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

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