The Survival FPS Revolution
If there’s one genre that can bring out the uttermost vile behaviour in gamers, it’s the survivor style of FPS. There’s just something about them that often brings out truly ghoulish behaviour, where murder clubs are formed and ritualistic fights to the death become rites of entry to other places. The flipside is also true; in such dangerous worlds, it make sense to have some buddies to back you up. It could be as simple as giving a stranger a bottle of water, or taking them to your camp and helping them with rations. These games are fantastic microcosms of life – generally after the apocalypse – and the possibilities for emergent gameplay are nearly endless. So where did this genre start, and how has it progressed?
GARRY’S AT IT AGAIN
One of the very first survival FPS games was Garry’s Mod, or a version of it. This game is based on the Source engine from Valve, and allows modders to create weird and whacky creations. It also allows multiple players to inhabit the same space, so it didn’t take long before modders came up with creative ways to keep them busy. One of the first mods was Stranded, where the player was stuck on a desert island and had to find resources to stay alive. It was relatively basic though, but even earlier than this were the single player survival games. The Far Cry series are arguably the most popular on the market, not to mention beautiful. Far Cry 2 took things a little too far though with its inclusion of the player having malaria, which would often cause you to die if you didn’t find pills. Unsurprisingly this mechanic was later removed.
MINECRAFT AIN’T JUST A KIDS GAME
On the surface, Minecraft might look like a cute virtual version
of Lego, but at its black-beating heart it’s actually a rather terrifying proposition. Players have to scramble around by day, building up defences and gather as many resources as possible, then hide away at night as a bunch of skeletons, zombies, creepers, endermen and spiders come and try to eat them. This was one of the first online survival FPS, and its success is testimony to the addictive and winning formula of the genre once you throw a few players together.
THE ZOMBPOCALYPSE BLOWS UP
The one game that really blew up the popularity of the genre is the modification for ARMA 2, DayZ. This was where we really started to see the endless possibilities offered by throwing a few dozen players onto an island, spread weapons and items around the place, sprinkle a few extremely dumb zombies here and there, and sit back to watch chaos reign. While it was possible to find friendly players, it soon became a game where players would fire upon each other as soon as they saw each other, even if the other was unarmed. It really called into question how humans would react if the world really did go to shit – hopefully a damn sight nicer than the majority of DayZ players.
Unfortunately DayZ was incredibly large in its scope, which led to a lot of bugs. Creator Dean Hall worked his butt off to fix these, along with his team, but it seems they ended up giving up. Many of the flaws in DayZ are actually a result of the ARMA 2 engine, and re-engineering a game engine from the game up is no easy task. Yet the team did manage to release a version of DayZ that didn’t require the ARMA 2 engine; it was totally standalone. Then a new problem struck the DayZ playerbase – mods. With every man and his zombie dog making mods for special modes of DayZ, newbies would often be greeted by a mod or file mismatch error when trying to connect. Let’s just say it wasn’t the most polished experience.
ALL ABOARD THE ARK
Another game that stumbled perhaps a little too early out of Steam early access was ARK. Graphically stunning, it dropped players onto an island wearing little more than a loin cloth. Unlike other games in the genre, ARK had inhabited its world with a living breathing ecosystem of dinosaurs that could be hunted, tamed for riding and even bred. Needless to say with this complex system, running alongside Unreal 4 level graphics, ARK ran like a pig when it came out. Not only that, but severe networking issues meant players would often disconnect or warp large distances.
Thankfully, ARK today is an entirely different game. It runs much better, and even has two expansion packs. It’s possible to build structures for your farm, and to keep the bad guys out, and there’s even versions for PS4 and Xbox One. Crafting is a huge part of the game, like many others in this genre. You’ll need to head out into the wild to grab ingredients to build things, and the rarer the item, the higher the chance it’s going to be sitting amongst a bunch of rather large killing animals.
THE CURRENT KING OF BATTLE ROYALE
Seemingly coming out of nowhere is Playerunknown's Battlegrounds (aka PUBG or Plunkbag), and it’s taken the PC world by storm. A regular top-seller on Steam since launch, the peak player numbers have hit an astonishing 960,950. That’s more than both CS: GO and DOTA 2, no small accomplishment for game made by a company nobody has really heard of before, BLUEHOLE INC.
The concept is simple. 100 players all get aboard a C-130 Hercules and then fly over an island. On the map display, the island has a large white ring. If you land outside that, you can expect your health to start slowly dripping away. As soon as you land, it’s on like Ron. The best thing to do is run to the nearest building and upgrade your crappy backpack and total lack of armour. If you’re lucky you’ll also find a weapon, and the upgrade system for this is incredibly deep, with suppressors, scopes, quick load mags and more. Best of all, the upgrade screen is simply drag and drop, so you can swap out your gear in seconds.
After a few minutes, players are given a warning that the white circle will contract, and they must get inside the circle to stop losing health. This simple mechanic stopped the camping that made games like DayZ often boring, as you wouldn’t spot anybody for hours at a time. Yet by ever decreasing the playing zone, you’re forced to come into contact with more players whether you like it or not.
There are also red circles, which are areas that are being carpetbombed. Every now and then a C-130 plane will fly overhead, dropping off a crate filled with goodies – should you rush in all guns blazing, or set up an ambush for those who rush in head first? While all of this is happening, there’s a counter in the top right slowly ticking down each time a player from the original 100 is killed, adding to the tension.
What impresses us most about this game is the level of presentation and completeness of systems. Even though it’s still in beta, most features seem to work fine, and the game looks like a dream (provided you have a fast enough PC for the incredibly long draw distances). Gunplay feels tight and satisfying, though the jumping/mantling system needs work. But for now it’s definitely the king of survival online FPS games, and we can’t recommend it enough.
The explosion in popularity of this genre over the last few years has been truly tremendous. And yet it’s not really the friendliest of genres, and can be downright frustrating and nasty at times. We understand why games like Battlegrounds encourage combat, but we’d love to sees more games that foster a sense of community. Hopefully the likes of newer games like Fortnite will see more of a focus on co-operation than blood lust.
DAYZ Despite a world filled with zombies, other players are the real danger in DayZ.
ARK: SURVIVAL EVOLVED