"There's a new Early Access survival game out," someone will say during a PC Gamer staff meeting. I no longer need to wait for all heads to turn to me. I already know it's coming. I simply answer, through a false smile and gritted teeth: "I'll check it out."
It's not that I don't like survival games. I kinda do! Even the crummy ones usually have something good about them, and there are several I like a lot and have put hundreds of hours into. But survival games always begin the same way: You have nothing and you need everything and there are trees. Trees are the first step on the path to survival, and those trees must be chopped, and even when you finally have everything there are still trees and you will still be chopping those trees, forever.
I have grown to hate chopping trees. I dread it. I loathe it. There is no good tree chopping in games, only slightly different levels of bad. Here are their rankings, from worst to least-worst.
The bad: You have to do it a lot. It takes a while. Plus, while chopping, you only see a tiny section of the tree taking damage, and when you're done the tree simply pops out of existence. If you hate trees, as I now do, there's not even the cathartic thrill of murdering them: no sound of splintering wood as the lumber slowly falls to the ground. They just vanish. It feels like they've escaped their well-deserved death and been whisked to tree heaven (which is incidentally my hell). Also, while you're standing there chopping there's an 85% chance some naked asshole is going to run up and beat you to death with a rock.
The less-bad: The trees look nice, I guess.
The bad: You have to do it a lot. A lot. You have to do it forever. Plus, unless you're willing to stack up blocks next to the tree (or burn the tree down) you can only chop the lower half of the tree and thus wind up with a bunch of dumb floating tops-of-trees all over the damn place. Stupid floating tops-of-trees. Why can't you be more like sand and gravel and fall down?
The less-bad: I suppose it doesn't take long to chop the bottom half of a tree.
The bad: You have to do it a lot. It takes a while. The game is named "The Forest" so even as my eyes pass over it in my games library it makes me think of trees (which I hate). Also, it makes an attempt at realism, which I would normally like but we're talking about my least favorite activity in games so I'd prefer it to be as unrealistic as possible. The gif above is the tail-end of around ten or twelve hits of the axe.
The less-bad: You can actually see your progress as the wound deepens, so if you hate trees (I do) you feel like you are really, really hurting them. As it hits the ground there's a burst of leaves and the tree magically separates into logs, which need to be picked up and hauled over your shoulder. That part is kinda not bad.
Ark: Survival Evolved
The bad: You have to do it a lot. Also, I'm not sure this is the best way to cut down trees. Feet planted, lower body immobile... I feel like you need to put your hips into it, like swinging a baseball bat. Also, the tree dissolves before it hits the ground. I want to see the body fall, man. At least give me that.
The less-bad: Once you've tamed and saddled a giant beaver or mammoth, they can take down entire trees with one click so you don't have to stand there whacking anymore. Thank god.
The bad: I have an intergalactic spaceship. Why am I cutting down trees like some kind of caveman?
The less-bad: They fall pretty satisfyingly. You can use a laser instead of an axe, so at least there's that. And, OK, you can use the dismembered tree to build a pretty cute little house.
H1Z1: Just Survive
The bad: You don't have to do it too often, unless you're into base-building, in which case you have to do it a lot, but I like base-building about as much as I like tree-chopping (not much!) so I don't do it. Also, like in Rust, you don't really see the damage you're doing to the tree.
The less-bad: The dude really gets into the chopping, as you can see above. Good use of the lower body, unlike Ark Man up there. The tree falls all the way to the ground and there's a thud. It feels substantially violent. You know you have ended that tree's life.
No Man's Sky
The bad: You have to do it pretty often. Sometimes flying robots get pissed at you about it, which is stupid, because the robots are made of metal and they patrol every single planet in the universe which means that a countless number of planets must have been mined completely hollow to acquire all of that metal to build the robots in the first place, so why give me shit for burning down a handful of trees, which are a renewable resource and will grow back anyway? Flying robots are dumb hypocrites.
The less-bad: Again, you use a laser instead of an axe, so it feels like you're really murdering a tree (which is good). It's satisfying how the hunks-o-carbon fly into your inventory even if it doesn't make a damn lick of sense.
The bad: When hitting a tree with an axe, it makes an odd metal-on-metal sound, but when actually choosing 'chop wood' with the middle-mouse prompt, there is no sound at all. It's odd. The tree sort of sinks into the ground or something, which isn't satisfying. Despite murdering a whole tree you just get a one tiny little branch stuck to your back.
The less-bad: You almost never have to chop a tree. You can play for days and never have to chop a damn tree if you don't want to! I'm a fan of this. But sometimes you do have to chop a tree and I'm not a fan of that.
The bad: It's not that bad, he begrudgingly admitted.
The less-bad: It doesn't take long at all, and you just have to hold the mouse button down for a moment. You only have to chop, like, three trees when you start playing to have enough wood to build a lot of stuff with. There's a nice little shower of leaves when the tree dies. Plus, if you look at the wiki to find the other ways to kill trees, it gets progressively more violent.
I give this my highest rating of all.