Nature documentaries are great. Learning about the natural world while a calm voice explains what you are seeing on screen is something that appeals to millions. So, having a game that looks to put you in the paws of a creature while its life is narrated is very appealing, and that is what AWAY: The Survival Series sets out to do, cast you as a sugar glider.
Originally released for PC and PlayStation in 2021, we took the opportunity to glide through the experience for its Xbox release
AWAY: The Survival Series has two modes, a story mode and an exploration mode. The story mode is the main mode where you become a six month old sugar glider, destined to go on a dangerous journey to save its family from the clutches of a vulture. This scenario is set against a backdrop of a post-human Earth, where humans have become extinct due to a catastrophic change in the environment known as the shift, which has led to severe atmospheric changes. It is a world where danger lurks everywhere, especially for a sugar glider that is the size of a spider.
Unfortunately, you’ll be dealing with the dangers of bugs throughout AWAY, and I am not talking about the kind that skitter around the ground. Throughout the five hours it took to complete the story mode there were a multitude of issues popping up. Things were not off to a great start when the game crashed partway through the tutorial. However, that did not deter our young sugar glider, nor the narrator who tries to mimic the style of David Attenborough as he describes what is happening on screen.
Progress is linear, with platforming and combat making the up the majority of AWAY’s gameplay, and neither feels particularly accomplished. With the platforming the jumps need to be precise, and while there is a way to aim jumps, the sugar glider doesn’t always stick the landing. Gliding through the air should feel smooth but the sugar glider is slow to turn, meaning you’ll be spending a considerable amount of time falling to ground or into the water.
Early on, the narrator points out that the sugar glider cannot swim, but it actually can. When the glider does fall in water it slowly takes damage, but most of the time you have enough time to find something to climb onto. The movement on the ground and in the trees is sluggish and frustrating too, because quite often you are fighting the camera to get a good angle, which can lead to the sugar glider facing in the wrong direction. Inexplicably, at one point the movement controls inverted, forcing me to quit and restart the game.
Combat is dire. The sugar glider has one attack to scratch enemies and all it requires is repeated button mashing. There’s no feedback on whether you are doing any damage either, be it through controller vibrations or health bars. In the mini boss fights, you have to dodge and attack but there were times when controller input lagged behind so the sugar glider would perform actions way after you needed them.
The story is a bit farfetched, but you can explore the world to find tapes from the humans who once lived there to find out what happened. It’s not really worth fighting the controls to find them though. The world itself certainly looks okay but is marred once more with technical issues causing textures to pop in and out. The narrator will repeat lines too. To cap everything off at the end of the story the sugar glider fell through the world, and the credit song started repeating.
Exploration mode opens your options up more and lets you possess any of the animals that you can find in the world. The target is to find all of the rare animal variations and possess them, but it is not that exciting. The way you possess animals is by floating around as a spore and you can leave them at any time. However, the possess feature glitched so all I could do was float around as if I were a drone camera.