I spotted the toolbox at the bottom of the wreckage. Inside lay a hammer and some bandages. Both were critical to my survival.
I started choking from being underwater too long and quickly swam to the surface. I climbed back onto the relative safety of my life raft. Just then, a horrifying shark fin dipped underwater nearby.
I quickly drew my paddle and furiously pushed the life raft toward the safe haven of my island. A sudden crack of thunder and darkening clouds made my heart race. My island disappeared in a haze of rain and fog.
A bump jolted me to the side, knocking my bandages from the raft. Two heartbeats later, a second bump sent me tumbling forward into the water. Completely panicked, I abandoned the raft. I swam to where I last saw my island. My only refuge. My safety.
I reached the rain-soaked shore. The massive shark paced the deep edges, mocking my intrusion into his domain. I could barely see my precious raft in the distance. I anxiously walked over to my campsite. I had only enough sticks for one more campfire.
I wasn’t sure if I’d survive another night.
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. This means you can buy them, but they’re still in an unfinished state.
Survival Games on Land
Stranded Deep wears its “Castaway” theme proudly on its tattered sleeve. You start in a private airline. After a rudimentary tutorial, the plane explodes and you’re plunged into the ocean. You must quickly swim up to the surface, climb aboard the nearby life raft, and paddle to the nearest island in the distance—your new home.
Your island is host to important resources, such as palm trees, rocks, and life-saving coconuts. Eventually you craft and gain the use of tools like axes, hammers, and knives. You deplete your tiny island’s natural resources as you make it more habitable and sustainable.
The realistic 3D graphics can be quite gorgeous, particularly for an indie title. The lighting is especially breathtaking during the sun-drenched days and the glowing, moonlit nights. The interface is almost completely hidden, allowing the world to take up all your screen real estate.
Monitoring your food and water levels is critical to your survival. Days pass quickly. You must spend a portion of each day eating and drinking. Eventually you’ll be forced to jump in your life raft and explore other randomly generated islands for their precious resources.
While you’re the only human out there, you’re not completely safe from predators. Sharks reign supreme in the ocean. They’re a constant threat. Diving down to explore shipwrecks and salvage items often becomes a harrowing experience. The music suddenly swells to a foreboding series of chords. Sharks pursue you relentlessly. The first time a shark found me on my life raft and knocked me into the water was one of the tensest moments I’ve ever experienced in a video game.
Like the film “Castaway,” Stranded Deep offers an intensely lonely experience, but also one rife with self-discovery. Do you take the nomad approach, exploring each island and taking only what you need before moving on? Do you establish a grand and expansive home base that you frequently return to? Do you take increasingly dangerous risks searching for items among shark-infested waters? Do you ever dare brave the water at night? Stranded Deep doesn’t tell you how to play. It leaves much of its systems and mechanics open for you to discover. This creates a wide appeal for the YouTube/Twitch.tv generation that cut their teeth on sharing their unique Minecraft worlds and play style.
Survival Games Underwater
While Stranded Deep represents a realistic take on an island survival scenario, other games take the human vs. nature concept to more supernatural or fantastical settings. Another single-player, non-zombie or horror survival game is Subnautica. Subnautica also has the crash-landing hook, but this time it’s on an alien planet made entirely of one vast ocean.
You start with a life pod that contains the all-important Fabricator, your main crafting device. Climbing outside reveals the gigantic wreckage of your spaceship in the distance. It’s surrounded by the waters of the alien planet.
The randomly generated world is made up of several different environmental biomes—a concept pioneered by Minecraft. These biomes change the topography, vegetation, layout, and creatures of the area, creating unique and mysterious underwater worlds to explore.
As in Stranded Deep, your first task will be to secure a steady stream of food and water. In contrast to Stranded Deep, Subnautica currently offers three different modes: Freedom, Survival, and Hardcore. Hardcore could be considered the normal style for the genre, with death being a permanent game-over. Survival keeps the food and water needs while removing the brutal death aspect. And Freedom removes hunger and thirst altogether, giving you much more time to explore and build.
Because of its multiple modes and friendly crafting experience, Subnautica might be a wonderful first survival game for those wanting to try the genre. The art style is much more cartoony than Stranded Deep’s. But it’s still an absolute joy to explore. There’s a full range of movement and intriguing level- design in its underwater worlds.
I’m a Survivor
Even if you’ve never played or cared for Minecraft, survival games can be an incredibly fun experience. I’ve yet to see another survival game like Minecraft where you can remove all external danger, so younger kids can experience the magic of exploration in these increasingly intriguing worlds. But since the genre is continually expanding, we can hope that another great game in the vein of Minecraft will come soon.