Given XBLIG’s recent plight, its various brushes with death, and the lack of new games worthy of a look, it’s been rare to come across a release that you can truly be excited about. Survival Games Season 1 ($1.00) is certainly unassuming at first glance, easy to pass off as another Minecraft clone. However, I can say— unequivocally— that this is one of the better games to hit the indie marketplace in 2014.
Survival Games comes across as Minecraft meets Hunger Games meets Stephen King’s Under The Dome1 meets a first-person shooter2. Yes, that’s a mouthful. It’s also a cocktail of awesome, a mashup of different styles and scenes that work rather well together. The scope of this game is impressive by any standard, but especially so for an indie. Developer 2.0 Studios has experience building crafters on the service, but they’ve truly created something great here that everyone should play. When it all runs smooth, that is.
To start with, Survival Games is not a ‘block world crafter’. Despite its appearance, despite any inferred comparisons, you are not building square worlds of your own design here. Survival Games is a first-person shooter first and foremost, specializing in online PvP battles for up to sixteen players3 across a large and random landscape. All that said, it’s not the FPS components themselves that thrill, but rather the ancillary parts that join together and compliment it. While your main objective is to eliminate other players and be the last player standing (YOLO is the theme here, almost roguelike), there is more to the matter of surviving than just, well… surviving.
As the title implies, your survival depends on a multi-pronged approach. Other players aren’t your only concern. You’ve also got to manage your hunger and sleep levels, as well as a stamina meter directly tied to your actions. Things like running, jumping, and attacking all use stamina, forcing you to strike a balance and constantly look for ways to improve your lot. Survival Games is nothing if not accommodating… to an extent. You’ll have to hunt animals for food, look for berries / mushrooms in the environments, even take a nap when your energy runs low (and the coast is clear, natch). Customizable perks can mitigate some of this, or give you an advantage in other instances. A playable tutorial acquaints you with the basics, and a few matches in, you’re already (mostly) a pro.
Foraging for food applies to your weaponry and equipment as well. The randomly-drawn world contains scattered loot chests, holding a number of swords, guns, grenades, and armor, among dozens of other useful (and sometimes not-so-useful) items. You can equip new clothing to your character, playing dress up and giving a boost to certain stats, or go the ‘hypochondriac’ route and carry around a stockpile of food and / or healing items in your backpack.
All of these items are coded according to quality, including rare and epic weapons / equipment. You can draw a Ghillie suit from one, say, or a pirate outfit and eye patch from another. Night-vision goggles will give you an edge at night, as do torches, and there’s even a Harry Potter-style map that fills in as you walk and tracks other players in real-time4. While exploration and improvisation are key, combat is inevitable. To that end, the game has a ‘sudden death’ option, speeding up the fight as the dome slowly closes in on you (pro tip: don’t mess with the dome) and the other combatants.
The resulting gameplay is incredibly dynamic, allowing for a number of clever events’ and firefights. Just take this montage of moments I’ve had with the game so far— 1. Finding a hidden weapons cache behind a waterfall, Zelda-style. 2. Setting up a bear trap just inside the house I was sleeping in, killing my would-be intruder. 3. Lighting a campfire in an open field at night, then hiding in the woods and waiting for players to show up and ambush them. 4. Being killed by the very same wildcat I was hunting just a moment prior to my death. 5. C4 on a castle bridge = awesome escape from other players.
Of course, all of this requires a community to be effective, and Survival Games has the beginnings of one. As host, you can tweak a number of game factors, including starting loadouts, map size, player counts, and modifiers to the hunger / sleep component. On the flip side, this amount of choice, as well as its ambitious design, comes with some serious drawbacks. I was routinely dropped from matches (particularly those with more players), the game crashed on me a few times, and there’s noticeable lag that can pop up at any time. These issues will undoubtedly be settled in future updates, but it’s worth noting the game is far from perfect in its current form.
Online hiccups and other issues aside, Survival Games Season 1 is the best reason in a long time to come back to XBLIG. While its options and game modes may ultimately be finite, its more unique elements and random outcomes promise almost limitless possibilities. Fun is a constant. If you have a dollar, a few friends, and a bit of patience, you owe it to yourself to spend it here.
- The book, anyway. It’s 1,000 pages long, but an excellent read. I can’t vouch for the ongoing TV series. ↩
- I’m sure there’s plenty of mods / tweaks for Minecraft on PC that do this already, but it’s a console first, as far as I know. Yes, Avatar Survival Games did the Hunger Games first, but nowhere near the size and scale that’s on display here. ↩
- I regularly found games with five to six players, even a few that ran up to ten(!). By XBLIG standards, this is good. ↩
- Mischief managed. ↩