What are the survival games truly about surviving, not resource hoarding/fort building/ever-escalating crafting?

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BisonHero

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#1  Edited By BisonHero

I have a complicated relationship with survival games where I think I like the genre in theory, and I have rarely liked a survival game in practice.

I recall reading Hatchet by Gary Paulsen as a youth, wherein a teen boy survives a plane crash in the Canadian wilderness (in the summer) and somehow does not immediately die to the elements despite having no real tools other than a hatchet. Not dying sounded very hard! It seems like the kind of novel a Boy Scout leader would recommend.

Given that starting point, I'm always immediately disappointed that a lot of survival-craft games seem like "the elements" are a threat for maybe the first 30-90 minutes, but within 5 hours of playtime you're standing in your granite fort, beside your fully operational agricultural operation, and you have 6 chests full of:

  • 400 stacks of iron ingots
  • 90 refined wooden planks
  • 150 stacks of copper wire
  • 800 cooked chickens

And by this point they've lost me. Basic survival isn't an issue, as the morphs into a weird resource-hoarding-then-craft-and-build game. These games are not really a "yo, you gotta SURVIVE" game. The game I imagine I want is more of a survival sim, as opposed to the survival-craft-build genre that is very popular due to being a lot like Minecraft.

Full disclosure: I haven't played many survival games, but I've watched a lot of survival-craft-build games through streams, and a lot of them seem pretty well made for what they are (in recent years, Valheim seems fun with friends, Subnautica seems like a fun singleplayer option, etc.). But I think I would prefer the tension of "one really bad storm could fuck up your whole camp" or "yo a bear could KILL you no matter how much gear you have." Something more comparable to the actual survival fiction I've read or watched.

I've found this hard to search for, because when I search in digital storefronts using the "survival" or "survival sim" or whatever tags, it's just way too broad of a label and includes a bunch of the games I'm not interested in. The thing I specifically DO NOT want are an absurd amount of resource hoarding or really really extensive crafting trees, and maybe the things I actually DO want are hunger meters and temperature meters and encumbrance and more sim-like storage space instead of carrying/storing 999 wood.

The closest game to what I'm looking for appears to be The Long Dark. It seems neat! I've thought about it buying it for a little while. I don't know what the endgame looks like, but it's at least going for the vibe I'm talking about. Is anybody else doing this, or really just them? Also kinda close is Don't Starve, though from what I've heard you eventually get a pretty self-sufficient farm going and the game becomes more about crafting weird end-game science items/buildings or whatever the fuck, and Not Starving seems to become rather trivial.

What would you recommend from the specific survival genre I'm looking for? Are people out there doing this, and if so, is there a better genre label I should be aware of? Is it just a very niche sim genre, and should I simply cut my losses and dive into The Long Dark?

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AV_Gamer

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I'd say horror games the depend on hiding from the killer as the person or it stalks you, like the Amnesia series, Outlast series, Soma, etc. No resource management, or low ammo, just running and hiding and hoping you don't get spotted, ie, surviving.

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SethMode

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#3  Edited By SethMode

@av_gamer said:

I'd say horror games the depend on hiding from the killer as the person or it stalks you, like the Amnesia series, Outlast series, Soma, etc. No resource management, or low ammo, just running and hiding and hoping you don't get spotted, ie, surviving.

This is such a bizarre, seemingly willfully obtuse answer? Like of course those games involve "surviving" in the literal sense, but we can kind of all agree that "Survival games" means something different than these games are providing.

@bisonhero I think that the Long Dark is really cool! But like you, I don't have a lot of experience with survival games (because they usually all get too craft heavy for me), so there might be better examples out there. It was one of the few I could stick with and I liked its entire vibe. It also, while having crafting, does not feel incredibly BURSTING with it like so many others of the genre.

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Atlas

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The Long Dark is, IMHO, an absolutely incredible game, and no survival game has clicked with me in quite the same TLD did. It's the standout game in the entire genre, as far as I'm concerned. I think it does tick a lot of your boxes, and it comes with a story mode that introduces you to the mechanics and then there's a sandbox mode to dive into that at this point is pretty gigantic.

As far as end-game goes, from my experience - and choosing which difficulty to play on will have a big impact on your experience - you do feel very powerful once you get the best in-game equipment and you've built up all your skills to max or near max, but that overconfidence can get still get you into hot water, or maybe even killed. It's one of my favourite aspects of the game - there are dangers abound, but at all times the most dangerous enemy is yourself.

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cikame

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The Forest is the one that gets it the most right for me, you're unlikely to get to the point where you have a massive fortress due to constant and escalating pressure from the enemy, for the most part you'll be making just what you need to survive. You'll still be spear fishing and hunting animals to feed yourself and boiling water to make it clean by the end of the game, exploring and finding better gear only serves to aid in your survival and unlock the progression, there isn't really a point where crafting a silly thing suddenly makes the game easier.
A very similar game is Stranded Deep, though i only played a short amount of it back when it first started early access, the limited resources on each small island back then made it virtually impossible to hunker down and create something ridiculous, but i don't know how updates have changed the game, apparently they released a full version of it on consoles, but the PC version is somehow still early access after 6 years... i should revisit it.

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Justin258

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Apart from The Long Dark, you may want to try The Forest. Still pretty fortress craft-y, but I found it more difficult to keep yourself going than any of the other games.

Something like Hatchet would require a lot more than survival-crafting games are willing to do. It can't just be meter management, you would also need to measure what kind of food you're eating, the quality of water you drink, how healthy you are, how healthy each individual part of you is (ex. sprained ankles would be a real problem). Most of these games are interested in allowing you to quickly become master of whatever world you're in.

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monkeyking1969

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I can see where the poster is coming from. I think current "survival games" try to gamify the experiences too much. They want you to follow a tech-tree that is lock-step with just making stuff toth point you have a townhouse in a tree like Swiss Family Robinson.

While I don't know if there a good survival game I can imagine one where the race for more and more "craft items" is not the goal; while having some a clear direct of what you could do next. I'd love a survival game where exploration is part of ist to cut down on the tedious 'build' grind.

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PeezMachine

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It's gotta be The Long Dark. It's just a war of attrition against the endless winter, and while it's nice to spend a few nights in a gas station and get into a nice comfy groove, pretty soon it will be time to move on, and you really can't carry very much with you at all. You'll be strapped for resources once again in no time.

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drmadhatten

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I think the Long Dark is excellent, definitely a "Jeremiah Johnson" simulator. There is progression, but it is unforgiving even at easier levels. As far as I know, there is no endgame. It is one of those games where I have felt that every choice would hurt me, and it's a matter of what would hurt the least. Some very high-level decision making going on here. I haven't found a game that quite leaned into the genre that hard.

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lobster_johnson

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Is The Long Dark 'finished' now? I played it two or three years ago (after it came out of Early Access) but was disappointed to find it ended halfway through because they were several episodes still to come out.

Near Death is one I enjoyed. Due to its short length, there isn't a massive amount of crafting, and building, and whatnot. It's much more of a pure survival experience in that sense.

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Brakara

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#13  Edited By Brakara

There's a student project on Steam, Arid, that looks really great and fits the bill in that it seems to focus on survival instead of crafting and fighting monsters. It's free (really free not just "free to play"), and they just released version 1.0. Personally, I'm planning to dig into it this weekend.

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spacegg

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#14  Edited By spacegg

My absolutely favorite is UnReal World. After few decades it is still under active development.

Emphasis is on surviving over crafting.

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Luchalma

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Man, I always think every survival game looks so cool. But I guess what I really want is a sort of roguelitish "See how long you can make it before you die" kind of thing. But without fail, that scary animal/monster that scared the hell out of you when you started? In an hour you'll have a saddle on that bad boy and he'll be ploughing your field for crops.

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peteycoco

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Don‘t Starve is very close to what you are describing. At any given time you are about a day or two away from dying and you spend almost all of your time trying to push the threat a few more days forward. In addition to the short term problems like finding food and shelter, Winter is always looming off in the distance so you have to be preparing for that as well.

Its not my favourite game, but it manages to maintain a baseline level of danger throughout the entire game which similar games do not.

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Gundato

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#17  Edited By Gundato

Don't Starve is a game I always want to like a lot more than I do. I think my main issue is that everything feels so unintuitive. Oxygen Not Included is MUCH more mechanically complex but I was able to grasp the basic loop within two runs since most of it is kind of what you would expect (rule of 3, etc). Whereas with Don't Starve I feel like I need a wiki up to figure out what each item actually does and so forth.

That being said: Rimworld is actually a really good game in the same vein as Don't Starve. It is theoretically more of a Dwarf Fortress like/lite but because of the AI Director (?) you are getting screwed over constantly and all those reserves can go away in the blink of an eye. So you get that same "always one mishap from a death spiral" that is making me realize it is an America simulator. So while I don't think either really matches the prompt, those two very much belong together in the greater genre graph.

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n9volt

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Give Project Zomboid a try — you have to scavenge food and supplies during a zombie apocalypse and survive as long as possible. It’s much more of a life-sim in that you’re not just managing your characters hunger/thirst, but also their boredom and sanity.

You’re encouraged to be a nomad and go from house to house. You can wait around to pass time, but your character will get bored and start to get stir crazy.

It’s a very interesting and realistic mechanic that makes it a super compelling game. It has a little crafting but it feels way more realistic and grounded than just about any survival game I’ve ever played.

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fisk0

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#19 fisk0  Moderator

@spacegg said:

My absolutely favorite is UnReal World. After few decades it is still under active development.

Emphasis is on surviving over crafting.

Immediately thought of this when I saw the thread title, happy to see it had already been mentioned!

Drew played it on an UPF 8 years ago, in case you need convincing (same episode as Dog's Life!!):

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Shindig

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I think the Long Dark is excellent, definitely a "Jeremiah Johnson" simulator. There is progression, but it is unforgiving even at easier levels. As far as I know, there is no endgame. It is one of those games where I have felt that every choice would hurt me, and it's a matter of what would hurt the least. Some very high-level decision making going on here. I haven't found a game that quite leaned into the genre that hard.

I thought they added some kind of story to it when it came to consoles?

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#21  Edited By Brakara

@shindig: The Long Dark will have 5 story episodes when it's done, combined as a season called Wintermute. Currently I think there's only two or maybe three episodes released.

The Survival mode is the one without the endgame.

Since this is a solo game, I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to try out a game in this genre. It's also available on Game Pass (PC and Xbox).