Booting up Early Access survival sim Hurtworld for the first time, I thought I had a pretty good idea what awaited me. Set in an arid open world, the environment recalls the Australian outback as much as it does New Mexico, strewn with a bunch of sticks, stones and piles of mineral you can use to craft stuff.
Before too long I’d made a spear, which is useful because the deer in these parts are lethal. Then I killed a deer, cooked its flesh on a campfire and ate it. So far, so good. Eating is very important in Hurtworld. In fact, your naked avatar needs to consume a terrible amount to stay satiated. I ate three rabbit steaks in a row and remained hungry.
The first server I joined was an Australia-based server. It wasn’t full but everyone on it was very pedantic. I killed someone on purpose with a spear, which prompted the victim to demand an explanation in the chat window. “I thought that’s what you’re meant to do,” I replied, knowing full well that it wasn’t what I was necessarily meant to do.
Soon enough, someone else killed me for no reason, which made me so annoyed I killed the next person I saw for no reason, and this vicious cycle lasted… about four hours? Maybe that particular war is still raging.
From what I’ve read about Hurtworld, you can get cars. You find their shells strewn around the map, though they’re mostly found at a shipping crate settlement close to the desert spawn coast. Feeling not up to the task of finding the necessary components to make one of these shells roadworthy (I could barely craft a pickaxe without questioning my life choices), I demanded someone come and pick me up in their car. User Wombo Combo asked incredulously, “why would anyone do that?” to which I replied it would be fun. We could go on a roadtrip.
There was an awkward silence, and then user NERTCHER replied: “has anyone ever driven a car?” It turned out no one had. “Apparently you can get quad bikes though,” he or she followed up a bit later, a little forlornly, I thought.
Even though no one had cars or quad bikes, most people on the Australian server were annoyed—some outright angry—that I had the audacity to ask about road trips. One particular user, OneHundred, told me to “fuck off”. Luckily a swarm of irradiated hogs sniffed me to death shortly after. Feeling defeated I left the drab, fun-hating Australians for more friendly North American pastures.
At first glance, Hurtworld doesn’t seem like a very remarkable survival game. Its setting appears to be post-apocalyptic, but zero context is provided. You spawn in a low-detail, boring looking open world, spend hours foraging for crafting items, and then get killed by a 12-year-old. Hurtworld is quite popular though, so why? There are some nice quality-of-life advancements: when you die, you keep your weapons but lose any crafting resources. Weapons, picks and axes don’t seem to deteriorate either, a tedious micromanagement game loop I’m happy to see severed.
Meanwhile, like in Rust and Ark: Survival Evolved, you can build structures, and it’s straightforward and satisfying to do so. Most importantly, Hurtworld is “a hardcore multiplayer survival FPS”, and you can craft assault rifles, shotguns and pistols if you’re clever or ruthless enough to live that long. Oh, and buggies and quad bikes are out there, but on the servers I played their mention elicited a kind of awed annoyance. Everyone wanted them, but no one could seem to get them.
The North American server I bumbled into was much more populated than the Australian one. Straight off the bat, a naked guy stabbed me with his spear. The second time I managed to accrue enough wood and stone to build a spear, and then a pick, and then an axe. Moseying pathetically around the fringes of the map, I encountered a fully dressed man named Zerrik (everyone looks the same in this game, at this early stage in development) and I saluted him. He replied in kind. It was getting dark, and at nighttime in Hurtworld, it’s possible to die of hypothermia in the space of fifteen minutes. He invited me into his spartan stone cottage and we warmed our chilled bones by his fire. Zerrik gave me some clothes, and we became best friends. Others used the chat box to demand entry to Zerrik’s cottage, and some even bargained with him. Zerrik did not comply however, because he and I were the only people that mattered.
The next morning I told Zerrik that I wanted to go on a roadtrip. There are cars in this game you know, I typed into the chat box. “Oh yeah,” he replied wistfully, “there are cars,” and he trailed off sadly. He might have had dreams one day, but they had clearly been crushed. He’d abandoned dreams of shooting baddies from the back of quad bikes, opting for the more humble pursuit of building a home. He didn’t even appear to have a gun.
We agreed that we would stick together and help one another out a bit. I gathered materials and killed some rabbits, while Zerrik did some other important things far above my own station. That night I dropped my spoils into Zerrik’s chest and he built a whole new level in his cottage. Then he gave me some precious gems as a token of camaraderie, and then I died of heatstroke because I stood too close to the fire while sorting my inventory.
A couple of days later I logged on and Zerrik wasn’t around. His cottage hadn’t made any progress since we worked together on it, but just around a distant hill there was a towering edifice, like some brutalist apartment block. There was no way to reach the peak of the hill it sat upon, though an L-shaped path sat suspended in the air nearby, suggesting these were the ruins of some once-grandiose fortress. Only they weren’t there three days ago.
No one in chat knew who the ruins belonged to. Nor did anyone have a car or the means to get one. I stuck around for a couple of hours, struggling to ward off hunger and hypothermia, but Zerrik wasn’t to be found. Maybe he was on another server, or maybe he was playing another game instead. Or maybe he wasn’t playing a video game at all.
I enjoyed my time with Hurtworld. Despite dying at the hands of mean people a lot, I found the community a bit more laid back than the ones in Ark: Survival Evolved or DayZ, where kill-on-sight is much more common. It also runs buttery smooth, thanks to the pared back cartoon stylings. I didn’t get to go on a roadtrip, and I’m not sure I want to invest the time in building my own vehicle at this early stage in development. Still, Hurtworld has a kind of ramshackle, live-and-let-die atmosphere that I’d be willing to return to: the fact that it's so playable (and performs so well) after only two months in Early Access bodes well, and Bankroll Studios are regularly updating the build (skyscrapers are coming soon!), with the promise of meteors and Steam Workshop support in the future. I'll be back, so long as I can find another Zerrik to play with.