Indie games offer a certain kind of magic that isn’t usually visible to modern and outrageously high-budget titles. Whether it’s the kind of wacky elements to make itself unique or being the breath of fresh air to an already explored genre, indie games expand no matter how silly or absurd the concept it tries to mimic… and The Survivalists is no exception.
Coming from the guys at Team17, The Survivalists is another self-explanatory title much like The Escapists from the same breed of people. Although you won’t be escaping any prisons this time around, the game is still as absurd as it sounds. For starters, you’ll be waking up in an unknown island with nothing more than your shirt and trousers intact. And much like any survival game, you’ll be crafting your way to survive as you explore and defend yourself from the dangers of the unknown.
What is different though is how the team that came after the sixteenth explored its boundaries and made something far more interesting than your average survival game. Unlike the more serious games like Stranded Deep or The Forest, The Survivalists offers a unique yet somewhat crazy idea to employ the help of monkeys to do your every bidding. This implementation made a somewhat stale survival game into something that is to a certain extent more fascinating to explore and discover.
As a game that revolves around your own survival, the game follows the more traditional of gameplay progressions as you gather items found throughout the world and craft the basic tools that soon branches into creating more complex materials in order to build more advanced structures. So if you’ve ever played anything that has a touch of Minecraft, fear not as the same concept applies here. While you won’t be directly punching trees with your bare hands, crafting hand axes is as easy as slapping a couple of pebbles around and you’ll be on your way to tree punching mayhem instantly.
But to really get into the meaty goodness of a luxurious survival lifestyle, you’ll want to craft more than just a lazily-made axe. From a leafy makeshift bed that acts as your save point to multiple crafting benches and forges, the game offers an easily accessible menu that unlocks a chain of structures and materials as you progress. However, it does get a bit awkward at times due to the way the game rolls out. While you’ll normally want to get your hands on a few monkey slaves early, those that aren’t familiar with the game might find themselves trying to craft everything on their own which is really tiring work to say the least.
The main problem here is that everything from crafting food to materials and structures requires multiple items that you’ll need to have in your hotbar before you can even start to craft anything. This makes for a really confusing back and forth with your chest and your forges to even craft a single item. But with the entry of monkeys, the process becomes automatic where you can order one monkey to deliver materials from one chest to any crafting bench while another can be tasked by crafting them as soon as all the materials are delivered.
What’s even better with this whole concept is the more monkeys you tame in the wild, the more manpower you get for doing tasks such as monkey bodyguards to fight for you or a monkey to drag your chest of loots wherever you go. Although I kind of feel sorry for the monkeys at this point, the concept is just too good that the idea of survival gets thrown out the window and I’m really just more interested in looking for more monkeys to build my army. Which I have to say is a win for the devs for making me lose my goal at this point.
The only disappointing thing here is that while the game managed to make me stray away from my initial goal of the game, the idea of teaching monkeys to do a task is often confusing and sometimes buggy. At times, I find my monkey refusing to do any real work as an item delivery boy until I restart the app or switch out what they’re currently holding. Although the latter provides even more frustration as the dropped item would often times cannot be picked up even with enough space on my hotbar.
And as a survival-crafting game, while they share the same amount of letters there’s much less of a focus on survival than it is to crafting. Though you’ll still need to take note of your health bar that depletes overtime and the stamina bar that decreases when doing tasks, managing them is simple with how much resources the world has to offer while dying from an arrow to the knee or just about anywhere in your body simply means you’ll wake up in your camp empty-handed before taking a scenic stroll back to your dead body where you can find all your loots and monkeys you left behind if you even brought any.
Visually though, the game is colourful and vibrant with tons of unique structures and secrets to explore in a procedurally generated world so starting over a new adventure doesn’t feel repetitive but in this case, repetitive is subjective so what am I even saying. There’s an assortment of charming aesthetics at play here from the finely detailed sprites to the wavy beaches and its swaying foliage and there’s enough character to its overall world design that it’s hard to get bored even if you had to start over a couple times just because you feel like it. Either that or because I suck at designing my own base of operations…
However, the isometric viewing angle that didn’t appear to have any way to rotate obscures some pathways while also making it harder to create walls along the natural openings. This becomes an issue especially when you’re trying to finish a totem quest while figuring out where the bloody hell is that chest that just popped up as well as the enemy Orclings trying to kill you.
In a nutshell, the game is easily a great entry to the many iterations of the survival-crafting genre and one that I can find myself playing more than I initially thought. There’s a great idea at play here which really had me hooked as soon as I discovered this. And although it’s still far from a perfect game, with enough time at tweaking and fixing its faults, this can easily be something I’d recommend to anyone that has an inkling of interest into a survival-crafting game.
The Survivalists is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.
This review is based on the PS4 version of the game which can be purchased here for £19.99.
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