Set in the same universe as their popular “The Escapists”, Team 17’s new sandbox survival game has a unique selling point, but doesn’t feel complete enough to compete with others of the genre.
The Survivalists is the newest game from Team 17, the company behind The Escapists and Worms franchises. It’s a new entry in the ever-expanding survival sandbox genre that lets you play solo, or with up to 4 friends. While I didn’t have the chance to play with anyone else, I did have some help, and that came from this game’s unique feature: monkeys.
You start your game stranded on a beach on one of your randomly generated selection of islands, and it seems like your designed to quickly run into your first monkey. Some roam freely and require a specific item to become a helper, and others are imprisoned and will join you once you free them by destroying their cages. Once they’ve joined you, they can fight for you, or you even can then teach them how to do tasks for you, allowing you automate some of the longer tasks, like crafting bigger items or gathering resources for you. This process is pretty cumbersome, however. It requires you to select the monkey you want to teach, choose the Teach option and then perform the exact task you want it to do. And you’ll need to do this every time you want them to do something for you, there’s no way for them to remember any of these processes. It doesn’t sound too bad with just the one monkey, but when you get 8 of them, and you want them to each be doing different things, some form of quick-select task menu would’ve made the process less of a chore. It became so bothersome, that I just used a couple of my monkeys to carry chests for me, and then the other 6 became my own personal army, which somewhat trivialised the game’s combat.
Combat itself is a fairly basic affair. There’s a small variety of weapon types (bats, spears, swords, bows and other similar items), and you have a basic attack, and a charged attack as, well as a dodge move. Each of these actions drains the player’s stamina, which restores over time. It drains pretty quickly, however, and if you get caught in a mass of enemies with no stamina, your character will become defenceless, your health will quickly be drained and upon death, you’re sent back to your last save point (a bed). Because you are knocked out of your attack animation up being hit, I never really found a use for the charged attack, as I’d be hit out of it before it was ready, so combat became just clicking and dodging and letting my monkeys do the bulk of the work. In fights with a large group of monkeys and enemies, it can get a little difficult to read, as there is no quick visual way to separate who is who. Enemies can raid your base, too. You can build walls and traps as defences, but I never found it much of an issue as I was rarely there. I’d just pack a chest full of essentials and have a monkey carry it for me, only going back to base to use my crafting bench for items, or my campfire to cook up some healing items. The enemy variety is also pretty lacking. You’ll mostly be fighting orc-type enemies or wild animals, with the occasional skeleton enemy at the end of the games Vaults and Labyrinths.
Because the game is a sandbox, you’re left to your own devices although there is a set of objectives and a way to “beat” the game. There are some small, randomised areas named Vaults that usually contain some resources or another monkey, but are protected by enemies. By tracking down a wandering merchant, you can purchase one of four keys to a Labyrinth. These are dungeon areas that hold valuable treasures, as well as items that will help you escape the island. The Labyrinths themselves are composed of random rooms that are filled with either a group of enemies or some simple puzzles that will require you to have a good amount of monkeys to bypass. Then you’ll face a final room with some tougher skeleton enemies and your reward. If you are killed at any point in these labyrinths, you’ll be sent back to the closest spawn point with none of your items, and will be forced to repeat all the puzzles. This led to a good amount of frustration on my part, as the puzzles aren’t tough, but there’s just enough of them for it to be a chore to repeat them all to get back to your items.
The game’s survival mechanics are pretty simple. The only thing that depletes over time is the player’s hunger, but food on the island is plentiful, and even restores over time, so I never found it to be an issue to keep it topped up. Food does double up as your source of healing, however, so you should have a source of food with you at all times. Upgrading your bed and your bedsheets can raise your max health and give you a buff to your stamina, but it’s not a permanent upgrade, it’s tied to the bed itself. I imagine this is done to enforce using the same base to maintain the upgrade, but because you don’t regain the extra health with healing and your stamina drains so quickly, I didn’t really find much benefit to these bonuses, although that could be down to my personal playstyle.
From a sound and visuals side of things, I did quite like it. The art style matches that of The Escapists, with chunky sprites adorning the screen at all time, but because it’s set on islands, it’s a lot more colourful and varied than the prison setting of those titles. The music is ambient and subtle, but there’s not that much of it and after a while, I did find myself listening to my own music while playing.
I’ve listed a few issues I have with The Survivalists, but my biggest problem is that it just feels incomplete. The game feels like it is in an early access state, albeit a polished one. The developers have even posted a roadmap of features they are going to add, with things like bosses, farming and weather not available yet in the game which seems strange when these sort of things are typical of these sorts of sandbox/survival titles. It seems like I didn’t see anything new that really kept my attention after a couple of hours of playing other than the labyrinths or a couple of new biomes.
For me, there just wasn’t enough to keep me engaged with the game. The Labyrinths aren’t that interesting, they’re frustrating. The monkeys are a neat concept, but I feel like there are ways to make their gameplay systems a little more intuitive and they don’t become too useful until you’ve got more than 3 of them (at which point the screen becomes pretty busy). The base building is there, but I never felt compelled to use it (again, it might be down to my personal playstyle). Combat is simple, the survival mechanics are basic and it just feels like the game is unfinished in its current state. It is polished, I didn’t encounter any bugs or gameplay issues, but with such a large amount of alternatives out there, I can’t think of much reason to keep playing this particular title, at least until the devs have implemented more of the features from the roadmap. With those added features, as well as it’s unique monkey training mechanic this game has potential to be something I could recommend, but as of right now I’m not sure I can. It could be a blast in co-op, but I didn’t have an opportunity to try it for myself so I can’t say.
The Survivalists is available now on: PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC (Steam)
Tom Woods is a Games Journalist for ICUGamer.com. Follow Tom via Twitter @T_Woods93
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