After spending several hours crawling around a now desolate and ruined city, I realise something: there is no possible way to win.
Survival games are interesting because they really shouldn’t be fun; there is (usually) no overall aim or specific win state. Your goals are self-determined and losing is a nightmare as a result. “It took me 2 hours to get this M4 with a whole 5 bullets in!” I gleefully tell my friends as in the distance a gunshot is heard and a flash is seen and my well earned loot is lost forever.
Such is the life of a survival horror fan: another lesson learned, another moment lost. Yet, this genre has kept my coming back time and time again for better and for worse. And so here is a list of my personal favorite experiences in the harsh reality of simulated apocalypse.
5. Infestation: Survivor Stories (formerly WarZ)
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Hold on a second! Before you click that close button, allow me to explain: I:SS is the game that most people love to hate. It once stood for everything you could possibly do wrong in a survival horror game: lies about what was in the final product? Check. Stolen or traced assets? Check. A huge focus on microtransactions in a pay to play title? Double check. So why is it on this list? Well, I invite you to give it a second chance: it’s not actually all that bad any-more. Lead game designer Sergey Titov has stepped down- to much applause- and his replacement team has done a fantastic job of getting the title back on its brain-loving reanimated feet.
New maps, removed deathmatch and better economy
They’ve built an all new map, phased out the deathmatch aspect, lowered prices, made zombies drop more cash, made all items previously purchasable with only GC (the game’s premium paid for currency) purchasable with in-game dollars and heaps more. It still isn’t perfect, but it’s getting to a state where it is actually playable and a heck of a lot of fun. It often goes on sale now for around £2.49 on Steam, so if you haven’t already ignore the steam reviews and pick this up when it’s cheap. The dev team is currently in the process of writing a remake of the game, lovingly titled “Infestation: New Beginnings”, which should be entering closed alpha shortly. All owners of Infestation: Survivor Stories will be given a free copy of this at launch, so watch this space!
4. EVE: Online
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While not technically a horror game, EVE is one of a very select few games that unintentionally has the atmosphere of being extremely frightening. Even from the early stages in the game when you’re still trying to wrap your head around the concept of a completely player ran market, all of the elements of suspense are there.
EVE is one of a very select few games that unintentionally has the atmosphere of being extremely frightening.
You’re told from the start that if you make a wrong move at any point that could result in your entire EVE career rolling back to day one. It’s something that this title prides itself on, and fairly so; the result of your actions is based completely on skill. Sure, the bulk of combat revolves around the random number generator but there’s more to it than first meets the eye. I have 3 years of experience with this game and let me tell you: never underestimate even the most primitive of ships. I’ve seen the ship that you get from the tutorial missions cause major issues for the side of a battle and the cheapest of parts pushed together to create a killer build.
A game that relies on split decisions…
Once you’ve experienced that sort of destruction and realise that the entire game relies on split second decisions, you’ll classify it as survival horror. Letting your guard down at any moment or looking away from the screen for a few seconds because “That’s only a Navitas!” (one of the cheaper spacecraft) can result in your death. Combine this constant fear with the ridiculously huge open sandbox universe and EVE: Online quickly becomes a must play for lovers of the survival genre.
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Rust is the latest big project from Garry’s Mod developers Facepunch. It’s a cross between DayZ and Minecraft at its core, but looking beyond those comparisons it becomes something else entirely. When entering Rust for the very first time you’re placed randomly in the middle of a huge world filled with radiated villages and facilities, ravenous and starving bears and wolves and, of course, naked player characters and are armed with nothing but a rock to defend yourself. Nightfall will come quickly and when it does if you lack a shelter then you may as well find a way to kill yourself and try again the next morning.
Gathering, hunting and building
Fortunately, it doesn’t take long to start getting structures together, but then you’re faced with the issue of finding food to avoid dying anyway. This is one of the few survival games that gets the survival element just right: you have to decide whether this day is going to be about gathering, hunting or building. You’ll need to either find or craft weapons which fortunately is a fairly easy task. You generally spawn fairly close to structures and within those structures it’s easy to find guns and ammo provided you pay close attention to your RAD (radiation) levels. This is good as it seems that very few developers remember the golden rule of first person shooters from the 90s: over-powered is fun. While the guns are fairly balanced they aren’t extremely few and far between and so finding one is a fairly quick and fun process.
Then, of course, when you have one you can go and raid other people’s bases which is where this game truly shines; the terror of being inside your house to hear the sounds of gun fire and people screaming at you down the microphone is next to none in the gaming industry. Being on the other side, however, is hilarious. And that’s a good way to describe Rust: terror and hilarity at every moment.
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I know what you’re thinking; number 2!? NUMBER TWO!?!? Yes, DayZ does seem like the most obvious game to earn that number 1 spot on this list. After all, it practically invented the gritty, realistic zombie survival genre and did it almost perfectly.
The game is fantastic. It has an atmosphere of constantly being watched that no other game can rival. Helped by the ArmA II (and now the ArmA III) engine, it has realistic movement and gun control that, again, no other game can rival, but its ultimate downfall is just how potent that feeling of being watched is. My experience with DayZ was not one of a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by the walking dead but instead one of entering a town or village only to be greeted by a swift shot to the head. It’s exciting at first but gets old fast. I want to be hunted down by zombies and be forced to work together with someone who otherwise would be after my gear rather than enter a large town with 8 or 9 zombies covering the entire area only to be shot before I know there’s even a person there.
It practically invented the gritty, realistic zombie survival genre and did it almost perfectly
Unfortunately, it isn’t an issue that can be fixed in any way that would make people happy: the game is now divided between PVE players and PVP players, the latter treating the game as if it’s an arena death match and the former wishing the constant threat of bandits away completely. Ideally, guns would be extremely scarce but then that poses the threat of quick boredom. Ideally, zombies would be a real threat but then the PVP players wouldn’t be happy. It’s a catch 22, really, and is why I don’t feel DayZ should be given the number 1 spot. It’s a fantastic game that invented a genre but that genre is an extremely awkward one that is near impossible to crack and, at present, DayZ just doesn’t cut it for me. It’s is currently in technical alpha and so has plenty of time to improve the formula. Every element of a perfect zombie survival game is there and I’m personally looking forward to the game’s completion in 2 or 3 years time.
I have a love-hate relationship with Minecraft. Unfortunately the community has now devolved into a majority of the players being 6 – 12 years old and so I see through rose-coloured glasses when thinking about this game. I played it almost 5 years ago just as InDev moved into InfDev and it was more or less my obsession for the following couple of years and was, at the time, a fairly obscure title played by a few people from NeoGAF, Reddit and /v/. It was- and still is- a hell of a lot of fun and extremely scary at times. The spawn system has since changed but “back in the day” mob spawns were heavily unpredictable. If you were out mining at night, for example, and turned away from a passage way you’d carved out you could never be sure that a creeper or zombie hadn’t spawned right behind you.
A constant fear in such a family friendly game
This constant fear is still present in the game, perhaps not to the same extent, but that’s why it’s on this list. Minecraft was a game changer and much like DayZ invented a genre. It has the perfect elements of survival mixed with panic, even before hunger was introduced. Night fall can be terrifying if you’re returning from a recently discovered cave as the sun begins to set and even when you’re nice and cozy in your house you’re still at risk of catching the eye of an Ender Man unintentionally.
This is why it is number 1 on this list and is the same reason that EVE: Online is here too: it isn’t scripted. I could’ve easily listed off games like SCP: Containment Breach or Slender but I don’t deem those as true survival horror games as they provide scripted jump scares rather than player-infused fluid and dynamic events completely of their own accord. Minecraft has a true scary atmosphere when it wants to and a calm and peaceful one when it doesn’t. It all depends on the way that you, personally, play the game.
What’s your favorite survival horror game? Do you agree with this list? Let us know!