Team17 are taking us back to the Escapists universe with a new spin in The Survivalists, a desert island survival game with a heavy focus on crafting and teamwork.
The Survivalists starts with a simple enough setup, you are adrift on a broken raft before crashing onto the shore of a desert island. Here you need to gather together enough pebbles to fashion a crude tool head. Use this tool to break rocks and cut down trees and bushes to gather more pebbles, timber, various leaves and berries. From here you can start to build campfires, beds, basic fencing, and food.
At this point, you encounter the island residents; some very friendly, surprisingly keen monkeys. With the bribe of some gross handcrafted monkey food, these furry friends will be loyal to you and help out where they can. You can have your monkeys follow you around, you can even teach them to copy your actions and set them about the task of gathering resources for you, or crafting more elaborate and time-consuming structures. This isn’t forced labour, do not worry, they are happy to do it as long as you keep the bananas coming.
The game comes with a four-player co-op mode, which I have yet to try. I can already see the fun I will have with my regular posse of co-op friends in this world; we are regular players of The Escapists 2 and this game offers even more freedom for creativity and shenanigans. That said, the game works wonderfully as a solo experience so do not feel like you are going to lose out on something essential by playing alone. You have your monkey butlers for help.
The core game is fantastic, you not be left wanting at any point. As your resources grow, your tools get more powerful and your camp grows more versatile. You can build a forge to build new tools and building materials, a cooking pot to improve your meal options, and even a teleporter. Yes, I said what I said. But that is getting ahead of things, you will spend a good portion of your time exploring the islands on foot (perhaps will some well-compensated, well-armed monkey bodyguards) to discover new resources and hidden mysteries. There are caves and mysterious vaults and even some temples to be found. Travelling to neighbouring islands and expanding your base of operations is also possible by building a raft.
But with your adventuring comes dangers; the local wildlife is not always as friendly as the monkeys, some are in fact angry panthers and wild boars. There are also tribes of violent orcs that will periodically raid your camps to destroy structures and steal your stuff. Fighting is pretty effective in The Survivalists, while it shares the same strike style as The Escapists 2, it had added a dive roll to improve your chances of avoiding attacks. Combat with a horde of orcs or an enraged bear can be surprisingly tense but rewarding. The addition of dodging adds new layers of strategy that are missing from the wild flailing of its prison break siblings.
Even with the presence of such dangers, The Survivalists definitely lacks the same urgency of The Escapists games but that is the games greatest strength. When you aren’t being attacked by orcs or ghouls or sharks, there is a soothing quality to The Survivalists. Taking your time, gathering goods, employing your monkeys to help out, building and cooking, you can do things at your own pace. It strongly brings to mind the mood evoked in Stardew Valley, where the level of intensity you face is largely down to you. Your daily process in the game is wide open, do you want to raid a hidden vault or just spend a few days building a fence? Whatever you want! Want to stand your ground against an orc raiding party or run away with a mind towards rebuilding later? Whatever makes you more comfortable. The entire game is designed to play your way.
Team17 brought the same expansive levels of customisation to this game as The Escapists 2, there are endless ways to create and experience this world and you are really only limited by your time and imagination. When you hit your limit on a world, start over with a new series of procedurally-generated islands.
The Survivalists is a game that I will be playing for years to come. From the adorable retro graphics and chiptune inspired score to the depth of gameplay, there is something so relaxing yet compelling about this game that has me eager to return every time I put it down.
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