The Survivalists (NS) - ReviewPaul Broussard , posted on 20 November 2020 / 814 Views
Resource/crafting games aren’t exactly rare in this day and age, but perhaps in the midst of a pandemic filled year, the concept of washing up on some faraway shore separated from society has never felt quite so appealing. Enter The Survivalists, which places players in the role of a survivor on a chibi, pixel art style island inhabited by dangerous creatures, the occasional person, and a rather absurd amount of monkeys. But is this a game that you should rescue from the eShop? That will depend on what you’re looking for.
At the outset of The Survivalists your character finds themselves shipwrecked on a desolate island. With a constant storm preventing escape via raft, you must grapple with the challenge of assembling enough materials to fix your shipwrecked boat in order to escape, while also gathering the resources necessary to stay alive in the meantime.
The Survivalists is handled from a top down, 2D perspective, with no verticality to any of the environments. Moment to moment gameplay revolves around resource gathering, crafting, and some occasional combat. Exploration is also a key component, as the immediate area where you start the game only has so much to offer in terms of usable materials, and you’ll eventually need to branch out if you ever want to leave. This means exploring other nearby islands, which allows for a good bit of depth to the game’s mechanics, as the island you start on almost assuredly won’t have everything you need.
Exploring also extends to cave sections, which function more akin to dungeon crawler-esque segments than a typical survival game. It’s here where most of the game’s combat takes place, although combat might be generous for a system that basically boils down to running up and mashing the attack button until an enemy dies or your weapon breaks. Caves tend to have better materials to collect, so these segments do have a point, but they also don’t feel like much fun.
As one might expect from a survival game, the crafting element plays a central role as well. Combining resources with other resources is necessary to build tools, weapons, walls for safe havens, and beds for sleeping/saving. A blueprint mode means that the player is never lost on how to make any items, but the flip side is that there’s little room for discovering what combinations of resources do what.
The unique selling point of The Survivalists is the friendly NPC monkeys, which you can recruit to your cause throughout the game. Monkeys can be enlisted in a number of different ways, such as saving them from cages or feeding them in the wild, and once they're on your side they will follow you around permanently. One of the major selling points with the monkeys is that you can assign various actions to them, after which they will perform said actions repeatedly. For instance, cut a tree down in front of a monkey and it will begin cutting trees down. In theory, this could be quite time saving, but in practice the monkeys aren’t particularly reliable at where they go to perform those actions, and they’ll often wander off to some remote part of the island to perform the task rather than stay close by you. A little more time in the oven was needed for the NPC AI here.
Unsurprisingly for a survival game, most of the enjoyment is found in the progression of things. This is very much a “the true fun is found in the journey rather than the destination” type of game, and most of the engagement factor comes from always feeling like you’re one step away from that next big breakthrough. Unfortunately, most of the items and tools themselves aren’t all that satisfying to get or actually use, and once that realization kicks in the game becomes something of a chore.
Islands are randomly generated, which does extend some deal of replayability to things, although there does come a point where if you’ve cut down one tree, you’ve felled them all. There is the option to play with friends, which does help liven proceedings up a bit, and it can be fairly relaxing to just hang out with someone for a while, assisting each other with gathering materials and exploring together.
And the cutesy aesthetic certainly works in the game’s favor, there. The Survivalists pursues a pixel art charm and for the most part pulls it off pretty well. The minimal music and sound effects also pitch in to create a very relaxing atmosphere. This is a very low stress game, something meant to unwind with or just be played in the background.
But the flipside of that is that there’s very little challenge to the game. Resources and monkey helpers are plentiful, and once you build a raft to explore other islands there’s very little the game has left to ramp up the stakes with. Even on the rare occasions that you die, you’ll simply wake up in the last spot you saved and your stuff will be where you died. There are no stakes for failing, which does deprive the exploration of some of its weight.
All in all, The Survivalists is a perfectly satisfactory time sink. If you’re looking for a way to kill some time, preferably with friends, this is certainly passable. There’s nothing particularly thought provoking or challenging on display, but there’s also nothing especially offensive or off-putting. It’s just a game that takes up space; adrift on a sea of similar titles, struggling to find relevance and survive amid the near endless competition.
This review is based on a copy of The Survivalists for the NS
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