My enthusiasm for video games has decreased over the last 30 years. It’s a natural process, because other things in my life have become more important. I still like to play, but I play less. I invest less time in playing and also the amount of games played has decreased. Additionally, I realize that I have become more critical towards video games. This is not an unusual process either, since the video game experience gained almost inevitably means that current titles have to compete with the nostalgically transfigured “milestones” of earlier days. If you have been playing video games for many years, your personal rating of current video games often turns out to be more critical – you unavoidably have the appropriate background knowledge: repetitive gameplay elements, congruent game modes and recurring storytelling patterns are more noticeable, simply because various blueprints and templates have already been saved in your mind.
Sometimes this can even turn into annoying cynicism, for example when I stumble upon banal “find A and bring it B” mission design. I can get upset for a long time about the fact that I actually have to walk this shitty path completely back again. But you shouldn’t settle down in this nostalgically transfigured “everything used to be better” mindset or the arrogant “I’ve seen it all!” attitude – funnily enough, I was reminded of this while playing a rather typical Triple-A game. I am talking about Ubisoft’s The Division, whose complete genre description could serve as a proof for the (perceived) copy-cat mentality in current video games. After all, The Division is a third person RPG campaign loot multiplayer co-op shooter with PvE and PvP elements. Phew. Ironically, this game offered a game mode that easily outshone my previous favorites: the survival mode. The main game was also quite solid, but the DLC “Survival” was so powerful and captivating in its intensity that my fellow players and I coordinated our vacation planning and numerous weekend dates.
The main elements of the survival mode can be sketched quickly: Without any equipment you will end up in virus- and blizzard-infested New York. Your character is already infected by the virus and has a remaining lifespan of only one hour. If you’re lucky, you’ll find drugs that can be used to stop the “death timer” for a short time, which can extend the game session by another hour of play time. So it is literally about bare survival. To brave the freezing temperatures, you’ll search for clothing while you simultaneously loot armour, weapons, weapon mods and building materials. Always under time pressure. And under constant fear, because in addition to the numerous AI opponents, 23 other human players wander across the map – each with the same goal: to reach the rescuing helicopter pickup point in time and with an antidote. By the way, if you are killed by an AI opponent or another player, your game session is over immediately. It’s especially unpleasant when this happens just before the helicopter rescue and all your efforts of the previous two hours suddenly don’t pay off after all. But the fear, the pressure and the tension have created such an intense feeling that even after a failed attempt you wanted to dive right back into this New York winter virus hell!
The survival mode was no gameplay revolution, but the developers simply rethought the solid elements of the main game, which itself was “inspired” by different video games, and then skillfully tinkered them together to create a highly intense gaming experience. It’s a gaming experience that I had never had before in my 30 years of video gaming – although I was familiar with the basic and essential gameplay elements. Fortunately, I was persuaded to try this game mode… – originally I had called the “Survival DLC” an “uninspired divisional life-prolongation pseudo-DLC” (quite cynically), which doesn’t even matter to me. Oops.
The Survival DLC for The Division enjoyed great popularity and is still effusively celebrated in countless gaming forums. While Ubisoft usually doesn’t skimp on sequels, they decided against a new survival mode during the development of The Division 2. The snowstorm of the first part turned into a shitstorm of sad fans. Oh, Ubisoft…
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