Survarium’s PvP arena could be seen as a sop. Most of its players, after all, are keenly awaiting the game’s PvE survival component and, by extension, a spiritual successor to Stalker. But while the scale of Survarium isn’t yet close to the Stalker games, Vostok has already created an online shooter which has the heart of that revered series and also throws in plenty of new ideas of its own.
Vostok counts former GSC Game World staff among its number, so it’s no surprise that Survarium’s weapons gravitate towards hand-cocked arms with punch. Go into the field with a sniper rifle and you’ll need to move cautiously and stay low; no-scope headshots, meanwhile, are surpassingly rare. This more thoughtful pace trickles down into every aspect of combat and, assuming you don’t have the misfortune to get flanked, encounters with other players can last longer than the industry-standard few seconds as shots ricochet off cover or find their way into exposed limbs. Unlike the ‘victor shoots first’ tendencies of many modern FPSs, then, here you’re just as likely to hobble away from a firefight injured as you are to achieve a kill.
“We’ve been into survival postapocalyptic games for more than ten years, so it wasn’t a big challenge to achieve the right atmosphere in the game,” Vostok Games’ Oleg Yavorsky tells us when we ask if this was a difficult balance. “On top of that, the PvP mode serves as a good starting platform for us to build up the game and bring it to even greater heights. With the team-based classic gameplay, such as team deathmatch, we’re able to balance out the game’s economy, weapons, item characteristics and so on. Which in turn helps enormously with delivering PvE and whatever else we and the community fancy later on.”
Along with team deathmatch, there’s also a capture-the-flag variant called Protective Device. In it, two teams fight to collect batteries to power a machine that will defend them against a coming electrical anomaly. There are many batteries in play, and carrying one will both slow you down and mean that you can’t use either of the two weapons you equipped before the match. The overall objective is hardly new, but the rhythm feels fresh, especially as the timer clicks down and players attempt to raid each other’s bases to steal to the batteries they’ve amassed.
“We plan to add at least one more [PvP] variation by introducing ‘defend-your-teambase’-type gameplay,” Yavorsky says. “Based on players’ feedback, we could be adding something else on top as well later on, but we also have to focus on the Freeplay mode.” Vostok plans to handle launching the survival portion of Survarium in much the same way it did its PvP aspect, starting with a closed beta later this year, then making it available to others soon after. The studio has divided itself into two teams to continue work on both portions simultaneously. “We treat [survival] as a big separate part of the game,” Yavorsky says. “The expectations are high, so we need to ensure everything is done right.”
While the largest current multiplayer map measures 0.8 square kilometres, that survival mode will ask you to share a four- to fivesquare kilometre map with 20 to 30 others, each with their own objectives. You’ll have just one life, and will have to contend with environmental threats and these ambiguous humans, exploring and scavenging as you go.
While you can go it alone in either of the game’s modes, joining a faction will allow you to access rare and specialised equipment as well as mission objectives (in PvP, factions set a target number of kills to reach during a single match, for example). The silver and gold you earn in both modes will allow you to buy clothing, weapons and equipment, too.
So while it’s not quite what Stalker fans are waiting for, Survarium’s multiplayer beta is a surprisingly good taster of what’s to come, and encouraging evidence that Vostok is prepared to take risks rather than retread hallowed, albeit irradiated, ground.
Oleg Yavorsky found himself a refugee after the temporary closure of Stalker dev GSC. He now continues that series’ legacy at Vostok