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 411mania » Games » Columns

The 8 Ball 6.03.14: Top 8 Survival Games
Posted by Marc Morrison on 06.03.2014

Welcome all to another edition of The 8 Ball. This week the topic is on survival games, both survival horror, and just general survival. The point is to try explore games where survival may not be the end-all goal of the game, but is a predominant feature. There are a ton of games like this on the PC now, due to the popularity of Minecraft and other games, but I tried to actually focus on games that aren't in a complete alpha state. With that said, let's begin:

8. Minecraft

 photo Minecraft_zps2d8f99ce.jpg

This is the game that largely got the "Start off with a basic item and go" sub-genre of survival game that has seemingly caught on. Eh, 15 million copies is nothing to sneeze at, actually. It also nicely melded a (simple) game of survival mixed with an almost limitless capacity for creative works or structures, if you so choose. I dunno, I know people swear by this game, dumping hundreds if not thousands of hours into it, but it's not for me. I give it props for being popular, seemingly well made, and for being a gaming zeitgeist for a while, but it's just not for me.

7. Terraria

 photo Terraria_zpsdf7d9a95.jpg

To me, Terraria is like one half-step above Minecraft (even if it is 2D), but I still suffered from the same basic problems of not having a point or end-game to it. I know there is one, sure, but the lack of information the game (and MC) gave you was annoying to me. Still, I was able to stick with this game a bit longer, just trying to tunnel my way around the world, and occasionally having to wall up an area for a time so that enemies don't get at you. There's a third game on this list, in a similar vein further down, but I wanted to get these two big ones out there first.

6. Sir, You Are Being Hunted

 photo BeingHunted_zps3519aeed.jpg

As the newest game on this list, You are Being Hunted has a unique hook to it. It's essentially the video game equivalent to the film "Surviving the Game", where you are a lone person trying to forage for supplies, gather a weapon to fight your enemies (robots dressed in aristocratic garb), and collecting keys to hopefully make your way off the island. I wonder if there is a mod that turns your character into Ice-T and the enemies into Gary Busey and Rutger Hauer, but that is beside the point. Hunted might not be as realistic as some games out there, but it is fun and is a tense game when the robots are after you.

5. Fallout: New Vegas

 photo FalloutNV_zps1df685ff.jpg

As much railing as I somewhat did on Fallout NV a few weeks ago, it may be a surprise to some that I have it on this list. The normal NV (and Fallout 3) experience is a little "video game-like", companions don't die, you don't need to eat, or worry much about radiation, and so on. However, New Vegas's "Hardcore Mode" goes a long way in addressing this issue. You need to eat, sleep, and have water as you travel. Stimpacks heal over time, as does Radaway for taking away radiation damage. Ammo has weight, companions can die in battle, and so on. It's a nice twist on the Fallout formula by making the player having to be a tad more tactical when planning out where you want to go. To be fair though, while Hardcore Mode is neat, it doesn't approach the level of simulation that a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game does. However, in NV's defense, it is at least playable, while the STALKER games are not.

4. State of Decay

 photo StateofDecay_zps61cad73a.jpg

State of Decay is a game that I have wrestled mightily with. I love the idea of it, an almost honest-to-god zombie apocalypse simulator; salvaging for tools or food, trading with other characters, building out your base, growing food, having to find medicine for your people, etc. Also having to deal with perma-death, moral of your survivors, skilling up your characters, and so on. However, the game is extremely clunky in how it doles out this information and how you actually play the game. It's all an extremely interesting concept, the execution could use some work. I've tried playing this game off and on, always get a few hours into it, and then eventually lose interest. It also doesn't help that after you shut it off, and turn it back on, there is a list of NPC's that died while "you were out", so to speak. Still, it's probably one of the best zombie games around, at least in my view.

3. Don't Starve

 photo DontStarve_zpsd07c6319.jpg

I kind of lump Don't Starve in with Minecraft or Terraria except for the fact that it actually has a point to it: "Don't Starve". In addition to the usual health/shelter requirements in these types of games, there is the hunger bar that decreases as you play. So you have to be on the lookout for actual food to eat and store for when the sun goes down and the beasts come out. Don't Starve is slightly more esoteric then Minecraft or Terraria, and doesn't have the imaginative scope that those two games do, but it does have a good sense of progression to it that actually makes logical sense. Plus, between the three games, I like the personality and art style of Don't Starve a lot more then MC or Terraria.

2. FTL

 photo FTL_zpseae2d9a4.jpg

You wouldn't think FTL would fit into a survival mold, but you'd be wrong. While it doesn't have the specific survival metrics of a New Vegas, or State of Decay, it is entirely paramount that you keep your crew actually alive in order to keep your ship moving. Having to deal with oxygen is your biggest concern in the game, because it is how your crew breathes but also how fire spreads. Careful management of your airlock doors, to vent areas where fires are, or where enemy crew members are (killing them), as well as keeping your own crew healed with frequent trips to the medical bay, is one of the key gameplay systems in FTL. Plus, any game with Nick Breckon in it is ok in my book.

1. Resident Evil

The game that ostensibly started the "survival horror" moniker, Resident Evil was pretty much the first game I thought of when formulating this list. There were horror games before RE came out, Alone in the Dark, Sweet Home, Realm of Terror, but Resident Evil was the first one of these games to bring the horror elements mixed with survival elements. This included not shooting every zombie you come across, having to deal with ammo conservation, juggling inventory management, and even just knowing when to run away from a zombie or other enemy when you were in a bad way. The goal is just to survive and eventually make your way out of the mansion, which while simple, is still effective. There's a charm in the first RE game, up until around Code Veronica of just trying to survive and escape where you are. It is something the later Resident Evil games tend to lack, the actual "survivor" aspect.

The Better Half with Liana K

Top 8 Survival Games

This is an ironic topic after a very long week: I survived both the Ottawa International Game Conference and the stomach flu I caught at that conference. And perhaps that misery colored my approach to this topic. In general, however, I am brutally hard on survival games. I have to be in the mood to tolerate the frustration inherent in dying a lot. But survival games also tend to end up being silly instead of thrilling, mostly because the slightest bit of dissonance makes you realize that there isn't actually a risk you'll die from playing a video game. Sometimes that's fun. But I'm a grouch, so most of the time, I just find it annoying. Here are eight games, however, wherein I had "fun" -- or the survival game version of fun: an ass-clenching, andrenaline-jolting, fear of virtual death.

Honorable Mention: The Long Dark

It's not out yet (hence not putting it on the list proper) but the previews I've seen make this Kickstarter-backed, indie game about survival in the Canadian wilderness seem like something worth checking out.

8: D

Though named one of the worst horror games of all time, D was ahead of its time in 1995. Those early 3D titles just didn't hold up as well as their 2D counterparts from that era. The story of D is a silly Dracula twist, but the opening scenes of the aftermath of a killing spree in a hospital are burned into my brain. What was particularly interesting about D from a survival perspective was that it was timed: you had two hours to complete the story, in real time, with no saves or pauses, so there was no way to bring up a pause screen to catch your breath or come at a puzzle with fresh eyes.

7: Fallout New Vegas

The above picture is all you need to explain why Fallout: New Vegas is awesome. Okay, New Vegas really only counts as a survival game when you play on hardcore mode, where a lot of the stuff that's useless junk on normal difficulty suddenly becomes essential. Furthermore, the silly bits in Fallout: NV were intentionally silly, not attempts at gravitas that backfired.

6: Outlast

Gah I hated that scene! Just thinking about it makes the knuckle of my right ring finger ache! That's the visceral experience of playing Outlast: the running... the breathing... the hiding... With no action combat to clutter it up, the sustained feeling of helplessness lasts just long enough to overcome the game's ultimately perplexing WTF ending. OR IS IT A BEGINNING? Dunh dunh dunhhhhhh... But the creepiest thing about the whole idea of Outlast is that it's based on real experiments that were done as offshoots of the CIAs MK Ultra mind control program. Heh, I wonder if Red Barrels can be convinced to do an Outlast: Edward Snowden parody?

5: Resident Evil

It seems ridiculous now, but that coquettish zombie at the beginning of the first Resident Evil game scared the crap out of me. I think a lot of people will default to Resident Evil 4 as their favorite of the series, but RE4 was a Survival Horror game by the skin of its teeth. The original Resident Evil, with its clunky aiming, save tapes, resource hoarding and all, was a true survival horror title back when horror games were allowed to be hard. Yes, the dialogue was hilariously awful, but the monster designs, game pacing, and the concept of testing Bio-weapons in an unsuspecting US town... okay that was all stolen from movies. But somehow it just worked.

4: Dead Space

Dead Space was great because it dared to be a survival horror game when most of the long-standing franchises were being pushed more and more toward action. Not only did Dead Space perfect the art of the jump scare, but it gave the close quarters tunnel survival mechanic a new excitement. With the exploding babies, eyeball stabbings, the bone-chilling, eery sounds, and various other delightfully horrific surprises the franchise presented, you couldn't be sure anyone was getting out alive.

3: Silent Hill 2

We probably wouldn't have the Dead Space franchise were it not for the Silent Hill franchise, and the similarities between the concept of the original Dead Space and Silent Hill 2 are pretty obvious. Dead Space just skips the preamble and gets right to the monsters. Silent Hill 2, meanwhile, established a great many things that have been frequently repeated in the survival horror genre, especially in terms of tone and pacing. But it also cemented the popularity of games that challenge not just the main character's physical survival, but the survival of their sanity as well. What it did best, however, was work within the technological confines of the time for maximum effect: the polygon edges blended with the character designs and the rough, jerky movements. And of course, the infamous, pervasive mist that hid the draw lines, which actually turned out to be pretty critical to the tone of the game.

2: The Oregon Trail

Wait, what? A goofy Apple Iie game that kind of taught history is a survival game? Why yes it is! The most memorable line from the whole game is "you have died of dysentery" -- of course it's a survival game! (PS: And I love it.) (PPS: There were times this week I thought I might have dysentery.)

1: The Last of Us

Duh. The Last of Us is the most self-aware survival game ever made. Some people bent themselves into pretzels trying to find reasons to dump on The Last of Us for not being innovative. They miss the fact that the game doesn't innovate on game mechanics. It innovates by telling a story about survivors who act like survivors instead of heroes. When The Last of Us came out, I read a lot of complaints that Joel wasn't a nice guy and he didn't make very heroic choices. Yes. Exactly. That's the point. Joel was never supposed to be altruistic or self-sacrificing. He's a survivor, and when the choice is between saving the world and saving his skin (or Ellie's) he'll choose his skin. What's great about The Last of Us is that Joel's character, the world of The Last of Us, and it's designation as a survival horror game all worked together, instead of being a random jumble of stuff.

Complainer's Corner

The biggest game that people might be outraged isn't on my list is that of "Rust". There's two good reasons it's not on my list. The first is, it's not a finished game. It's still in an alpha state at present, even if it is being sold. The second is my own experience with the game. I booted it up, joined a server, started to hit a tree with my rock and I suddenly died. I respawned and it happened again. I then switched to a different server, loaded in, tried to build something and somehow got disconnected/banned from the server. So yeah, my experience with the game isn't exactly pleasant. Same goes for Planet Explorers, one of the very first quests is "open this box, get the juice formula and make it". I opened the box, got the formula, put it in my inventory where it disappeared. Good going alpha status gameplay. Other few games that didn't make it, the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series, Alone in the Dark, Silent Hill, and Dino Crisis.

The General Roundup

Well, I'll try and address a few of the comments from last week. I'll give a "Yep" to the Vita being ignored. That's a given though and not a prediction. Tomb Raider 2 and Dishonored 2 are good pulls. I'd also wager some of the new Deus Ex game being shown, maybe not a gameplay trailer, but some logo, or CGI thing. "Mortal Kombat X", stupid title notwithstanding, is probably getting announced. They're on a bi-yearly schedule with MK and DC games, and it is MK's year. Lastly, a new Syphon Filter would be pretty rad.

Next Issue

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