This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Rust, Starbound and 7 Days to Die.
It doesn't seem like that long ago when I thought it was a shame there weren't more wilderness-survival games, and I apologize. If I had known I had the power manifest my inner-most thoughts, I'd have brought about world peace and given all the buildings tits. Because the survival game cup has been runnething over lately on Steam. This week I downloaded three new ones and, in this video, will offer my first impressions after an hour or two spent with each. The twin spectres of Minecraft and DayZ's unrepeatable success seem to hover over them all like the fucking Luftwaffe.
So basically, all of them have crafting and zombies. Well, at least a statement that crafting and zombies are definitely possibly somewhere on the list of "features to maybe be added if we can be arsed", because all of these games were Early Access as well, the new politer name for, "desperately unfinished". What's the matter, guys? You afraid you're gonna miss the boat? No other medium does this; you wouldn't expect, say, a graphic novel to be released in short instalments over the course of... Actually, that's a bad example.
So, the first game I played was Starbound. Also known as, "Terraria? Never heard of it! And also we're sci-fi, and therefore different to the thing we haven't heard of". Although, Terraria itself was also known as "Minecraft? Never heard of it! And also we're 2D, and therefore different to the thing we've never heard of". So, y'know, join the fucking conga line. The premise is that you've got a spaceship that can travel to different randomly-generated planets with different wild life to pester you while you endlessly punch the indigenous rock population. My first question would be why you need to travel to other planets, when like all procedural wilderness games, every planet seems to be functionally infinite? And if it's just a change of scene you want, you could always just walk to the right for ten minutes. But I suppose this method is quicker...in theory, 'cause you can't travel to other planets without fuel, and I never reached the point where you get fuel, or even figure out what you use as fuel. I tried putting a load of wood into my spaceship engine, and then I ran out of ideas.
Sprite animation is good. Interface is a bit unintuitive and messy, but the thing I liked was that it sets you a sequence of missions. Build a campfire, make a workbench, make a bow, cook some meat. Hey, look at you, you're surviving! Round of applause! If Minecraft had had something like this, a lot of senseless newbie death when the first night falls could've been avoided. But after a while, the missions ramp up until I was told to construct a distress beacon. Now this took quite a while, because it required a lot of different smelted metals, so the process of gathering them caused me to go kind of native. I built myself a two-story house, strip-mined the area, filled my nosh reserves until I could finally build that distress beacon, and proudly display it on my ornate roof. And you know what happened then? A flying saucer came down and blew up my house. Ten minutes later, I found myself wandering the wreckage of the life I'd attempted to build. "Why didn't you destroy the flying saucer?", asked the game. I was trying! With my bow and arrow! Which was the only weapon you told me to make! But the flying saucer killed me, and then the flying saucer went away! "Huh", said Starbound, "Guess you'd better build another distress beacon then!" I got a better idea, Starbound. Why don't you see if you can find one in the bottom of this bin?
You know, that earlier comparison to serialized comics doesn't really work, I've realized. Early Access games are more like a comic released in its entirety, but without color or ink and with half the dialogue missing. One wonders if it's really worth it -- we live in a world where trends move so fast, studying them is practically a field of quantum mechanics. A new game has, at most, thirty seconds to grab someone before they move to the next distraction on the road to the grave. I'd have thought you'd want to make the best first impression, is me point!
The game I played for the least amount of time was 7 Days to Die, whose first impressions included a big, colorful graphic listing all the features the game doesn't have, before dropping me in a seemingly infinite plane resembling a Minecraft world after someone has stamped it flat enough to push through the crack under a door. Little tip for the seven or eight billion of you out there planning to make a zombie survival game, maybe make guns hard to find? So I don't have three after twenty minutes? And can't climb onto the roof of a building, blow the ladder apart and spend the night listening to zombies expressing their frustration at each other somewhere below? Bored, I moved to pastures new.
Finding things to do when night has fallen seems to be a common issue with these games, such as in Rust! I spawned in Rust, holding only a rock for bashing things, and I'd just about figured out that trees were among the things that could fruitfully be bashed, when the sun went down. But as I was sitting by the campfire, waiting for visibility to return, some bloke with an assault rifle ran up and demanded I drop my rock. He gave me to the count of three, but this proved inadequate for figuring out what the drop control was, so he gunned me down. How fortunate this community must be to have a watchman so dedicated to rigidly enforcing the laws against unlicensed rocks. But I must say, that's three more seconds than a player of DayZ would've given me.
And my experiences on Rust servers indicate more of a general "live and let live" attitude, 'cause the odds of survival are better from attacking things that don't fight back. Hit a wild pig, and then sprint after it, continually spanking its buttocks until it falls over, like a cross between Deliverance and The Benny Hill Show. This done, you have the resources to build a bow, and then you've won the game, congratulations. Because from that point on, I never died. I ran faster than the bears and the inevitable zombies, so as long as I kept backing up and firing, I was rolling in free shit. A few hikes around the woods, intercut with trips to the wiki to figure out how to work the sodding furnace later, I'd built the now essential two-storey house, and was armed to the teeth with guns I'd built out of antlers and phlegm. Basic resources spawn infinitely, you see, so once you reach the pig-murdering point, there's no scarcity and therefore no conflict. So things get real dull real fast. You might think this would be where rival players might come after your stuff, but a gun swiftly discourages the wielder of unlicensed rocks.
Man, this game is like a speeded-up history of human development. You start off bashing rocks together, and then invent fire, then guns, and finally that most vital human invention, classism: "Fuck those shirtless newbies coming over here, taking our jobs and shagging our pigs. But always be polite to your gun-wielding neighbors!" I found that meetings with players who'd reached the same level of technology always went as follows:
- Rust Player: "Hello. Are you friendly?"
- Yahtzee: "Depends. Is that a gun?"
- Rust Player: "Yes. Is that a gun?"
- Yahtzee: "Yes!"
- Rust Player: "Then I am friendly."
Funny, how many "friendly" people you meet when you've got a gun, isn't it? It's almost like the NRA were right all along!
- As long as I know how to love I know I'll stay alive: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Maybe survival games always have zombies so that they can provide a handy 'How Not To Do It' example
- I wouldn't date someone who didn't promise early access