After stumbling out of the wreckage of their escape pod, a whole new world awaits your survivors in Stranded: Alien Dawn. Marooned on an alien planet, the odds are against them to try and carve out a new life on this world, and eventually make their escape.
From the opening moments of Stranded: Alien Dawn, you have to guide your survivors in building makeshift shelters, storage and camp fires, scavenging from the crashed spacecraft and relying on emergency provisions within. You must quickly adapt to your surroundings, studying the local flora and fauna to discover what is edible, what can be used for crafting, which animals can be tamed — all to gradually claw your way back up to harness sci-fi technology once more.
There’s a lot to be getting on with and it’s easy to throw too many gargantuan tasks at your survivors, who then take an age to complete them all or stall with a lack of necessary resources. Even just making your first building and filling it with beds requires an awful lot of mining rocks, chopping down trees and then bashing it all together. Then you’ve got to fill it with beds. All the while, that’s potentially diverting attention away from making sure meals are being cooked, crops are being fertilised, and that your smartest survivor can basically just stand at a table thinking about each new technology for another day.
Of course, that technology will be vital to your survival and eventual ability to communicate with passing ships to organise rescue. It’s the foundation so that you can start using solar energy and wind turbines to power your newly built advancements: indoor lighting, electric stoves (so you aren’t constantly chopping wood), a tailor’s bench for hardier clothing, 3D printers to remove the manual labour, and more advanced and powerful weaponry and defences.
You’ll need those weapons because while a lot of the local wildlife is pretty docile, you must contend with the occasional animal attacks – sometimes without reason, sometimes because they’re ravenously hungry for your crops. Naturally, these enemies grow larger and more menacing as you progress, and without proper base building with walls, towers and defences, you will find yourself totally overwhelmed by a game-ending attack. Waist-high stone walls won’t keep half a dozen giant mantises out for long, as I found out in one doomed effort. This full game release adds things like mechs for maximum survivability to help even the odds against the largest of animal attacks.
The other big factor is the health of your survivors — and not just the physical. Each one is a distinct character with individualised stats and specialisations, and the game’s ingrained scheduling, jobs and priority management allows you to get the best out of them. They’re also all prone to suffering from the stresses that this new life puts on them, from a simple injury or disease to the much more likely (and totally understandable) mental breakdown. To counter this you need to provide leisure activities and objects — even if it’s just dart boards or playing steel pans — ensure there’s some meal variety, and so on.
Helping to mix things up for repeated efforts are three different scenarios. The standard crash landing comes alongside different missions to set up a successful trading post or to establish a military outpost on this alien planet. These are great if you want to effectively skip past the early game, as having six characters and starting off with a wealth of high-end weaponry and electrical knowledge gets you right into the good stuff of big base building, though you immediately have to face large waves of hostile animals and have a different overarching goal. You will still need to research the local flora and fauna, as there’s foundational technology that you need on the way to unlocking things like mech suits.
There’s also a bunch of modifiers available to you with different difficulty options and ‘Moons’ that can affect randomised events. They definitely help you get what you want out of the game, with the ability to turn off animal attacks being vital to a more relaxed experience. Alternatively, you can ramp up the difficulty if you’re a RimWorld fan. These modifiers and the three contrasting scenarios help to add more variety, but they are still remixing a somewhat limited amount of thematic content with just two biomes. I look forward to hearing about any post-launch updates and expansions that Haemimont has planned.
Playing before release, there’s a smattering of minor bugs, like characters flipping to sleep or animate 90º to what they should, and the hilarious way that survivors will simply use a practice target from wherever they are standing… even if that means they are rapid-firing straight over the heads of fellow survivors eating lunch. I actually hope they never change this.
And playing on console throws up a few oddities with the control scheme. The UI is attached to different sides of the screen – resources and people up top, notifications on the right, building and management at the bottom and item panels on the left – with the D-pad quickly selecting each portion. However the control focus isn’t intuitive enough. Select a character and you’d expect it to focus on their info panel, but you need to press left before you can shift between info tabs. There’s a couple too many button presses to get things done, and it’s easy to flip out of a UI section by mistake, adding even more button presses to get back to where you were.
Haemimont Games has made a decent effort in translating this game from playing on PC to console, and you’ve always got time to make changes thanks to the ability to pause the game, but you’ll be pining for a mouse and keyboard to handle character inventory management.