create itself on a blank canvas woven with paranoia and fear.
Rust is very much of a similar ilk, but crosses over into a Minecraft-esque territory. The graphics are relatively average, if not sub-par in places. Long grass and shadows are cataclysmically pixelated, and the night sky looks like the painted bedroom ceiling of a stargazing enthusiast. But that may also seem more so whilst comparing it to the generically associated title that is one of the most visually stunning games I’ve witnessed (DayZ).
Your means of survival are not so much dependant on finding items (aside from blueprints for ‘special’ items), but crafting them from raw materials. You find wood and stone to create a flint hatchet, to cut down more wood, and hunt animals to survive. You use wood to cook meat, and animal fats for lighter fuel to put into your newly built furnace, which in turn allows you to craft basic weaponry such as pistols and shotguns. You create a shed to stockpile resources, then with those resources build a house. It is not time-forgiving, and after about 8 hours I only just got around to finishing my 2 up 2 down detached in the countryside. Prior to this, I built numerous sheds across a mountainous landscape, creeping about my new habitat in the night, like an Al-Qaedan Quasimodo.
There seems to be a willingness from a larger majority of players to co-operate in comparison to DayZ. My first couple of hours saw me collate together a group of 5 strangers; one of whom was slain quite abruptly for his assault on a fellow member of the tribe. We encountered what appeared to be an obscenely large wooden design, that would put the Great Wall to shame. This moment was reminiscent to the end of Monty Python’s Holy Grail, as a gawky invisible American’s voice boomed across the landscape from his kingdom, and demanded that we leave the area. He mentioned the rent was steep, which I initially thought was an act of facetiousness. I realised that in fact rooms were being rented out to players in exchange for raw materials on a weekly basis. We eventually came to an agreement of 200 wood and 100 metal ore for the next couple of days. I continued my gaming session with these fine men, until the point where I realised it was past 5 in the morning..
Since that day, I haven’t roamed with any new-found allies. I found myself gathering resources in an out-of-the-way area, and have not been able to pinpoint my whereabouts. The last time I tried to escape my Deliverance-esque surroundings, I accidentally jumped off of a cliff in the dark. Rust’s main issue is that there is little surrounding you to ever really determine your true whereabouts. Everything looks the same. And, unlike DayZ, there are few permanent buildings to help navigate you around the vast map. But aside from that, it has so far been a very enjoyable experience.
The sandbox horror survival genre is now in full swing, and you can find a platitude of ‘early access’ games of a similar ilk by the bucket load on steam. But the problem lies therein: to contemplate the possibility of “Early Access” for a game, it needs to be justifiable. Titles such as Nether, Wasteland 2 (both of which I’ve heard positive things about) and 7 days to die (and more mixed feelings on the latter), are similarly categorised “post-apocalyptic” titles that are also part of the first-generation Early access Open World Survivor-Horror games(FGEAOWSHGs, obviously). And it is hard to differentiate between the genuinely dedicated and strong community-based FGEAOWSHGs titles, and those fronted by teams apparently lacking the patience to land a finished product before they turn a profit. This is a cynical statement, but I cannot help but feel that it is far more than mere coincidence that a slew of similiarly-paced titles are now invading our inner thoughts as adrenaline-hungry gamers.
In my view, the concept of “Early Access” games is fair enough. For some it has been a great way to back a project and help it develop into a greater final product as a result of additional funding prior to its final release. Minecraft’s Markus Persson was able to leave his day job in order to focus more on the game as a result of alpha-game funding. Rust is devised by Garry of Garry’s Mod, so has a resume – albeit brief – to bear some credibility behind the project. DayZ certainly had valid reasons to open up to the public early. It notoriously has a devoted and long standing community that wishes to see the game develop and blossom into something greater than it has ever been. The mod has survived for years, but never truly been a finished product. And devoted fans want to see just that, whilst committing monetarily and being part of the development process. And it is at the consumer’s discretion to purchase an unfinished game, preferably without complaining non-constructively about all the alleged bugs in the title…. But the problem is, that is exactly what happens. Especially when you unleash an unfinished game upon a new or potential community.
7 Days To Die has a disconcertingly identical appearance to Minecraft’s mechanics and aesthetics. Throw in the erratically twitchy NPC models, and this title gives off the body language of a shifty back alley character seeking your wallet ; a motive to utilise “Early Access” in order to financially captivate an already live demographic of zombie/horror fanatics. It comes across as if the concept of this game was devised by some marketing heads, and set upon amateur coding drones to complete the job. And graphically to say the least, it would appear that way.
But the real tragedy is not necessarily people wasting their money on “fad” games designed to fleece the consumer. The real tragedy it would appear, is that such a conclusion that I have deduced can easily be surmised through speculation. With “Early Access,” a game can potentially dig its own burial spot, shoot itself in the head, and slump into its cold dirt-ridden grave before a final release is even announced; potentially cutting off its finished development. I went into this article believing that this game was of little worth because of what little information I could find through online forums and one or two articles.
But I realised that my bias shouldn’t get the better of me, and I wanted to like the ideas and concepts of this game. I did more YouTube “research” and found more positive outlooks from some regular YouTube video posters. But the availability of opinions on this unfinished game was so thin at the time of writing this. And I could not accept anything less than an unanimous approval from what little information I could gather regarding it. The developers of this game might genuinely be trying to create something new and innovative. But visually, the game just looks really haphazard. It looks as if Left 4 Dead took a bucketful of sulphuric acid to the face and keeled over into a mess of broken of glass. The graphics are more reminiscent of 2005′s mediocre Land of the Dead: Road to Fiddler’s Green than the survival horrors such as DayZ that it is attempting to compete with. But with its final release I really do hope to get a better idea of its worth, and hope to hear nothing but positivity - as the concept to me is genuinely intriguing.
The grey area that disallows for the possibility of consumers to make educated decisions upon purchasing a relatively unknown “Early Access” title such as 7 Days To Die (due to the lack of trusted reviewer sites or reliable games critics), is what could be so dangerous to new developers. And once they crash and burn on a non-fully released title, they won’t stand a chance in recuperating. To release a priced unfinished game that isn’t up to scratch and looks too bleak to redeem, is effectively getting caught with your pants down with piss all over your shins.
So I would say as a final word, that you must take heed when purchasing early access games. And developers, you should do when considering it as a viable concept to promote your creation. Your credibility is at stake if you try to push a half-baked product onto the mainstream gaming industry. And that industry is in a fantastic place now for independent game developers. There is a juxtaposition by which big companies such as EA and Activision are monopolizing the market with titles such as FIFA, Battlefield, and Call of Duty; but equally, outlets such as Xbox Arcade or Steam allow indie devs to put up their work for sale without the need to globally distribute physical copies. They can use the benefits of “Early Access” also, but the terms and conditions for both creator and consumer are finicky at the moment.
But, it is a new concept. If it does not get flooded with deception and crookedness, it could be another good thing to add to the indie developers’ toolkit. But up until now, the concept is too short-lived to give us any solid conclusion as to whether it is beneficial. Perhaps as an afterthought, developers/publishers could allow potential customers to try the alpha for perhaps one day, so that they can make a formidable decision as to whether they want to help support the future of the title in question. Just a thought. I never said it was a good one.