It had been a few days since I placed down my BCU, and as I sat on what little second story I had completed, I finally saw the telltale blue glow in the dark, signaling that there was company in my forest. The Hunters have arrived. I spent the rest of the dark, foggy night crafting what little ammo I could in preparation for what this unforgiving world had in the morning. The relative balance of power has shifted, and I am no longer the only apex hunter here. The sun starts to kiss the grass, and I leave my shelter in search of subsistence.
Subsistence is one of many in a sea of survival games, each of which attempting to offer their own unique spin on a genre that has quickly grown bloated and saturated. Developed by the lone developer behind ColdGames and launched into early access back on October 25th, 2016, the game has been delivering monthly updates that continue to make it an experience all its own. Currently listed at full price at $13.99 USD, even the current experience is warranted to be worth the cost – assuming one knows exactly what they’re purchasing.
Originally launched with only the singleplayer available, each monthly patch brought something new to the table – not always in the form of end-game expansion as much as changes to the map, progression dynamics, items and added features. After about a year in early access, the 2017 October update brought in co-op in the form of player-hosting, with the mention of eventual dedicated servers down the road.
The beauty in Subsistence is knowing what you are buying before you buy it. As a fan of survival games, I discovered Subsistence while attempting to break free of my long addiction to Rust – a glorious, stressful and highly violent shining gem of survival titles. In between work and managing a social life, there was less and less time for me to dedicated to a game as punishing as Rust, and I was itching for another title, but I’m not typically content with survival titles that only offer an environmental challenge. That’s when the description of AI Hunters – hostile NPCs that live and build in the same location – caught my eye, and I decided, might as well dive in.
I was greeted to a lush, hilly environment, with a snow-covered mountain in one direction, gradually downward sloping terrain in another, and a forest of green. Speaking of green, if its not a color one likes to look at for extended periods, prepare yourself – this game is mildly green in most cases, simply due to the environment you find yourself within. Graphically, while running on Ultra at 1080p, the Unreal Engine shines, even if it doesn’t bring anything new to the table, neither does it look bad – and running at 60fps throughout is a cherry on top. I happen to be a fan of the very oppressive, foggy nights – especially useful while I sit in my hastily constructed second story to observe and look for the blue glow of the Hunters as they forage.
Mechanically and gameplay wise, Subsistence does well to give the player a modest open world environment to thrive or die in. Filled with hostile bears and wolves that level up when they kill you, every moment can be filled with a sense of dread and anxiety – although clearly defined audio and visual clues give the player a clear sense of whether they have the interest of the animals or are safe to skirt around them. As per most survival games, the environment has plenty of resources to hunt and scavenge – fiber from plants, wood from trees, scrap metal spawning randomly throughout and several varieties of crates that house particular items needed to get off the ground and into a crafted base all your own.
There is no tutorial or hand holding at start, dropping you randomly into the game with only an axe, a pistol with a few rounds, and a blue, unlimited glow stick to act as light during the dark. The only instructions are vague; find resources to build a base and a BCU. And at that, one is left to wander around to either eat or be eaten, gradually gathering up supplies from the trees and crates until enough is gathered to build a small base out of platforms, walls, stairs and the like. It isn’t until the BCU, or Base Control Unit, is placed down when the game starts to increase in difficulty, which you are warned by another small warning mentioning that now that you are established, the Hunters will move in.
The Hunters are AI enemies that seem to really, really hate you. The animals, well, they hate everyone, and will gladly tear into you or the hunters, depending on who walks in front of them or smells like a good meal. You have no allies but yourself (or your friends, in coop) and going forward, you are perpetually at risk of winding up with bullets in your direction. Eventually, even your base may be at risk, as the Hunters grow in power as the days go on, unless you take matters into your own hands, track down their base and lay waste (plus, get some loot you can’t find elsewhere).
For me, the constant challenge of Hunters and their moderately good aim is enough to come back time and time again as I refine and continue to build my base, but its not for everyone. The downfall of this game to many is the simple lack of a real endgame. Sure, there is a hardcore mode – and it is definitely hard – but the challenges are the same: Survive another day. There is no story, none to explain why or where you are, who the Hunters are, neither an end game goal like escaping. It is simply surviving, and shooting, and hunting, and trying not to die. There is a small grind component to the base building, as well, with wood being in constant shortage as you build the base of your dreams, a typical tree providing enough wood for one piece of the base – and for those who like flashy bases, that’s a lot of wood. Combined with the seemingly luck spawns of crates, at times there might be several days of waiting for the right resource to spawn in a convenient location before you can drop the next part of your base. Eventually, there will be a time where doing, in essence, the same thing repeatedly may not be for everyone – but getting to that point is not a quick process and will take hours to get to that point, and the adventure on the way is rewarding, exciting, and a blast.
In the end, Subsistence has a lot to offer anyone looking for either a solo or small cooperative survival experience – as long as you are not looking for a story. A very enjoyable experience awaits on the side of a mountain, full of very aggressive wolves, bears and the strange, mysterious Hunters, who really want you dead. While currently in early access, the end game is considered, by some, to be non-existent but to others, simply lacking. Time will tell what ColdGames brings to the table, but I’m hopeful. His updates have centered around bringing community feedback to life, and seems to be happy to make the game that no only he wants to see, but the game that the community wants to play.
- Graphically optimized and passable, with certain moments or scenes able to look quite good in the lighting.
- A solid foundation for a great survival game, even in its current state
- Multiplayer coop
- Audio is clear and on point
- Priced fairly at 13.99 USD
- Late / Endgame can get repetitive
- Slight grind for resources
- No story
- The map is not as large as other open-world survival games