Team17’s new survival game is a perfect for those returning to lockdown, as you and a troop of monkeys are marooned on a desert island.
The Survivalists is one of those games which reveals more than initially meets the eye – which makes it a fairly typical release from Team17, the modern masters of the British indie scene. Its premise couldn’t be simpler: set adrift on a raft, you land on a procedurally generated island and must first survive, then thrive and ultimately escape to civilisation.
With its pixel art style isometric visuals, you could be forgiven for imagining that The Survivalists exists at the simpler end of the survival game spectrum, but you would be wrong. The more you play it, the more hidden depths it reveals, not least in the islands themselves, which vary wildly in terms of not just geography but local wildlife (both edible and aggressive), inhabitants (you encounter orcs and other humans) and ecosystems. You might, for example, encounter a swamp which will sap your life energy if you explore it, unless you craft an elixir to stave off the debilitating effects of insect bites.
Initially, The Survivalists very much adheres to first principles – you can craft a simple hand axe which lets you chop down trees and long grass, and chip rocks into pebbles which, in turn, can be used to craft increasingly sophisticated items, such as a crafting bench which opens up even more options. A clever blueprint system lets you design houses and the like, which can be built as you gather the requisite resources.
Luckily, gathering resources – and indeed, pretty much anything in the game, including crafting items and building – can be outsourced to an eager workforce of monkeys. Your initial explorations bring you into contact with a monkey, which you can equip with a tool and encourage to copy whatever you do. As you progress, you amass an army of monkeys (sometimes you must give them specific things to earn your trust), which proves very handy indeed. You can even train them to fight off predators or use them to form giant transportation chains, or solve puzzles involving pressure-pads and the like.
While The Survivalists has no storyline as such, in effect each island tells a story. You frequently find treasure maps in bottles, leading towards chests containing rare weapons, useful items, resources and gold – which can be used to purchase items from peripatetic traders. Before long, you come across settlements, both ruined and occupied, which you can search for all manner of useful objects and adopt as new bases.
One of the strongest aspects of The Survivalists is the way in which – not unlike Animal Crossing – you swiftly become sentimentally attached to your island, not to mention your army of monkeys. It’s one of those games which rarely tells you what to do – it will offer tips the first time you attempt to do something but initially, at least, a slightly more proactive approach to tutorials would be welcome. But that makes it the perfect game for inveterate tinkerers, who like to play at their own pace.
Plus, you soon discover that you’re not actually marooned on a single island but an archipelago. It doesn’t take long before you work out how to craft a raft and make short sea-trips (making sure to take some monkeys with you). The object of the game, ultimately, is to escape back to civilisation, and one of the ways in which you can build up to that is by negotiating labyrinths (essentially dungeons) for which you must acquire keys.
The only slight problem is that the more emotionally attached you get to your islands and monkey-workforce, the less inclined you feel to escape to civilisation. But at least The Survivalists contains sufficient depth, and a big enough range of activities, that it constitutes a great means of escapism should another pandemic-induced lockdown take place.
However, it’s not all rosy, as The Survivalists is not immune from annoying design flaws. The most glaring of which is the inventory system, which lets you carry around only a tiny amount of gear and raw materials, so you constantly find yourself dropping things and picking them up. Which is a major drawback in a game that revolves around crafting.
You can, admittedly, train a monkey to carry around a chest in which you can store non-essential items you chance upon, but that seems unnecessarily clunky. And it highlights another problem with the game, which concerns the monkeys themselves. Training them can also be irritatingly awkward – you have to give them the right tools, put them in record mode and perform the tasks you want them to mimic.
It’s fine when you have one or maybe two monkeys, but when you acquire a whole troop managing your monkeys becomes a near-full-time occupation, leaving you to feel that Team 17 could surely have designed a better monkey-control interface.
If the apparently looming second lockdown comes to pass, The Survivalists deserves to come to prominence, since it’s a clever, surprisingly deep and very open-ended game that provides a great means of whiling away any excess time you might have. But at times it feels as though Team 17’s desire to keep its interface as minimal as possible has led to it becoming much more unwieldy than was necessary. A cute, fun and absorbing game, but also a flawed one.
The Survivalists review summary
In Short: A cute, absorbing, and often clever survival game that, despite its flaws, is perfect lockdown fodder.
Pros: Deeper than it looks, with great procedurally generated island designs and clever monkey-workforce mechanic. Perfect for inveterate tinkerers.
Cons: Annoyingly tiny inventory system and clunky monkey-control system. Could offer more guidance in early stages.
Have Fun ^_^
Source: Metro UK