More Survival Games Should Start Including Full VR Support

by David Jagneaux • January 30th, 2018

Update – This article has been republished to coincide with the release of Subnautica, an intense survival game with full VR support.

(Original Published 05/31/17) – A few days ago I was playing H1Z1: Just Survive alone and it was horrifying. For those unaware, the game is a lot like other survival games available for PC on Steam, such as DayZ, Rust, Ark: Survival Evolved, Conan Exiles, and more. The premise is that it’s the middle of the zombie apocalypse and you must scrounge up supplies to get by, teaming up with and killing other players along the way. Just like in The Walking Dead TV show, you quickly learn that the other humans around you are far scarier than the zombies themselves. You really feel alone when you’re playing outside of a group without friends.

But even beyond just multiplayer focused games there are single player survival games to take note of as well, such as The Solus Project. Other than being a single player focused title the other thing that sets this game apart in a major way is the full, official, VR support for HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, OSVR, and tracked motion controllers. Even Ark at least has minor VR support (just the Oculus Rift officially) which is better than nothing. Fallout 4 VR is coming and with enough mods and it can become like a survival game, but that’s not what it was designed to be really at its core.

More survival games should take note of how proactive the team at Grip Games, the folks behind The Solus Project, have been not just because VR gamers want more robust experiences, but also because the genre makes a ton of sense for VR as a medium.

ark survival evolved vr

Sense of Presence

For most gamers that get into VR, the appeal of being immersed in another world is priority #1. When playing games like H1Z1, DayZ, Conan Exiles, and Ark players get wrapped up in the experience because they feel ownership of what you’ve made for yourself. From building bases and staking your claim on the land to crafting weapons and taming creatures to control, you’re not given anything easily.

Starting from scratch with nothing at all and having to scavenge for food and supplies makes every moment of survival feel earned. While Battle Royale games such as PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, The Culling, H1Z1: King of the Kill, and others throw gobs of weapons and ammo at you from the very start in a bid for fast action, survival games are all about the slow burn.

I once spent hours with a friend slowly clearing out a neighborhood of abandoned houses in H1Z1: Just Survive only to eventually end up in a standoff with a group of two other people. Over the game’s proximity-based voice chat we were talking, trying to coax one another to step out into the open as a sign of goodwill. After a solid twenty minutes of negotiation we flanked them while they were distracted talking, murdered them in cold blood, and stole all of their belongings. We had become monsters and survival games have a way of really making you feel bad about it.

I don’t think I could do that again if you asked me to replay that encounter inside a VR headset.

solus project vr

Isolated Survival

Since you lose all of your items when you die in many of these games, death has a real consequence. Could you imagine the feeling of playing a survival game online with other people just trying to get by, while in VR? Raising your hands to surrender is suddenly much more immersive when it’s extended to your actual arms instead of a simple hotkey on the keyboard. It would be much more difficult to lie and trick people if they can visibly see your hands reaching for a gun.

That sense of isolation I felt while playing H1Z1: Just Survive alone would be even more poignant if in VR. Games like The Solus Project go to great lengths to make you feel like you’re both an integral part of the game world and like you’re all alone without anyone to relate to. Survival games are at their best when they can make you feel an intimate connection to your character and there’s no better way to connect a player to the game world than to ask them to literally step into their avatar’s shoes with a VR headset.

If I were playing one of these survival games in VR I’d be much more likely to approach every human interaction with caution. I’d also be more likely to try and work together, rather than against, my fellow players. Looking another human avatar in the eyes and betraying them is a lot harder when the head tracking makes it clear we are standing face-to-face in a digital world. The dynamics of what it means to fight for survival would be completely turned upside down.

conan exiles screenshot

What do you think? Would you like to see more survival games adopt VR support? Let us know what you think down in the comments below!

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  • NooYawker

    I prefer survival, adventure type games over fast paced fps in VR. Call of the Starseed and Arizona Sunshine are my two very favorite games. I like them better than Doom 3 VR and Serious Sam, though it felt great being inside the creepy world of Doom.

    • I agree on pretty much all counts, those are my two favorite as well. I got to check out Gallery Episode 2 at GDC and really enjoyed it — IIRC you commented on that one already haha

      • NooYawker

        Yep, I refuse to read anything about Gallery Episode 2 I want it all to be a surprise 😀

  • J.C.

    I think it’d be neat, except for the reality that survival games are universally terribly optimized. Since teleportation would be…weird, to say the least, any sort of chugging while running wohld cause quite a few people to never play it again.

    Also, it’d need to be a VR only survival game, unless ALL weaponry is close quarters. The current resolution on VR headsets puts VR players at a severe disadvantage against people on 1080p screens, much less 2k or 4K ones. Since aiming in VR is…ah…imprecise, monitor players would again have a significant advantage.

    Vr-only survival game? Yes! Having it optional would end with no one using VR for it, as it offers only disadvantages.

    • Great points. Kind of funny how the same optimization issues are pretty much universal across them all. A VR-only would be great as long as they didn’t skimp on the features too much. I want crafting, base building, communication features, ranged and melee weapons, and a wide open space with plenty to do. In that regard, it’d likely take a very long time to make one a reality. Hopefully one is in the works!

  • Dawgs4ever

    Yes, more survival VR games would be awesome so long as they aren’t just money grabs or designed with short experiences in mind like most VR Projects these days. A truly immersive Ark or 7 days to die type of game would be awesome.

    Next we need a grand strategy VR game, a GOOD RTS game (we have a couple of poor and extremely limited RTS games available now), a top end RPG game (next Elder Scrolls?), and then a MMORPG. If VR gamers have those options, you’ll start seeing more people picking up headsets.

    Oh, and it’s just a depressing shame that there hasn’t been a good social/hangout/virtual world experience put out yet. It’s almost criminal negligence on the part of Facebook not to have put something out like the Oasis or even just a virtual housing simulator connected to a single virtual world that people can hang out in, buy and watch movies together in, shop for games after demoing them in, etc. These are the biggest opportunities and VR and people aren’t capitalizing on it.

    • There are some good social VR apps out there already, in my opinion. Altspace and Bigscreen allow for most of the things you listed, as well as really fun options like Rec Room and Facebook Spaces (which is still brand new). High Fidelity too, but it’s a bit more experimental.

  • JSM21

    I wish the horror games where co-op…maybe I would play all of them I own for VR. It seemed like a good idea at 1st when I buy them, lolol.

  • PJ

    Survival games and VR seem like a natural fit. ‘Flat’ survival games already draw the player in through the tension and the world, VR brings a sense of reaslism and being.

    I think is DayZ adds a VR mode with full motion controls it would be one of the finest games ever made

  • Mane Vr

    more like All first person games should be playable in vr

    • Eddie Barsh

      W.

  • SendsV8

    I fully agree that we are in need of a good survival game in VR. The existing 2D ones you mention are great and all, but I preferred the higher fidelity of the weapons and sheer map size of the ArmA engine in Breaking Point. Some may not like huge maps where you might not meet another player for a while but that’s what attracted me to it; the “slow burn” as you say, and (sometimes) rare encounters would get your heart racing much more than waves of people dying and respawning and rushing into a fight or some newb spawn area.

    These games are coming, inevitably, but as we ride the wave of developers taking a chance on VR, even these short experiences-and-then-some games are working through the mechanical and immersion nuances. The same experiences and games would largely amount to $1.99 apps on a mobile device for the amount of content and complexity (minus what goes into motion controls, etc) for now, but are infinitely more enjoyable all the same in VR.

    Just imagine what’s possible only a matter of months from now, let alone a year or two when VR is affordable with headsets and resolutions that don’t look like you’re playing with a slightly cloudy scuba mask on.