The Sur­vival FPS Rev­o­lu­tion

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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.

WHAT NEXT?

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.

GARRY'S MOD

ARK: SUR­VIVAL EVOLVED

MINECRAFT

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