With The Survivalists, developer Team 17 are taking on the sandbox crafting/survival genre in their own, special way. Set in their Escapists universe, The Survivalists throws you onto a broken raft, adrift amidst unknown seas and washes you up on an uncharted shore with no memory of who you are, or how you came to be there. With an enigmatic journal entry as your only clue, it’s up to you to survive the island and its inhabitants, find out what happened to you and build a means of escape to explore the larger, mysterious world just waiting beyond the breaking waves.
If you’ve played any crafting/survival game before, such as ARK or Conan Exiles, then the setup will be familiar.
You start out by yourself with nothing but the shirt on your back and some basic survival items in the wreck of your raft. From there you have to search the island, harvest food and components from just about everything around you and build what you need from said components. Building starts off with the usual basic items, rope, straw, etc, before graduating to more complex builds with harder to get components if you choose not to venture far. Crafting one item opens up the blueprint for another with more complicated builds been locked behind crafting tables and forges. The logic and flow behind the system is easy to understand and not nearly as complicated as most crafting games make them.
Very early on you’ll rescue yourself a helper monkey, literally a monkey in a cage who will follow you around and can be taught to perform various tasks, such as gathering, mining, crafting and even combat. More monkeys can be added to your retinue by usually just feeding them. Before long you’ll have a monkey army to reduce the grind of the games basic mechanics while you explore your exotic new home. The monkey AI is basic at best and the system a little iffy on getting them to do something. Usually, I just left them to their own devices as I prefer to do things on my own.
The island is populated by wild beasts and mythical creatures, such as Orc and filled with vaults for you to explore. Tiki statues usually hide chests containing tools and resources which they will gift you for a small service, such as building something for them. Money can be earned through combat, opening chests and completing the games monkey tutorials, all of which can be spent at a mysterious vendor located somewhere on the island. Legend has it the shopkeeper holds the key to your escape. . .
So what is it that Team17 brings to the table that helps this to stand out from the rest of the growing sandbox games pack?
First up is the games visual style. To fit in with their Escapist games, Team17 are using an isometric 2D visual style which renders the procedurally generated world both charming and cute. The sprites are nicely detailed, especially the environment and its foliage.
Secondly, and most importantly, is the games “lite” status. The Survivalists is a rather sedate game, with a pace all of your own and a very low level of difficulty. The entire systems is streamlined more for enjoyment than excessive challenge and taking your time in exploring the island is a mostly calming experience.
Team17 have also gifted us with tutorials which can be found in the menus and scattered across the world in, charmingly, bottles with notes in them washed up on the shore. The story, as with other games is scattered across the environments in diary entries, making the game a far less blind affair than most.
While you can craft chests and have your monkeys lug them around for storage, personal inventory space is limited to the 11 slot bar at the bottom of the screen making management and planning for building crucial.
Unlike other crafting games, your character can’t level up. Your monkeys will level at whatever job you assign them, but what you start with is what you get. This makes teaching your monkeys to fight important for when you do explore. It’s pretty easy to get knocked out as combat is a bit cumbersome. You won’t die, but all your items will be left at the location where you were beaten.
There is a health and stamina system but they’re quite easy to manage as well. The island replenishes berries often enough, along with bats that come out at night, so going hungry shouldn’t be a problem unless you’re not paying attention.
The Survivalists sports co-op network play for up to four players and you can join a game or host one, with a specific type of play style or just general play. Unfortunately, I can’t comment on how the online works as there weren’t any games been hosted during my review time and no one joined up on mine when I hosted.
My only real issue has to do with the sprite collision boxes, which became an issue when too many sprites were positioned too closely together. It was too easy to get stuck on something when navigating densely packed foliage and if you chopped a tree down and its components fell between two other objects, you wouldn’t be able to pick them up.
Team17 may not be reinventing the wheel in the sandbox genre, but with its sedate pace, enjoyable crafting and exploration, The Survivalists is a journey to an exotic island locale that’s worth visiting.
The Survivalists is available on the following platforms – Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game
Reviewed by By M. A. Ligocki
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