Hands On: Survarium

The first part of Vostok’s grand post-apocalyptic shooter plan, Survarium, has now started inviting batches of sign ups to their beta. It’s the multiplayer FPS portion of the game, and as such basically a test of the shooting, running about, and weapon unlocking game systems. It’s an experience that will be familiar to anyone who spent time playing first-person games online in the past decade, although set in the most lavish of Ukrainian apocalypses.

So is that offering going to be strong enough to power the game through to its pseudo-Stalker co-op core? Peer into my crystal lake of toxic weirdness to find out.

I’ve found it helpful to begin my recent games writings by simply saying whether I liked and enjoyed what I played. It sets the tone, and your expectations. So here goes: Yes, I’ve really enjoyed myself. Survarium’s early offering is strong. It plays well and it looks beautiful. Good things. There are moments of frustration, which I will come to in a moment, but it’s a pleasing and fierce start, and one that bodes well for the future.

The game takes place across a series of maps, roughly symmetrical, onto which competing teams are unleashed to take on an opposing team in scavenging up a radio transmitter. The team that grabs the most pieces by the end of play, wins. On a personal level, you gain XP and money from playing, and can steadily buy unlocks from the shop as you rank up with various factions. XP levels you up occasionally, and you choose a very slight stat modifier each time that happens.

So far, so familiar, but I should say that the game itself is a blistering FPS. It’s all small arms combat – sub-machinguns, pistols, shotguns, grenades and a few rifles – but that tightness is rewarding. It’s pacey and feels expertly constructed. It’s not a game that I felt punished me with shonkiness, although I feel it does need some concessions, such as a kill-cam, or just something to give you a bit more information about that’s going on. (Being able to spot and mark enemies might help, too.) As a game though, it sings to my deathmatch urges: it has simply been me versus my enemies, and even with the servers being in Russia I’ve felt competitive. That said, there’s a touch of frustration for me in there, because it is yet another game of this type which does not feature a lean function of any kind. It’s exactly the kind of game that needs this sort of features, even if it would make the currently overpowered snipers even more deadly.

What also concerns me a bit is that it seems to be entirely matchmaking driven. I don’t want matchmaking, I want server browser. There’s an option to join games as part of a squad, which helps with getting chums into the game, but I still want more freedom and more options. I get that a lot of games run their own servers and want to control things to make the experience smoother, but I’d really like the trend of relieving players of control and choice to turn back. In this case I also assume the level-based systems make it so that high level characters will mince the newbies, but it still does work against making me want to stay.

(Another, very minor, oddity is that there’s no way to rearm. It seems as if the game needs to force people to play a support role or something, because a number of times I stayed alive long enough to simply run out of ammo. And then I just had to die. Odd.)

A counter-point to these annoyances is the sheer beauty of the thing. Yes, we’ve all fallen hopelessly in love with ruined wastelands before, but this really is exceptional. And it’s the first time in a couple of years I’ve looked at my graphics card and known the poor thing is soon destined for my Dad’s PC. Survarium at full whack is a beast, and a beautiful beast, and beautiful excuse to buy another fresh wad of roaring silicon. Oh yes, the map designs and large, lavish, and swamped with horrible detail. It’s exactly where I want to be fighting, and if the free-roaming parts of the game look anything like this then it’s going to be a marvel.

Things are made even more interesting by there being toxic or poisoned areas on the map, which you’ll need special equipment to go into. If you’ve forked out on survival equipment and you’re able to flank enemies who are only equipped with nice warm jumpers, there’s a distinct advantage to be had.

All in all this is a strong, broad start. What this is not, however, is the part of Survarium is which actually interesting. Because the truth is that I have played many, many competent and pretty multiplayer FPS games in recent months/years. I’ve enjoyed them, of course, but I haven’t stuck around. Some of them have been free to play, and others not. Survarium lies somewhere between Warface and the Tripwire games in both its delivery and its execution, which means that it’s relatively unusual, but also looking at competition from both crowds. As a straight up multiplayer shooter – which is all that’s available now – it’s not going to stand out from the many extraordinarily well-featured FPS games we now have available to us. The level-based stats improvement and unlock system are quite a familiar thing now, so fiddling about in inventory world (and having to make sure you are well dressed and armed for your fight) comes as no surprise.

That said, perhaps the sheer desire for this world and setting, as well as the seemingly limitless enthusiasm of East European markets for brutal hardcore FPS games, will see it through. I hope so, because it’s a game I want to see grow and mature.

In conclusion: it’s promising. And I say promising now not because I expect this PvP part of the game to become a shining gem, but rather that it might be indicative of the quality of the as-yet-unseen freeplay and co-op game modes which Vostok have said will arrive at a later date. That quality could be enormously high. I just hope that they’ve done this the right way around. Surely it was wise to create a proof of concept their tech and combat mechanics in a straightforward game mode like this, but I hope that it doesn’t find itself foundering in competitive waters before it gets to the stuff that genuinely makes the Survarium world an exciting prospect.

I try not to say the S-word too much, but if Vostok’s game does emerge as an online successor to the Stalker games, then they will have achieved much. Stalker, of course, had a multiplayer component too, but it was never that part of the game which truly captured our imaginations.

You can sign up for Survarium now, but getting in is an ongoing process.


  1. witzkawumme (wkw) says:

    another mmo/multiplayer survival game… :(
    I just want another Fallout and/or Skyrim, no other people disturbing my exploration and killing-sprees.

    • rcguitarist says:

      Agreed. When I am playing a game, I don’t want other people’s stupidity affecting my experience. Hardly anybody ever plays a game like DayZ as they would if they were in that situation in real life.
      Also, In my opinion, making a game that is just a pretty world with running and shooting mechanics and releasing it as a MMO game is just a cop-out for “we weren’t capable of creating an interesting story or missions, so here, try and come up with something yourself….but still give us lots of money”.

      • Paul says:

        I do not think they are making multiplayer game because they are incapable of making good singleplayer. I mean, they singlehandedly created the best open world shooter ever made, Stalker Call of Pripyat. I think it has more to do with the fact that their investors wanted the free to play model, seeing how supposedly successful it is, and free to play (or, as I like to call it, fee to pay) means multiplayer. Plus, no piracy.

      • ghor says:

        Or, single player and multiplayer and MMO are completely different kinds of games and this is simply the game they wanted to make.

      • Quiffle says:

        “Hardly anybody ever plays a game like DayZ as they would if they were in that situation in real life.”

        You could replace “DayZ” with any other title in recent or past history and the same could be true.

      • Pointy says:

        “Hardly anybody ever plays a game like DayZ as they would if they were in that situation in real life.”

        It makes me sad to say that concerning DayZ, you actually are seeing a fairly true representation of what people would act like in an apocalypse situation.

        Here is a blog post from my better half on the subject :

        link to thisclimbingbean.wordpress.com

        • DXN says:

          No, I think it’s fair to say that in general, communities form and grow more cooperative and mutually supporting in times of crisis. Those who have less tend to give more, and people give more when there is more need. Because cooperation is so much more valuable to all involved, it’s essential to survival.

          Of course, this generalisation doesn’t apply to all situations. People who are panicking may desperately sacrifice others to save themselves. Sufficiently deep divides will cause sides to draw apart and oppose one another. Assholes and psycopaths may take advantage of opportunities at the expense of others. But disasters are not constant panic and all-out, everyone-for-themselves war or crisis. They tend to involve a lot of waiting around in very poor conditions, and to get through that, you need other people. And not just a tiny group, but a decent-sized community able to cover varying needs cooperatively.

          It’s a complex subject so I don’t have any particular evidence to hand, but as an illustration of the concept, I tend to think back to this comment: link to metafilter.com

        • TimePointFive says:

          In reality there are more interesting things to do than shoot, kidnap, and harass people. In Dayz there is not.

        • belgand says:

          While TimePointFive makes a great point below that there aren’t other things to do in the game that partly explains it, but the other aspect is that there aren’t any actual consequences. If you die you can always come back. For many people that will encourage them to be much more aggressive than they would be in reality. I definitely agree that Hobbes was right and think that this sort of situation would further exposes that nature in all people, but games like this have such an additional level of artifice that it’s hard to get away from that.

    • The Laughing Owl says:

      Another Skyrim? Ewww.

    • Syra says:

      Congratulations, bethesda will be happy to provide those. I for one do not wish to play more shonky FPS RPGs with little mechanical depth right now.

      I feel all games can be improved with tight coop and I am very much looking forward to something like survarium making waves so that that can happen.

    • Lagwolf says:

      “I just want another Fallout and/or Skyrim, no other people disturbing my exploration and killing-sprees.”

      Hear hear!

  2. Paul says:

    Good that it is good, but I still want singleplayer from Vostok :(
    Maybe one day, they will manage to get Stalker license back, or at least funding for new singleplayer game in Survarium universe (although for some reason I really dislike the name Survarium, it just feels weird).

    • scatterbrainless says:

      Agreed but, of all the RPS writers, if Jim approves I am deeply hopeful. That man knows his STALKER.

  3. Bedeage says:

    It does not need a kill-cam. Frankly it’d be a lot better without the RPG-ness. STALKER’s appeal was always the uncertainty, which often made for lethality. I’d prefer to see fewer player-aids in games, particularly in those few which could be the last remnants of a particularly fine strain of FPS design.

  4. altum videtur says:

    Thassgreat. Know what’s better?

    The electro tunnel at Cordon. X-16. X-18. The chimera hunt. Oasis. Red Forest. Pripyat. CNPP. Getoutofherestalker.

    The bloodsucker in Agroprom Underground.

    All these moments will prompt soliloquys from poncy twits and fond recollection from everyone else wot remembers them. Multiplayer will never have that.

    • MykulJaxin says:

      That first bloodsucker. My goodness. I’m left now trying to find that same feel and experience by modding the living daylights out of SHoC and CoP. Just waiting on Lost Alpha.

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      Do you mean the controller, or the bloodsucker? You do get chased by a bloodsucker for a bit, and I remember having to run back up the stairs and get more ammo, but it in no way compared to the weeeeesh-BANG weeeesh-BANG and the pant-crapping effect the controller had the first time. Bloodsuckers did have that habit of sneaking up behind you though **shivers**

      EDIT: Actually i just watched a Lets Play of it. Its bringing back memories of the VERY FIRST time I met a bloodsucker now :) Ohhh yeahhhhh

      • OJ287 says:

        The way the controller’s psy-attack zoomed in and distorted the camera coupled with the sound would make me feel physically sick. With a VR headset on a think I would need a new keyboard.

      • altum videtur says:

        The controller was a cool jumpscare, but the games have managed to burn the bloodsuckers into my memory like some tattered banner from a glorious and terrifying bygone era or something. And it was that very first one under Agroprom that got my twitchy little 14-year-old self completely hooked on the series.

        In short, all hail bloodsuckers.

        • Geebs says:

          Also, screw Snorks. They can all go die in a fire. Seriously.

    • John Connor says:

      The one feature I always wanted from STALKER was Co-Op. If Survarium is that, I want it.

    • scatterbrainless says:

      That is a list of some of my mostest favoriting moments in gaming. The first time that I discovered that the Oasis loops by dropping a box of bullets, walking forward and discovering it again… so very, very disturbing.

  5. CookPassBabtridge says:

    Well, the free-roam bit could end up being the sleeper hit of the decade. It would be good, as like many folks here I really want another СТАЛКЕР (cunningly avoiding the ‘s’ word). Yes human beings in my games mostly suck and can go die in a fire, but we shall see what happens.

  6. MiniMatt says:

    Without wishing to launch RPS’ comments into a global politics debate…

    Russian dev beta-ing a post-apocalyptic game set in … Ukraine?!

    • hypercrisis says:

      Thats good since you’d be wrong as the developers are Ukrainian

  7. Keyrock says:

    Too bad it’s multi-player only, because no single player, no care.

    It does look pretty, though.

  8. fupjack says:

    Oh, I hope this works. Multiplayer Stalker – done as well as the singleplayer eventually turned out – would be great.

  9. MultiVaC says:

    I hate to be the guy being down on developers for trying something different than their previous game, but god damn do I wish they had just made another STALKER with a different name and setting. I just don’t see how everything meaningful that they hope to accomplish wouldn’t be better served by something that boils down to “STALKER with optional co-op”. As it stands, they are going to have to constantly going to have to bend over backwards to fit everything cool (basically just the free-play mode) into a F2P shooter mold.

  10. nothingfaced says:

    Free 2 p(l)ay multiplayer only put an end to my involvement. Still, hope it works out for them.

    I’d be significantly more interested in a SP game from them.

  11. Dirk Beefhammer says:

    I want to put singleplayer in my mmo

  12. Thants says:

    You had me at “Ukrainian apocalypse”.

  13. Cik says:

    DayZ has been in the top 10 of most actively played games since its’ release, even still today, so it will be interesting to see how this fares. There is certainly a market for it..