Zoned Out: Eyes On With Survarium

Last week I finally got a chance to meet two heroes of the Stalker years, Joe Mullin and Oleg Yavorsky, who are now working hard as Vostok on the free-to-play shooter, Survarium. There’s an immediate tension when you mention the F word, and I think the legacy that resides in Survarium means that Vostok have to go that extra mile to prove themselves. Good looking shooters with a touch of persistence are becoming increasingly common in this new era. That said, Survarium is looking promising, and I was fascinated to see the game in play for the first time.

It’s my feel that the popularity of Survarium will be a slow upward curve, that will increase dramatically once the game reaches its open world objective. Until then it seems to me that it will be catering to audiences that are already well served in the free-to-play zone. What I mean is this: the initial Survarium offering is going to be PvP matches in which players fight for control of artifacts across a large map. These maps are beautiful indeed, and capture much of the “zone of alienation” atmosphere that we so love. However, there are a lot of multiplayer combat games out there and this one – with its guns and men in gas masks – has some work to do to stand out.

Mullin explained to me that the alpha version of the PvP game would likely be launching into Europe in a few weeks, and that it is already being played in Russia. It would be a beta version of PvP by end of year. There’s a richness to this that does beckon to me: skill trees which later unlock perks, which allow for character specialisation. These systems might be to do with firearms, or they might be to do with electronics. “You are going to want a collection of specialists,” explained Mullin. “You need a guy who is able to collect artifacts, and someone who will who will be able to really deal with a stand up fight, a marksman, a medic.” Like an MMO party then? “Something like that, but obviously skewed to our shooter mechanics,” he says.

Mullin shows me the moody-looking bunker in which missions will kick off – right now just launching into PvP games – and it’s looking incredibly lavish. Players can get at their skills and their inventories out here, and of course the shop. Most of the things you can buy are meta-bonuses, increasing XP take and so forth for the “real” unlock. Yavorsky describes these as “benefits and time savers, but nothing that locks off playable game content.” There will of course be a bunch of vanity items for the characters, and even faction outfits, which will benefit you as the game develops. Play dressed as a particular faction – just the Scavengers and the Black Market exist for now – and you’ll get more missions from them as the game opens up.

Next year, once this PvP mode is a “complete package” Vostok will move to work on their co-op mode. “I’ve always wanted to play…” I didn’t know if I should finished the sentence, but Mullin completed it for me: “Stalker in co-op, yeah.” Using the same characters that players have brushed up in PvP, there will be co-operative missions in the zone. Missions that you’ll be able to undertake for the various factions. These are going to be a sequence with some kind of story, and will feed some of what people like me always yearned for when playing the original Stalker. They’re going to be tied into the kind of things you get up to on behalf the zone’s factions, and as you gain reputation with them, you will open up more options when dealing with them. Tantalising stuff, and doubtless starting to appeal to the Stalker community that already exists.

Mullin launched into a PvP game and ran around a couple of the meticulously detailed maps. Vostok’s level design flare is in evidence, immediately. It’s a new engine, built specifically for the requirements of the project, and it certainly looks capable. It also looks like Vostok have gone with the kind of more wild fantasy aspects that began to emerge in Call Of Pripyat, where the terrain and flora, not just the beasts and atmosphere, were being mutated by the forces at play. A giant, aberrant tree has twisted itself around a looming radio telescope on this first map, and the entire thing hulks above the battleground. Mullin clambered the tree before being picked off and plunging to his near-death.

It demonstrated the hit-locative injury system the game will use: both legs down means you’re on the ground. One leg would just be a limp, and other body parts are similar affected. A headshot means death, but a helmet will save you from the first hit.

The combat looks pacey, and violent. It’s not realism as such, but close enough. With the skill system and a wide range of weapons it could make for a terrifyingly unpredictable experience. Yavorsky and Mullin both acknowledged that the technical hurdles of networking for a game like this remain a challenge, but the closed alpha they’re currently plugging away at is a test lab for such issues, and they were confident these would fade with time.

Would they – though – be able to support modding? Because it was that sustained support that had kept their previous game so alive. To some extent, says Yavorsky, with skins and things like that, but this is a very different game. What they allow in terms of modding – and they do want to allow it, and open up the UI and so on to user modication – will have to not alter the core of the game, which Vostok themselves want to keep in balance. It’ll be interesting to see how they handle that, especially as the other two paths of the game materialise.

Returning to that roadmap, then, and my feelings about Survarium’s long term appeal: once co-op is packaged up, then it will be on to the final, and most ambitious act of Survarium’s development. It is that this point, I think, that we should expect the widest interest for the game. And I can see why Vostok would want to save the best (and toughest to develop) for last.

Yavorsky explains that the final maps – those of Survarium’s freeplay mode, a sandbox open world in which teams of players will be able to decide their own paths, do missions, and encounter other players in the zone – will be “many times the size of what you have seen before”, suggesting an ambition to create a multiplayer world of dereliction and decay that dwarfs what we saw in the Stalker games. We’ll be able to hook up with a friend, and hike off into anomaly-riddled horrors, to fight and outwit bandits that have human players behind them. I hope with all my heart that these guys can pull it off. It seems like a long dark road they’re going to have to walk, but it also seems like the place they’re going to with this game could be anything but derelict.

Finally we talked about the impending PvP alpha in Europe. Could we get a band of RPS readers together to go in and check it out? Maybe, I said.

Seems like the sort of thing we do.

Survarium‘s beta should be available by the end of 2013.


Top comments

  1. fupjack says:

    Nobody is allowed to complain about wanting another version of Stalker to play until they manage to play all the way through Oblivion Lost of course, and Nardonya Solyanka, and Sigerous mod, and Dead City, and Misery, and Complete, and L.U.R.K., and and and I hope you get the idea.

    I do want co-op sandboxing. I dearly hope they pull this off. Everyone (who played Stalker) has a "here's how I barely scraped back to a base with a few bullets and no health" story. I want to have a "Here's how we barely scraped back to a base with a few bullets and no health" story.
  1. golem09 says:

    Eyes On With Survarium
    Yes, I really need to press my eyes on the monitor for these small images. Looks lovely though.

    Seems like its tiny footage day. First filmed off Witcher 3 gameplay, now this.

    • hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

      My thoughts as well; the maps look gorgeous, I’d love to see some embiggenation!

  2. VCepesh says:

    Can I just once again express everyone’s disappointment, that it’s not a single-player title?

    • BTAxis says:

      I was going to read this article, but then I read the F word.

      • Lemming says:

        Yep. I honestly had no idea until I read this article. I just assumed it was going to be a spiritual successor to STALKER, and I was trying to remain relatively ignorant of the goings on, happy in the knowledge it was probably going to knock my socks off when it released. Not interested now, though.

        My fault for misunderstanding what the game was, but it’s still a shame we won’t be getting a top-notch single-player open-world FPS. Those babies are thin on the ground.

        • Don Reba says:

          Metro 2033 is as close to a spiritual successor to STALKER as you are going to get, unfortunately. It is the one made by STALKER’s original lead developers. I know it is not a sandbox; 4A’s next game will be a sandbox, but it won’t be post-apocalyptic.

          • zakihashi says:

            The lead designers of the engine yes, the game it self no, they had very little involvment in S.t.a.l.k.e.r it self, which is why the only similarities the games got is post apocalypse, but that’s also where it ends.(if we don’t count the genre shooter)

          • MichaelPalin says:

            S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series is not sandbox, it’s adventure.

            Is people really going to call every open-world adventure game a sandbox from now on? Because that is a serious insult to the genre. Sandbox games are open-worlds with plenty of shallow activities, hundreds of pointless collectibles, irrelevant and interchangeable extras and a main mission line. Adventure games and, specifically adventure/RPGs have a main quest, side quests and sometimes faction quests, they have loot to improve the equipment of the character and every NPC (even random ones) has a role in the game.

          • Don Reba says:

            Zakihashi, PROF (Andrew Prohorov) — the main co-founder of 4A Games — is basically the soul of STALKER. He was the original inspiration, the graphics direction, and the project lead for Shadow of Chernobyl. His absence from the sequels’ development is why they feel a bit “off”.

            MichaelPalin, point accepted. :)

    • golem09 says:

      Coop Story missions. Which sounds like one portion of this is basically another game. So I still have some tiny hopes up.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Yeah, missed opportunity (sigh)… but it’s easier for an indie to just do combat mechanics and build pretty game worlds, than it is to write good AI for NPC’s and quest line stories. So we’re going to continue to see a lot of these types of games, I guess.

      I just wish RPS had an easier way to bypass articles like this. Why not add free-to-play or F2P in the tag list? There are so many preview articles published on this site, that it’s hard to keep track of which to ignore because they’re multiplayer-only.

      • Jim Rossignol says:

        Did you get to the co-op and freeplay parts of the article? You are really going to dismiss those too?

        • Damien Stark says:

          I did.
          I hate the people who feel the need to fill up comment sections with “meh, this doesn’t interest me”, but there’s some actual discussion to be had here, so I’ll participate…

          Even if I’m infinitely optimistic and open-minded about the actual F2P piece, let’s look at the actual interaction and play. I look at the shots above, and it immediately makes me think – positively – about the atmosphere from STALKER. I would love to have interesting characters telling me to wander through these desolate and dangerous places to do something interesting…

          But I do not have a core group of friends who I would play with, and half of the tension came from being alone anyway. Definitely co-op is preferable to PVP, but either way public multiplayer is going to lead to either :
          A. No chat/voice interaction at all, so I could enjoy some shallow objective-based skirmishes – a la Mass Effect 3 co-op. Not bad, but not the STALKER experience really…
          B. Chat/voice is present, and all sense of immersion and atmosphere will be shattered by guys named NoScope420BobaFatTrololol who try to either grief you or kick you for not being sufficiently hardcorez.

          Perhaps I’m overly pessimistic about it, but that’s been my experience, and it’s part of why I’d prefer single-player…

        • Zenicetus says:

          Sure, I’m going to dismiss those two later modes, because they’re still not single-player. One is co-op, the other is open world multiplayer. Sounds like either an MMO or some “Lite” version of same.

          Look. I’ve played multiplayer PC games in the past — plenty of co-op with my wife and friends back when in-house LAN was the only way to do it. And I’ve got a few years in WoW before bailing on it. But right now, my time for PC gaming is 1) unpredictable in terms of scheduling, and 2) usually fairly short duration. That means I play singleplayer games. I don’t think I’m alone here, in the RPS audience.

          There has been a steadily increasing amount of coverage for multiplayer-only games here on RPS. I don’t want that to diminish just because I’m not into it, personally. I just wish there was a way to more easily skim past that content, and read the articles that are relevant to me.

          • Muzman says:

            If I can’t have a filter for 8bit retro chip-tuned puzzle platformers, you can’t have one for F2P. Bill RPS for the wear on your eyeballs reading a paragraph or two more than you needed to (actually maintenance expenses there should be a tax deduction).

          • Jim Rossignol says:

            “There has been a steadily increasing amount of coverage for multiplayer-only games here on RPS.”

            Actually the reverse is true – our MP coverage is steadily declining.

        • Baines says:

          I’m going to dismiss them because they aren’t going to work on co-op until next year when PvP is complete, and they aren’t going to work on freeplay until co-op is complete. Of those three, the only one that I find interesting is freeplay, which will be the last thing that they work on and is thus an unknown number of years away. By the time it gets completed, the game could already be dead or stagnated, or the developers could have moved on to other ideas or decided that their focus is best served elsewhere.

          And because as others have said, none of those are single player. (Zenicetus’ initial post did after all include the complaint about it being multiplayer only.)

          I had high hopes for Survarium when it was announced, because of goodwill from STALKER. Unfortunately, as news comes out, I find my interest waning. For example, location-based damage is a positive (if done well), but it comes along with the news that it may be years before the game is in a state that I actually care to play. And even then, that final state might not be particularly great. (Day Z is a reminder of how people act in such games. APB is a reminder of a good idea failing to live up to its potential due to poor execution and limits. Etc.)

          Maybe it will be a good game, but it will have to win my interest back by showing it is good. Which will most likely require the actual playable game and good word of mouth from people actually playing it.

          • Arglebargle says:

            Nicely put!

          • Don Reba says:

            Hey, man. We waited four years for Shadow of Chernobyl (first scheduled for 2003). We can wait a few for Survarium. :)

        • suibhne says:

          Basically, the most interesting parts of the game (for me) are vaporware until they start to ship. Given the trials and travails of the STALKER franchise (and allowing for the fact that this isn’t strictly part of it, but still), I don’t feel an elephant-load of optimism about these plans coming to fruition.

          All that said, I’ll keep my fingers crossed for Vostok.

    • Barberetti says:


  3. DatonKallandor says:

    Yeah. Nothing like taking a beloved single player franchise famous for it’s modders and turning it into Free to Play PvP dreck.
    Shut up and take my derision.

  4. Inglourious Badger says:

    “There’s an immediate tension when you mention the F word…” – as there is in most polite conversation, I should imagine

    • nindustrial says:

      They’re referring to “fuck”, right? *tension ensues*

  5. lhzr says:

    hopefully other publishers/devs will pick up on stalker’s appeal (of which almost none is present here, besides the setting) and try to carry on it’s legacy. this is not the stalker i’m looking for and i’d imagine none of the stalker fans are either.

    this reminds of another recent point-missing resurrection attempt: link to

    hopefully we’ll see less of this kind of thing in the future, because it only serves to underline the fact that the original is no more and nothing else like it exists.

  6. Vivi says:

    I don’t mind that this is going to be online. It will be quite nice to travel through the “Zone” and meet other “Stalkers” who are actually other people. But why, oh, why, are you having that be the last element of the game you implement? One has to assume that the freeroam aspect won’t be available for at least a couple more years. By that time everyone will have moved on to who knows what. Hell, I expect Lost Alpha to be released before this is finished, which will pretty much settle the “What should I play for my STALKER fix” question once and for all.

    • MykulJaxin says:

      Yeah, Lost Alpha. Every time I read about Survviravivmvm I think about Lost Alpha. I’m getting anxious…

  7. Don Reba says:

    Didn’t know Joe stuck with them after the devs got fired from GSC. Some devotion!

  8. ViktorBerg says:

    It’s all simple, really. Atmosphere alone does not a game make. Survarium has the atmosphere of the STALKER franchise, but almost nothing else in it is similar. Even the co-op missions. I’m going to take a wild guess and say that they’re not going to be like how you would envision a mission from, say, CoP. No, it’s probably going to be an objective-heavy checklist type of missions.

    All in all, it’s severely disappointing that such artistic talent is wasted on an F2P multiplayer-only shooter.

  9. fupjack says:

    Nobody is allowed to complain about wanting another version of Stalker to play until they manage to play all the way through Oblivion Lost of course, and Nardonya Solyanka, and Sigerous mod, and Dead City, and Misery, and Complete, and L.U.R.K., and and and I hope you get the idea.

    I do want co-op sandboxing. I dearly hope they pull this off. Everyone (who played Stalker) has a “here’s how I barely scraped back to a base with a few bullets and no health” story. I want to have a “Here’s how we barely scraped back to a base with a few bullets and no health” story.

    • fish99 says:

      Haven’t played any of those. I did try one much touted Stalker mod (can’t remember the name) and it featured huge zombie attacks every night that wiped out all the NPCs in the start village, and effectively made the game unplayable. It also gave to access to all the best gear right from the start. To be blunt it ruined the game. After seeing how badly balanced that mod was I haven’t tried another.

      These are much better I’m assuming?

      • buzzmong says:

        Well, the Complete mods are just additive to the base game. Improved graphics (textures, lighting, skyboxes), lots of fixes and quite a few tweaks to things like AI. Not much in the way of changing the game. Sort of like the Enhanced Edition’s for the Witcher games.

        I can pretty much honestly say that I don’t think I’d play the vanilla games again, I’d be playing with Complete installed instead.

        Oblivion Lost, especially for SoC, is a massive change. The team unlocked and finished lots of incomplete code that GSC left in the builds, things like randomised blowouts, sleeping, new weapons, new items, new enemies and hilarious vehicle physics (driving the APC through a Whirlygig can end up with you flying across maps like Garbage). As well as doing some new gfx stuff and generally also a lot of bug fixes.

        Misery is the hunter/gatherer/suvivior aspects ramped up to almost silly levels, along with a mix of new items/weapons/nps and various bug fixes.

        The others I’ve not played yet.

      • fupjack says:

        Better and worse – Solyanka has this crazy cave map at the start that’s almost impossible to finish; so bad that there’s save games distributed where the save is just after that point. The rest of the game is populated with a new story and quests. Sigerous is Call Of Pripyat with additional smaller quests and activities thrown in.

        Both of these mods (and others) have additional maps, so getting to go through the Cordon or Agroprom with the Call of Pripyat engine is really the highlight of it for me.

        These are both translated mods. I suspect there’s a ton of mods and new material for Stalker where the barrier to finding it is if you can read Russian. Or Ukranian? I wouldn’t be able to tell.

        • Baines says:

          It can be annoyingly hard to find information on STALKER mods in general at times. I’ve tried in the past to find what was worth downloading, and ultimately only went with Complete.

          Otherwise it is just a confusing mess of abandoned, outdated, and TBD mods scattered across the net. You ask someone what their recommended mods are, and they’ll reel off names that you cannot even find with a web search. You go to supposed mod hub sites, and find only a fraction of claimed existing mods. You check two or three different hub sites and there is little overlap between mods.

          And of course people won’t agree on what is worth playing, even for something like Complete. (There are people that argue that Complete makes the games too easy, for example.)

          • Don Reba says:

            Hey, all the Stalker mods are listed on the official forum, and the folks there are usually happy to help you find something to your liking.

    • Shooop says:

      I dearly hope they pull this off.

      And they won’t because it’s not going to be STALKER with co-op. It’s going to be your CTF-mode FPS complete with the poorly implemented RPG elements CoD 4 popularized.

      They’re not interested in even trying to appeal to the STALKER fans.

  10. Hahaha says:

    These comments would make a lot more sense if stalker 2 wasn’t cancelled and the project lead didn’t say

    “STALKER 2 and Survarium are completely different games.”

    • Baines says:

      But they also showed video and described a game world that looked like STALKER with the serial number filed off.

  11. felisc says:

    I can’t wait to play the alpha. So yes, count me in. I’ll be the one getting shot while constantly staring at the pretty scenery.

  12. jnqvist says:

    link to
    Are numbers not the thing that determines whether a thing was successful or not (strictly economically speaking,of course)? If so,weren’t the two million sold copies of S:SoC alone enough for the devs to coprehend that YES,WE WANT A SINGLE PLAYER GAME AS GOOD AS THIS,AND WE WANT IT BAD? If this is the case,I fail to understand why the hate on the sp…doing it last? Who knows when? C’mon Vostok,seriously…you have a large community on which to expand,and you’re basically throwing it down the well for the sake of creating something from tabula rasa. I just don’t understand these decisions they made.

    • zappeo says:

      well, I guess the developers want to try to make a game they really want to develop, hoping that it will do well in terms of sales. I prefer it this way instead of cash-in sequels just because “we know this game will sell anyway”. also, maybe the co-op aspect of this game will make it up for everybody who’d love another SP (+coop) stalker game. maybe not, but since we haven’t had the opportunity to play it yet I’m still confident this will turn out as a game we’ll remember. if they don’t screw up, of course :D
      I’m more confident in developers who are free to do what they want instead of just going the same way everytime “because money”.
      so, yeah, I think I kinda understand their decision.

      • jnqvist says:

        Well yeah,still…I wasn’t going in for the ‘cash up them sequels’ idea,but I believe that it is what the majority of studios would do (just not them),not in the terms of money-over-quality but logic-over-uncertainty. But the idea of them doing something they wanted didn’t strike me so far…I mean,it definitely is the case,they are going with something they want to do,not pleasing their older fans (as I believe many people have an opinion similar to mine-maybe I’m wrong?),which is another issue,but it’s their call… I’d be foolish to cross it off straight away but I have my doubts,that’s all. :) time will tell,I guess…

      • jnqvist says:

        Many people who played the original games,that is.

        • zappeo says:

          I didn’t mean to be rude of course, I am an old stalker fan as well and one of the few among my friends who still enjoys good old single player games :D
          it’s just that in the last years it has become more and more common for users to “judge” harshly developer’s work even before the actual game is out and that almost always pisses me off. that was not your case of course, I just re-read my post and found the tone of it a bit too rude, sorry for that.
          and it goes without saying that my thoughts can work also in the opposite way: open world/sandbox/pseudo-mmo seems to be “the thing” these days (I’m still happy with it, btw), so this could even be a cash-in “because look at dayz”, lol :D
          yeah, time will tell. in the meantime I can’t help but hug my monitor every time a news about survarium comes out.

          • jnqvist says:

            Nah,it’s all cool,don’t worry ’bout it :) yeah,it really does seem so. I’d like to think that this is something THEY really wanted to do,y’know…but the mmo thing seems to work with a large number of people,so who knows. If the game gets to be solid,I won’t mind. In fact,I don’t mind at all; it’s just the fact that they admitted openly that “you know guys,heh,we ain’t interested in the sp portion of our game that much,so we’re just gonna do it last,probably a lot later than the rest”. And this…this is just disappointing for me. I can’t blame them,they probably thought about it and realized that they have limited manpower and so forth,and had to make calls about it. I understand it,but for me,a good story is a good story…and Stalker is probably one of my favourite games (and stories) that I had the chance of experiencing.
            Btw,tried hugging the monitor…got dust all over my face :/

  13. cpt_freakout says:

    I’m playing through STALKER again and I just want to say I’m really excited about this game and the possibilities of sharing a whole lotta tension, even if the hardcore single-players are right in the end.

  14. fish99 says:

    Looks nice, but can they get enough players and make enough money from the PVP phase to finish the co-op and freeplay modes? I’m not seeing loads of comments here saying they desperately want to play a PVP class based game with Stalker visuals, and TBH I doubt I will touch it either. What people want is more Stalker, and Survarium seems a long way off delivering that.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      What Stalker fans want is more Stalker, but the majority of people in the world fall into other categories.

    • Arglebargle says:

      What’s really going on, imo, is that the PVP scenario is the easiest to push out, getting them some cash flow, which allows them to stay in business to finish up other parts of the project. Sadly, while I love Stalker, I’m uninterested in most PVP games, so they won’t be doing it on my money. I think a lot of the Stalker fans are similar.

  15. Stevostin says:

    It’s pretty mysterous but since I’ve seen gameplay video I am switching from “severly disappointed it’s not SP” to “not even really hot about having SP”. Which wouldn’t event seem like a possible thing. I guess the videos showed me A) atmosphere was still very strong despite MP and B) actully not fighting bot was improving immersion. Or seemed so. I guess once it will be out and packed with stupid kids & noobs it will seems dull again. But God! Those maps!

  16. Enterprise2448 says:

    It’s 2013 and these screenshots are 600×337. Why is that?

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      So they fit the template of the site? How big should they be?

      A less moronic way of asking for them at full res would be: “Please can you post these images at full res?”

      • Don Reba says:

        Could you post the screenshots at full resolution, please?

      • Stevostin says:

        Actually sometimes RPS (like every other sites, now that I think of it) post clickable screenshots than then goes big. When it’s not the case, I assume HD screen were simply not available. So when I read entreprise2448 comment, I assume he may actually blame Vostok for not allowing/providing.

        Anyway, count me in for asking for 1920*1080p as a minimal resolution for screen to publishers. It’s now the most common PC resolution and I think it’s the bit the same than bitching against the ocean or gamepad fps PC demos.

      • Enterprise2448 says:

        “A less moronic thing to say”? Do I sense someone being offended?

        I reverse-image-searched those screens and they do, in fact, look so much better in 1080p. Which is a shame if it wasn’t possible due to the site’s template, even though other articles here have the option of enlarge-on-click.

        And I also think this damn template is too damn narrow. I mean, most of us use 16:9, not 9:16.

  17. Iskariot says:

    Can you play this in Single Player, without ever encountering a single human player?
    In that case I am in. If it is Multi Player only I am out.
    I play games to get away from the crowd.
    The only social interaction I want in a game is with bits and bytes.