Even if you never played the game, chances are you’ve heard of No Man’s Sky. The universe-spanning indie game proved incredibly ambitious coming from tiny studio Hello Games, who helped steer the hype train all the way to its release in Fall 2016.
The shoe dropped rather spectacularly, creating one of the bigger video game dramas in recent history. It launched with loads of technical bugs and problems, and even on launch day consumers weren’t sure if the game supported actual multiplayer (it didn’t).
The result was a massive drop-off in players and a huge round of refunds. Hello Games went quiet, for better or for worse, but kept plugging away at the game.
Multiplayer survival-crafting games lack a succinct acronym or single genre-defining style, but they’re absolutely taking over the world of modern online gaming. Older MMORPG behemoths like World of Warcraft have begun a steady decline while there doesn’t appear to be any stopping the new juggernauts like ARK: Survival Evolved.
These new breeds of shared sandbox worlds evolved from Minecraft and traditional MMORPGs that had dominated the last decade and a half of online gaming.
Survival-crafting games are a dime a dozen, but We Happy Few’s real joy is its immersive world and how it plays with conformity and hallucinatory drugs.
What if you had to survive in a BioShock-esque world without all those fancy plasmids and guns? Instead you’re armed with rotten food, pointy sticks, and one very special drug.
We Happy Few began life with a successful Kickstarter campaign before hitting Steam Early Access this Summer. The game combines survival-crafting into a unique setting rarely explored in gaming – the drug-fueled, post-war 1960s. This initial Early Access version features most of the gameplay sans story, and with only the one playable protagonist.
In this world’s alternate history, World War 2 went very, very badly for England. The Nazis successfully invaded and destroyed much of the country, leaving its population frightened and destitute. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop enjoying life right?
One little happy pill called Joy, and all your real world problems simply melt away. The people in the island city of Wellington Wells may harbor some deep secrets, but most of its drug-addled citizens don’t seem to care. Except for you.
Underlying the promise of exciting exploration is a dull grind for the same few resources within a shockingly limited universe.
In space, no one can hear you scream. In No Man’s Sky, they can’t hear you at all. They can only read the names of planets and species you’ve discovered. An infinite universe of randomly generated planets is an intriguing premise. But underlying the promise of exciting exploration is a dull grind for the same few resources within a shockingly limited universe.
No Man’s Sky isn’t a grand massively multiplayer space game nor an action-packed space flight sim. It’s a survival-crafting game.
You begin on a random, undiscovered planet with a broken down spaceship. Using your laser multi-tool you can break down whatever counts for trees and rocks on your planet for basic resources. Resources are limited to a handful of categories, which helps prevent you from ever getting stuck on any one planet. But limitations like that peel back the layers of clever game design to reveal the not-so-clever base components.
The Flame in the Flood is a survival-crafting game where you live off and survive against nature along a grand Southern river.
Eleven days. That’s how long I could survive on my own. Well, I wasn’t completely alone. The dog had proven loyal and helpful. He was a walking backpack and alarm system. But he was no match for the pack of wolves I ran into when night fell just outside a ruined church. Eleven days.
The Flame in the Flood is an intriguingly named survival-crafting game. Several ex-BioShock developers formed an indie team and ran a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2014 (which I backed). Now you can play the fruits of their labor right now via Steam Early Access, with the official release coming February 24.
The only mode available in Early Access is an Endless Campaign. It’s literally impossible to win – just try and survive as long as you can. Meanwhile the natural killers of hunger, thirst, and exposure are always just a step behind you.
With an island full of dinosaurs to tame and ride, ARK: Survival Evolved is the most compelling survival game I’ve ever played
I spotted the peaceful parasaurolophus drinking by the river. I sent a rock flying from my crude slingshot, and my tamed pair of dilophosaurus shot out from beside me, chasing the fleeing herbivore across the water.
Dangerous things lurk in the water, like megapiranhas. I was nearly killed just making the brief swim. I lacked a Chris Pratt-style motorcycle and quickly lost sight of both my quarry and my dinosaurs.
On the far side of the river, I watched in stunned silence as a Spinosaurus attacked a herd of brontosaurus. I was snapped back to reality as a pair of giant killer wasps suddenly bore down on me. I fled right into a pack of wild dilophosaurus. My screen turned black as their spit hit my face, and I died to a frenzy of claws and teeth.
Welcome to the world of ARK: Survival Evolved, a prehistoric island where humans are the lowest on the food chain.
ARK: Survival Evolved contains the usual checklist for the popular survival genre that can trace its roots back to Minecraft: constant food and water needs, building and crafting increasingly complex buildings and items, and a big world to explore.
ARK also happens to be one of the best-selling games of the year, though it’s still in Early Access. Originally launched on Steam in June, ARK had the distinct advantage of featuring a gorgeous premise with an island full of dinosaurs and other prehistoric critters right when Jurassic World was taking over the cinema. Since then ARK has gone on to sell over a million copies, becoming a huge hit on Twitch.tv and YouTube.
Exploring a new genre on the rise – single player Survival Games that emphasize exploration and crafting instead of hordes of monsters or other players.
Minecraft’s incredible popularity and unique gameplay mechanics have spawned entirely new genres of games. Some games, like Terraria and Starbound, take the world-crafting and multiplayer aspects of Minecraft in new directions. Others focus more on surviving against the world by discovering resources and building your own tools.
Survival games rarely explore the human vs. nature conflict. Most first-person games pit you against hordes of zombies, aliens, or the occasionally terrifying zombie alien. Your survival is directly proportional to the floating gun in front of you. Thankfully the genre has grown and expanded to include a variety of experiences. All use gameplay mechanics and concepts birthed from Minecraft. One quick glance at Steam’s store reveals dozens of options that rely more on surviving against nature than hordes of undead.
I’ve found two that are particularly intriguing. Stranded Deep and Subnautica are indie games that are part of the Early Access program.