I do love a good survival game, especially the clever ones which are not focused so much on punishing the player with its mechanics over trying to give a sense of adventure sprinkled with some peril. When I heard that the developers behind TEAM 17’s ‘The Escapists’ were working on a follow up game, based in the same universe but now a survival-based game…well it had my attention. The Survivalists has a lot to offer and turned out to be a very pleasant surprise of 2020
I adore the art style of The Survivalists; it follows directly from The Escapists in the visuals and it just works so well on screen for any gaming platform. You start off as a person on a raft who crashes upon a strange island with no memory of why you are there and only the small amount of basic resources you find in the remains of your raft, now irreparable on the shore. What you do have however is the knowledge to craft basic tools and this is where the fun and the adventure begins. Each time you start a new game or “Save slot” you are placed on a procedurally generated island which means It changes so you may find yourself surrounded by a forest of trees or rocks. Like any good survival game, you will want to establish your first camp/base, a place where you can retreat in safety or to just focus on building the many blueprint designs that will help provide the tools, weapons and items needed to explore this new island.
You may have to explore a little way into the island to find the best spot to set up your first camp/base so you have plenty of materials around to help you advance what blueprint designs and tools you can make, so have a little wander around to get a better understanding of the environment around you but it is certainly worth taking the time to craft the basic tools you will need on this adventure. The crafting system is elegant in its simplicity and from the first basic tool designs such as a stone hand axe made of pebbles, you will soon learn to craft more complicated tools like axes, pickaxes and shovels. You will need to source the materials needed to do the crafter but basic tools and parts can be fashioned simply by pressing Y and making them on the spot as long as you are carrying enough materials. By crafting one tool you will then learn to make more basic items such as a bed and blanket, which serves as both your save and a respawn point. By sleeping in the bed, you will also move time on which is handy as things can change depending on if it is day time or night time.
The simplicity of the tool crafting system also makes the blueprint crafting system easy to learn as it uses the same principle, craft one item such as a campfire and you will learn to craft something else such as a wall. The Campfire is where you will cook your meals as your health and stamina is dependent on you eating to stay healthy. Eating can also replenish your health should take damage from combat or wildlife so keeping some food on you is a good idea and again, by cooking one recipe you will learn to cook new recipes, all of which requiring materials such as vegetation or meat from animals in order to cook it, with more providing better health than others. All the systems are very well balanced and work together to allow you the player, the time to learn how the game works before the really fun stuff grabs your attention, but learning how to craft and build is essential to survival and the more you learn, the more satisfying the feeling of progress is.
Now, where The Survivalists really stands out for me was a very clever and unique system that is especially handy if you are playing solo, Monkeys. That is right, this game has Monkeys and not only are they cute as a button, but you can tame a Monkey. But they are more than just a pet to follow you around, Monkeys can be trained to become a vital aid in surviving the island. The Mimic system is quite frankly brilliant, with it you can have a Monkey watch you perform a task such as cutting down a tree or gathering up resources and the Monkey will then learn to do it for themselves. For example, when you have your first Monkey helper, it is worth while teaching them to gather the resources after you have smashed a rock or cut down a tree or bush, so that as you continue, they will gather things up and take them to your storage chest if you made one. They can also be taught more complexed tasks such as using the multi tool to finish building a blueprint design, as some of them can take a while, training a Monkey to do perform this task allows you to go do other things. At One point when I was building a wall around my initial camp, I taught one Monkey to bring the resources needed to make a component on the crafting table whilst the other then used the multi tool to craft it. That way I was able to head off to explore knowing they would continue to craft the much-needed component for me. Now like yourself, any tool they have has a limited number of uses so as long as the Monkeys have the right tool, or items to gather, they will happily continue to do that task until you stop them, a great way of saving time. Once they have learned a task, as long as they are holding the right tool, they will automatically perform that task when required so after these monkeys had made the component needed to build the wall, I was surprised when one of the Monkeys start to craft the Wall pieces after I had put the materials into them. They can also be taught combat for if or when you are attacked or raided.
Which is handy because you are not alone on the island, many dangerous things also call it home and most of them will not be too happy to find you or your camp/base. Exploring the island will also reveal ancient ruins, caves and even vaults and labyrinth puzzle areas to seek possible riches and treasures in if you are prepared and brave enough. Should you die, you will lose everything you are carrying and will spawn at the last bed you slept in, but your items will remain where they fell unless another curious party decides to take them. You will even find strange messages in bottles telling you stories of previous survivors or treasure maps to follow. There is just so much to this game that it really is quite deceptive from the first moment you arrive on the island to a few hours in when you have established camps/bases and even a teleporting system, yes that is right, a teleporting system to move around your locations as you expand your presence on the island.
What’s more is that up to three friends can also join you in co-op, making this a fantastic shared experience with friends right from the off and with the ability to have multiple save slots, you can have many different adventures running at the same time which as someone who reviews, plays with friends and creates videos and streams, this is a godsend to have. There are so many mysterious secrets to discover on your island and each time island is different with new challenges to overcome when you start off.
The Survivalists keeps everything simple and easy to follow but has some very rich and deep systems that keep the game from becoming stale. From playing solo or with friends, there really is so much to enjoy with this game and I found it really relaxing and a fantastic change of pace from all the big action AAA games around right now that I really hope this game does not slip under the radar as once again TEAM 17 have come up with a beautiful and rewarding game that is best when shared with friends but also as a full on solo experience should you choose.
Plus it has Monkeys!