Did you ever find yourself screaming at the TV during a particularly tense/confusing/baffling episode of the hit series Lost? Would you often shout at Jack, Sayid or Kate, “No you absolute numpties! Don’t do that, you’ll be sure to die!”? Deep down, do you believe you’d do a much better job of surviving on a very weird island? If so, then The Wild Eight is the chance for you to prove your survival abilities. Rather than a mysterious tropical island, The Wild Eight instead abandons its survivors, alone and scared, on the frozen tundra that is Alaska. Best bring a nice cable-knit jumper.
The Wild Eight is a survival game with a top down view and a polygonal visual aesthetic. Now, I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of survival games. I find many of them them dreadfully tedious, the chores of having to ensure my player character eats, sleeps, keeps warm and hydrated not being my idea of fun. I have enough trouble providing for my own body and keeping myself alive, so why would I want to have to keep a virtual entity from kicking the bucket too? I also get confused with the genre’s penchant for having far too many stats to monitor and meters to routinely check. It’s all very stressful and far too much like real work.
If you’re like me, then you’ll probably rather like The Wild Eight, it is without doubt the most accessible survival game I’ve very played. If you’re not like me and you bloomin’ love surviving virtually, then there’s still a lot to like about The Wild Eight too.
There are three main elements you need to keep in the green to ensure your characters survival as they explore the icy wastes of their new home: health, food and temperature. It’s an efficient focus and one that sums up the developer’s accessible approach to survival. This isn’t crazy complicated stuff, you just need to gather food and find resources to make fire; the challenge doesn’t come from figuring out what you need to do, instead it’s all about actually doing it, which is much more my thing.
The doing of it proves mighty challenging, as the desolate landscape is prone to being battered by terrifying blizzards that force you to desperately seek shelter and warmth before you freeze to death. There’s also packs of wolves to avoid and, deeper into the game, far more terrifying fantastical creatures lurking in the dark. Suffice to say, surviving this foreboding land proved far too much for me on occasion – my avatar’s corpses soon littered the snow like McDonald’s packaging outside a drive thru.
Fortunately, death proves remarkably flexible in The Wild Eight. Your character will be reborn with all the skills they’ve acquired up until that point and, even better, you can go find your dead self to reacquire all your resources. Survivalist aficionados may well sniff their nose at this hand holding mechanic, but I found the speed that I could get back into the game remarkably refreshing. There was no punishing fail state to push through, instead I could get back to where I left off before a severe case of premature death with relative ease. In my opinion, it made this entry in the survival genre far more addictive than its peers.
There’s a massive map to explore consisting of many grids. These grids are reshuffled at the start of each playthrough, so you can be guaranteed a new world to survive on each subsequent adventure. More importantly, each grid has something interesting in it. There’s no long stretches of aimless wondering and there’s always something new to discover, be that exploring sinister labs, restoring the lights in an underground bunker, or simply following power lines in a desperate attempt to find an escape. There’s a nice variety of mission objectives to provide a purposeful structure to proceedings too. In short, The Wild Eight creates a lovely sense of mystery, there’s a secret around every corner as you uncover the many, many weird goings on.
This all sounds very positive, but if you peaked at the final score before reading this review then you’ll know that there’s some problems here too. First and foremost is the torrid combat, which pretty much devolves into holding down the attack button whilst you and your opponent’s health bars gradually diminish. I suppose you could run away, but that’s really a waste of time, your stamina will quickly diminish and you’re more likely to stumble across another group of enemies than actually escape. The game is at its best when you can avoid the deadly foes lurking in the shadows, but far too often though you’re forced into a fight – any tension or drama is lost as your avatar stands still and wails away with an axe until they win or die.
Then there’s the controls themselves which are overly finicky, resulting in confused fingers and muddled menu navigating. The transition from the mouse and keyboard set-up of the PC version to console controller hasn’t been successfully handled and leaves you with a game that simply isn’t intuitive to pick up. It’s a tremendous problem in and of itself, things certainly get easier with practise, but the failure to light a fire because you couldn’t access the right menu in time before a snow blizzard hits is immensely frustrating.