Survival management games are all the rage these days, each trying to put a fresh spin on the idea through the differing focus of a location or gameplay mechanics. Haemimont Games has been in similar territory before with Surviving Mars, where the goal was the establish a Martian colony with habitable domes and lots of automation, but as we approach the Stranded: Alien Dawn Early Access release on 12th October, it’s immediately clear that it comes with a thoroughly different tone.
The journey to this alien world has gone very, very wrong, your group of survivors emerging from the wreckage of their crashed landing pod after a cataclysmic deep-space jump from their mothership and having to start completely afresh with next to no resources – the one positive is that there’s a breathable atmosphere on this rather verdant planet. The focus is much smaller, more explicitly about surviving, dealing with the dangers of the world, managing resources and gradually building up your base.
Each game starts with a degree of randomisation, the world being procedurally generated from a seed, and then your choice from a range of survivors, each with a name, different skills and traits. Connor, for example, is skilled in combat, and has nanites that enhance his abilities (while leaving him with chronic pain). Kana has crafting skills and can inspire fellow survivors, Katina literally cannot fail to heal injured and sick compatriots, while Laara’s farming abilities will double the agricultural output of your crops. Throughout the game, you’ll want to keep a keen eye on their happiness, mental health and relationships, as well as consider how you can level up from their baseline skills.
Getting this composition right and a variety of different skills and abilities will be key for the early game, as you seek to lay out sustainable foundations for your camp. Emerging from the wreckage, you can scavenge from the landing pod and cut down alien trees, putting resources into a set storage space that then supplies later construction efforts for building basic shelters. You have a choice in how you manage your survivors, whether it’s to simply set a job and let it be automatically fulfilled, or issue direct commands to people for specific tasks, and assign particular priorities to specific characters – leave all the farming to Lana, for example, and ensure that healing is properly managed by leaving it in Katina’s hands.
This is, of course, a completely alien world filled with unfamiliar flora and fauna, and so it will take some research and observation to determine what is beneficial or harmful to your camp. Once the baseline understanding is satisfied, it can then be bent to your will, as has been true throughout human history. Skinbark might sound weird, and its purple colour will be strange to people used to brown trees, but once it’s understood you can then plant and start to harvest it. The same goes for edible plants, creating fields for growing wheat-like grains that can then be harvested and then cooked and prepared for sustaining meals – each character has favourite meals, by the way.
From humble beginnings, you’ll have a great deal of freedom in how you construct your camp. The basic materials from the start of the game will be useful for a makeshift shelter, but you’ll want to upgrade buildings to improve their durability and their ability to keep people warm, shifting from wood and stones to concrete and bricks.
Of course, being able to make concrete will depend on researching down tech trees for resources, defence, conservation and power. Electricity is another key element that can bring lighting to your camp, as well as power sci-fi technology, such as futuristic entertainment devices to keep people happy. There’s also more contextual breakthroughs to be found, such as sleep training to help your survivors be a bit perkier in the mornings.
There are also dangers to your survival, and predatory animals can attack your camp. Having outer walls can help defend, as can setting up traps and even automated turrets once researched later in the game, but as they get closer and break defences, you’ll be drawn into a specific combat mode. Combat specialists like Connor can take the lead here, especially as you’ll want to be wary of injuries to your survivors, which can be permanent and affect characters on a limb-by-limb basis, impacting their capabilities going forward.
Stranded: Alien Dawn is an intriguing take on the survival sim, from its setting to the narrowed focus on a handful of survivors that seems like a blend of both micro and macro management.
Stranded: Alien Dawn is coming out for PC, starting off with a stint in Steam Early Access that begins on 12th October.