You would think when releasing a translation of your game to an English market you would at least ensure the first lines the player reads are properly translated. However, Day R Survival lets the chips fall where they may and greets you with the first of many translation errors, setting the tone for the rest of the game. Day R is a post-apocalypse survival role-playing game with a Russian flavor. In it, you “play” as a voracious disaster survivor with no memory or possessions who has to scrounge the charred remains of Russia/Scandinavia for discarded crap to eat/craft and eventually try and discover what’s going on. Sound familiar?
Before I try and explain how this game isn’t complete trash, the ways in which it is must be be taken care of so we can explore what it does right more clearly. Day R is not played in first or even third person, but top down on a weirdly rotated map of Russia/Scandinavia. The “survivor” is a red dot on the map which you move around to bigger “city dots” on the map which reveals themselves to be a town or city with individual buildings to search for useful crap (a fact which took me a few early deaths to figure out). This is about visually stimulating and intuitive as it sounds. Think Fallout, but played top-down on a piece of cardboard with blurry printed maps and inventory screens glued on. The game is to manage variables like health, thirst, radiation etc. which are boiled down to numbers (i.e eating reduces your hunger number) whilst pressing further into the map and story. The system functions but lends absolutely zero to engagement or originality.
The game is lousy with annoying systems, rules, design quirks. For example, movement through buildings is glacial so when leaving a building, you have to navigate away from it then out like a rocket leaving planetary orbit. I get that moving through an abandoned building might be slower than a road, but spending 14 hours moving through a tiny shed isn’t exactly intuitive. Most warnings have a time limit before you can dismiss them. Crafting recipes (or as they’re called “receipts”) are not gained by finding some intrepid engineers journal but just acquired over time, which is about as contrived as it gets. Searching for items in buildings is equally arbitrary. The process goes like this: you roll up to an abandoned supermarket bright and early, whose possible loot is listed on the door apparently. You see some dirty water or rotten veggies on said list which you can eat later. To get at them, for some reason you first must “loot” hundreds of pounds of furniture or bricks which must then be discarded to avoid over-encumbering yourself, comprising most of the day’s work. Finally, you pocket the food and run as directly into open space as possible at crawl-speed, in a process which is about as fun as it sounds.
These senseless little rules and inconveniences pollute the gameplay. While none are really throw-your-device at a wall worthy, each one is usually a lesson learned by dying a handful of times. Which is throw-your-device at a wall worthy because each time you have to start at the exact same point (you can save scum but I choose integrity over sanity) and play the whole stupid process all over again with the only variation being whether you get one can of pork or two in that shack.
Despite all this, I think there’s some important qualities of Day R which are worth bringing to the fore. The game on “real-life” difficulty does not f around and while some of that is due to the aforementioned nonsense, all it takes is one errant supply run to end your frail existence. Some might grumble at that, but I like that the designer said sod the peasants and made the game tough. This game really does cater to a hardcore audience as the mechanisms and depth of stats become relatively impressive. More weight or high fatigue means slower movement but nobody tells you that. These little details which are felt not shown are appreciated. The game is also pretty massive: the map is on a skyrim level of expansiveness, so you’re getting a lot of content for your buck. The main idea is that the designers had a firm vision of what they wanted: a deep and expansive game set in the Northern Wastes and weren’t going to let anything deny them of that. In an age of focus group tested blandness and cow-towing to broad audiences, it’s always refreshing to find a game that was made for the creator and not its consumers (for better or worse).
Day R Survival reminds me of an old foreign movie on VHS. The game is unabashedly ugly by modern standards, the story doesn’t drive really things forward and it’s infested with weird, idiosyncratic anomalies. This all being said, there’s a certain charm to the way it all comes together and it’s a fairly interesting game when all’s said and done. To your average bird-flinging casual, there’s a lot to discourage further exploration into its merits, but I assure you that there are some to be had once the grime has been scraped away.
Is it Hardcore?
An apocalyptic survival adventure game which is deep and expansive, but un-intuitive and ugly as the gulag.