The Survivalists, the spiritual successor to developer and publisher Team 17’s ‘The Escapists’ franchise, moves the series’ action away from methodical prison breaking escapades and instead offers a more non-linear experience situated on the (almost literal) sandbox of a deserted desert island. Despite a change in locale, can The Survivalists offer the same enjoyable experience which made The Escapists a runaway hit, or is this one game you will just simply want to cast away?
Desert island danger
As the name would suggest, The Survivalists is a sandbox game all about survival and stranded on a procedurally generated island, either alone or with up to three friends, that is exactly what the player must do. It is up to you and your companions to gather resources, fight off enemies, construct a safe base of operations and eventually find a way to escape from your new home.
Greeted with a slew of tutorial text boxes, the player is quickly introduced to the game’s crafting and survival mechanics. Unlike other titles in the genre which offer a number of complex character needs to manage, The Survivalists refreshingly only has players maintaining a single basic food meter which will lead to death if depleted. Luckily, your food level can be easily topped up by hoovering up any of the number of food items found strewn throughout the island.
Players can also find varying amounts wood or stone washed up with their wrecked ship which can be used to construct makeshift tools. These first makeshift tools are in turn used to acquire more resources and to build more tools, a development which comprises the large majority of The Survivalists’ early gameplay. Whilst initially you are only able to create a couple base items, your crafting capability soon expands as you create specialised crafting stations, unlock new blueprints and discover new materials.
Exploration of the island is always rewarded, through the random placement of treasure chests and the discovery of mysterious jungle temples and labyrinths. Exploration is not risk free however, with a slew of hostile enemies present on the island with you and particularly throughout in dungeons. These include dangerous wild animals like bats and bears, roaming orc-like natives and even a small army of undead pirates. The game’s day-night cycle also adds an additional threat to contend with, with enemy spawns being greatly increased at night.
Saving can only be accomplished by sleeping in beds and, although death is not permanent, it does still lead to the loss of all your currently held inventory items making each foray into the unknown feel suitably tense. Luckily, combat is possible, with a few weapons like axes and clubs available to craft, but quickly declining item durability and your tiny stamina meter, which is depleted with every attack, makes becoming overwhelmed incredibly easy.
The game’s labyrinths are the epitome of this constant risk vs reward mechanic. Distributed randomly throughout the island, labyrinths are where the rarest and most useful loot can be found. Populated by some very powerful enemies, its always important to make sure that you tackle each labyrinth with several health items and weapons on hand. Destroying enemies and busting open chests rewards money, which can eventually be spent on items at a mysterious travelling trader who appears periodically on your island.
Even without survival-hungry friends to fill slots in the online Co-Op, you still do not have to tackle any of The Survivalists alone. Monkeys can be found in cages in dungeons or in the wild and once tamed or rescued these primate pals can perform a wide variety of tasks for you, ranging from construction to combat. You are able to recruit up to twenty monkeys which can easily be managed from the command window which quickly allows the play to assign monkeys to jobs. These are all actions which would otherwise have to be performed by the player, significantly speeding up construction and forming an invaluable addition to combat.
Sadly, even the addition of monkey helpers cannot save what is an incredibly clunky and quite honestly impressively mundane crafting system. Either in your inventory or at a crafting table, an item’s blueprint has to be manually selected first which then allows the player to insert the required resources (one at a time of course) and then select the correct tool in your inventory and hold a lengthy button prompt to finally finish the craft.
Annoyingly, the game’s inventory is very small, only holding a handful of items. This means that a lot of crafting time is spent simply moving back and forth between a chest or items left on the floor because you don’t often have enough free slot inventory space to craft the item in one go. On top of this, the tools required to craft items themselves have durability and constantly break, making players stop what they are doing halfway through just to craft another tool. Tools cannot stack in your inventory either, exasperating the issue by meaning that you only really have space to carry one at a time.
Base building is accomplished in a very similar fashion, with a choppy blueprint selection process creating a blank space where the necessary materials must be inserted and combined by holding yet another button prompt. It is incredibly mundane and only becomes more annoying as you unlock increasingly complex items. Because of the amount of crafting you must do to get a base up and running, the game starts off incredibly boring and repetitive, only really becoming entertaining when the dungeon crawling elements come into play.
Although the pixelated visuals themselves are lovely, the user-interface is impressively dense and overly crowded without displaying much useful information. Fiddly controls also make and a very slight, but still very noticeable, lag on interface elements make this already confusing user interface an absolute nightmare to navigate and only makes the already agonising crafting mechanics feel even worse.
Finally, there is a significant issue with the title’s lack of content. Despite receiving several updates since launch, there are still a surprisingly small number of items to unlock in the game and even fewer ways to use them. Your starting island is quite small and although you can construct a raft to travel to other nearby landmasses, they are all aesthetically identical and, beyond exploring for the sake of it, there’s very little reason to bother.
Whilst the labyrinth dungeon-crawling segments are a lot of fun, the sheer mundanity of every other gameplay element left me feeling disappointed to find that a game with a £21.99 on both Steam and Nintendo Switch had so few genuinely enjoyable activities to do.
The Survivalists’ cute pixelated graphics may be pleasing and the prospect of a procedurally generated island to explore is undeniably tantalising; but the sheer number of incredibly frustrating issues present in this title, especially when coupled with the hefty asking price, ironically make The Survivalists one game you could certainly survive without.
Just so you’re aware! In order to facilitate a review this product was given to our organisation free of charge.