Survivors is a free Russian-developed title that takes elements of the Slender formula and alters them in a way that results in some pretty effective horror in a co-op setting. You and up to three friends are trapped in the woods at night and are armed with only flashlights as a werewolf hunts you down one by one.
I was surprised that I actually found the game to be scary because playing a horror game with friends often completely destroys everything that makes a game horrifying, instead turning it into another silly action game that just happens to be in a dark setting. Survivors manages to avoid this issue by following the Amnesia and Slender route of stripping the players of any ability to defend themselves.
It quickly becomes apparent that the added help is more of a curse than a blessing. In Slender as soon as you realize that you shouldn’t look at the monster you stop making sudden turns for fear that he might be right behind you. The Slenderman also never truly gets to prove that he is dangerous until he finally gets you at the end of your play session. By contrast in Survivors you are constantly turning around and observing your surroundings because you are trying to keep track of your friends. Because of this your fear of being stranded and alone in this setting is actually making it more likely that you will notice the creature and startle yourself. This leads to plenty of unnerving (and sometimes funny) moments where one player is running and yelling because of something only they have seen.
The creature in Survivors also feels much more threatening because it gets the chance to prove it is dangerous a number of times. If you are (un)lucky enough to be one of the last players standing you get to enjoy the experience of your friends being picked off one by one. They may get devoured right before your eyes, or they may suddenly vanish in the darkness. I’m not sure which one is worse.
I really was impressed by Slender the first time I played it, but unfortunately the creature’s behavior is too clearly mechanical to make repeat sessions worthwhile. Knowing that he becomes more aggressive with every page you find, doesn’t move when you can see him, and kills by touching you or getting you to look a him makes each session overly familiar. When I died for the fifth time after picking up five of the eight pages every single time I realized that Slender had no more surprises in store for me. The Slenderman no longer bothered me when I encountered him because I knew what movement patterns could hold him at bay. As I moved around obstacles to find the pages needed for victory I started to accurately predict where I would see him standing. Predictable isn’t scary. Sure I still hadn’t beaten the game, but that had more to do with the challenge of avoiding something that you can’t look at.
I considered that Slender’s diminishing returns may have to do with constantly replaying the same map. The game randomized many elements, but perhaps seeing the same assets over and over again was making them boring. I found my answer in Slender Man’s Shadow, a series of fan maps created by Marc Steene and Wray Burgess. Andrew and I took a look at their level Sanatorium. It seemed competently made and creepy enough, but since it was a faithful fan creation the Slenderman still had those same predictable mechanics and we were left unafraid. Survivors also drives the point home that familiar game assets are not the problem because it clearly uses many of the same objects in its environment that Slender does.
The werewolf from Survivors still creeps me out after a full session with the game because I don’t understand how it works. Its actions have a random aspect to them that kept things fresh. Sometimes it tried to actively hunt me down while at other times it seemed content to simply stare at me from the distance. At one point it appeared directly between myself and my friend, and at another time it intercepted me just as I was about to pick up a note. The glowing red eyes, the freaky noise, and the way that the screen fills up with red mist all help to make encounters with the werewolf all the more troubling.
Despite my praise, Survivors is not without its many faults. The game features no easy way to connect with others, leading my friends and I to resort to using the outside software LogMeIn Hamachi. Strafing doesn’t appear to be a feature, or at least is not mapped to the keyboard by default. The ‘A’ and ‘D’ keys instead turn your character left and right, which is pretty useless when you have a mouse. The lighting system is flat out broken in its current form. You can clearly see large grid patterns appear on the floor as specific sections of the level are lit by your headlamp in ways that look very unnatural. Grass is often pitch black in the middle of a lit area, the light of multiple players in one area looks like daylight, and being alone can suddenly make your headlamp seem next to useless. The creature also lacks animations, and currently kills players by simply making them vanish. Survivors is very early in development though, so any number of these issues may be gone in the future. These are the bare bones of an interesting project.
I also can’t predict whether or not the werewolf will become predictable and boring in the future after much more play time, but I would certainly say that this game is worth a look. The developer is promising to add new locations, monsters and items and I’m interested in seeing where things go. I’m still not sure whether the game is called “Survivors” or “Survivers” because both names show up frequently and Chrome’s automated translation can only do so much.
Playing Survivors has actually had the odd side effect of increasing my interest in the upcoming Slender: Source. The entire project seemed like a horrible idea because co-op horror never works, but Survivors has shown me that there may yet be hope if the game is handled the right way.