Spinning off the pixel art prison escape game The Escapists, The Survivalists is another almost self-explanatory game from Team17. You awaken stranded on the beach of a large island and must survive long enough to find some means of escape. Naturally, this is easier said than done, as in addition to the risk of starving to death, getting killed by a huge bat, or paddling too far into the sea and being eaten by a shark, there’s all kinds of actual monsters to fight off as well.
Much like any other survival game, you start off gathering basic materials from trees, rocks, and bushes. You are able to craft a limited number of useable items with just your hands and these materials, but that only really includes the basics, such as a simple axe, rope, or some makeshift bedsheets. Really, you’ll need a crafting bench to get yourself some proper tools.
Using the blueprints menu to place it, dropping the necessary ingredients and then assembling it with the multi-tool you (hopefully) already crafted, it’s the first meaningful step on the chain of blueprint unlocks. It’s a slightly awkward system though, as you can’t see what you can unlock until you’ve crafted or built all its prerequisites. This means you occasionally end up wasting resources on an item you don’t really want in the vain hope it will make the item you actually need available afterwards. It isn’t a huge issue, but it adds a little more uncertainty regarding what you’re supposed to be doing early on and, in a survival game where you’re expected to discover everything, that’s not ideal.
It’s also around this time that you’ll realise that the bar of items across the bottom of the screen isn’t just an action bar, it’s your character’s entire inventory. Inventory swapping quickly becomes an annoyance that will stick with you for the entire game. As you get more tools and weapons that you want to keep on you because they’re indispensable, but that leaves you with less space to carry the stuff you are using them to collect. I found myself constantly dropping and picking up items and it started to feel needlessly fiddly pretty quickly. Thankfully there are ways around this, such as keeping your stuff in a chest and then carrying that chest around with you or, and I’m being completely serious here, you can use monkeys.
Monkeys are found all over the islands and they can be trained to do basically anything you can, outside of expressing any form of free will. They’re very easy to train; you just throw a banana at them to get them to pay attention, and then do whatever it is you want them to do. For example, if you give a monkey a multi-tool and then show it how to finish crafting an item, that monkey will then craft any nearby item that is waiting to be made.
Eventually you’ll have a small tribe of monkeys who automate most of your island life. I trained one monkey to supply nearby crafting projects with items from chests, then another monkey to take over and actually craft the item, and one final monkey to then pick it up and deposit it back in the chest. It’s simple to set up and really quite satisfying, even if you just like giving monkeys orders and sitting back to watch them do your bidding. They’ll even follow you around with a chest for some portable storage, if you like.
More important than a squad of monkey butlers, however, is having a small army of monkey soldiers. Give them weapons and fight something for them to see and they’ll happily follow you around the island and beat anything that doesn’t look too friendly into a pulp. This is helpful as the island is host to some hostile wildlife and fantasy creatures.
It took a little while to get the hang of the combat system, but it boils down to an attack and a dodge roll which, if timed correctly, allows you to counter enemy attacks. I had a little trouble with orcs early on, but it wasn’t long before I got used to the combat and had trained an army of club-swinging monkeys. They come in particularly handy when you delve below the island’s surface. You can find dungeons dotted about the map where treasures can be found, provided you can fight off any unpleasant beasties you find.
Building on the pixel art aesthetic of The Escapists, this game has clearly had a lot of care put into it. Everything is bright, colourful, and animated – long grass sways as you run through fields, waves roll onto the beach from water that gets darker as it gets deeper, edges all look sharp, and animations are detailed and smooth. The music is similarly fantastic, providing a serene ambience whilst you’re building a house, but turning to some exciting battle music whilst you’re suddenly under attack because you lost track of time.
My favourite moment came after I built a raft to travel to another island and travelled for a few minutes there to a new music track that was filled to the brim with excitement and adventure, only to immediately have to get right back on my raft once I’d reached the island because I’d been attacked by three wild boars. I wasted about five minutes, but I laughed all the way back to my home island.
The one drawback to the visuals is that the isometric view can lead to things being obscured behind trees or mountain sides. At one point I had to cut down a few trees so I could get through the undergrowth to a floating speech bubble that turned out to be coming from a friendly orc that wanted to trade. The procedural map generation sometimes creates narrow valleys where you just can’t see the ground. Similarly, there are gaps between rocks, trees, and other parts of the environment that seem to be large enough to travel through, but annoyingly aren’t, leaving you to walk into objects repeatedly as you try and make your way through like Sideshow Bob trying to escape a garden of rakes.