The hunger games
After over two and a half years in full development, Day Z still doesn’t have a fixed release date. The process has been far from straightforward, admittedly, but the genre it gave rise to also has problems finishing. Survival is a struggle, and survival games need that struggle to be everlasting. To the dev, a well-stocked inventory can be as damaging as a game-breaking bug; to the player, a rucksack full of beans and bullets is the only measure of progress. With tension like that, where does survival go from here? This month’s Hype crop yields a range of answers to that difficult question.
The Long Dark (p42) may have caught your eye with its bright aesthetic – a game full of colour and beauty in a space built on grit and grime – but it runs counter to convention in more ways than that. When The Long Dark exits Early Access, it will sport a full narrative, its developer telling a story in a genre usually founded on letting players pen their own. Elsewhere, developers are fiddling with the mechanical template. While Survarium (p50) will, in time, be a full-on survival sim, its current beta is a multiplayer deathmatch. It’s not exactly COD, but it’s still a substantial change of pace for a genre brought to life by an Arma mod and which has typically got players more invested in the contents of other people’s cupboards than their own armouries. The Hunter: Primal (p48), meanwhile, strips away the ubiquitous hunger and thirst meters, removes the genre-standard lumbering undead and stalking predators, and replaces them with big, angry dinosaurs.
It seems unlikely that any of these approaches will replicate Day Z’s success, but it is equally hard to imagine the final version of Dean Hall’s creation matching the mod that started it all. More than any other genre, the survival game is made for Early Access, giving players a world, a threat and some tools, and promising an endgame down the line. Sooner or later, someone is going to have to establish what form that will take.