Throughout history, apes have served many roles for humanity. They’ve manned spacecraft, provided entertainment, and have been kept as pets by many individuals. Their intelligence and ability to be easily trained have given them a favorable image. Team17’s new game The Survivalists puts a spotlight on just how useful monkeys can be with a bit of conditioning.
The plot of The Survivalists is simple enough. You’ve been stranded on a deserted island after an apparent shipwreck. Unless you plan to die there, you must survive long enough to find a way to get off the island. The island you find yourself on has a long history of explorers, creatures, and stranded folks like you who’ve long since passed on. However, their remains and the remnants of their camps and vehicles have been left behind for you to benefit from. With any luck, you can learn from their mistakes and succeed in escaping.
In several locations around the game’s map, you can find diary entries included within ruined structures or on the remains of unfortunate souls who perished while on the island. The passages from these individuals’ personal journals that put you into the mindset of the people (and non-people) who spent time in the region. These diary entries span various times in history, such as the time of Vikings and the industrial age. Considering most of the game is focused on survival gameplay rather than a large intricate plot, these bits of lore do all the heavy lifting when it comes to fleshing-out the island’s history, giving you a better backdrop to survive in.
The Survivalists is, unsurprisingly, a survival game. To progress, you have to collect resources and build tools that help you build and collect other resources. The game’s map is randomly generated every time you start a new save file, keeping your playthroughs fresh. You also have health and hunger to maintain, as well as stamina that depletes while running or swinging a tool. Hunger goes down fairly quickly in this game, so it’s a good idea to always have a supply of fruit or cooked food in your inventory.
Building bases play a critical role in keeping your crafted creations and valuables safe. The game’s crafting system allows fortifications to be built that keep invaders and wildlife out. Additionally, they also make your home look better. Because of the sheer size of the game map, multiple of these bases will likely be required throughout your playthrough.
There are a few bugs/glitches you may encounter that need to be addressed. First and foremost, it’s possible that your save file may become unloadable if you start a new save and try to load your original one. The game loads indefinitely after selecting the file, effectively becoming stuck. This is a disastrous issue to have, essentially making your entire save file inaccessible until a presumed future patch releases. The second issue occurs when you move your items around in your inventory. Sometimes the graphic for an item will become stuck in that slot, even after the item has been used or moved, which blocks the view of the current item in that slot. These technical hiccups will hopefully be fixed sooner rather than later, as they detract significantly from the gameplay experience.
On your travels, you will quickly encounter monkeys, either in cages or running amok. These will be a huge asset to you while playing The Survivalists. Getting them to join you either happens automatically if they’re freed from a cage, or requires that you give them a specific food item first if they are wild. They can be trained to do almost every major task in the game, such as gathering resources, fighting, and crafting/building. Doing these things repeatedly will slowly make them more proficient in doing the tasks as well. If you want some humorous screenshots, you can also have several perform emotes with you. In addition, they can carry around items for you or carry chests that you can access on the go. To get the monkeys to perform these actions, you have to toggle on mimic mode then do the task you want them to perform. There are many ways to use this mechanic to great strategic effect, like setting monkeys to collect and set down resources over a large distance, which establishes a supply chain that can transport resources across the map.
While certainly unique, you might find the monkey mechanics a bit tedious. Whenever you want them to do something, you will have to do it yourself first. Having them catch on eventually and letting you simply instruct them with a prompt from a list of tasks they’ve memorized would have made for a much smoother process. The game makes a point in reminding you that making a monkey craft for you is much faster, but it often doesn’t feel that way. It can also become annoying having a limited inventory and being required to set monkeys as pack mules to overcome this limitation. It locks those monkeys out of doing anything else until you take the chest from them, which can be grating while in the middle of a fight.
The entire game map in The Survivalists is huge, with many areas only being accessible by crafting a boat. As mentioned, each save file you create will generate a random world, so you never know what you might find. Ruined structures, skeletal remains, junked vehicles, and orc villages are just some of the things one can expect while exploring their surroundings. Some of the wildlife and orcs might even be aggressive, so keeping a weapon close at hand is wise. Periodically, all resources and loot sources are replenished, which helps to ensure you won’t run out of things to keep you alive and crafting, even if you stay in a relatively small area for a long time.
Not all of the creatures on these islands are friendly. Aggressive animals like sharks will attack if you venture too close, and native orc enemies will even give chase or shoot arrows if they spot you, hoping to secure a meal of their own. Amassing a group of monkey companions helps to deal with these foes, as long as you remember to give them a good weapon. You’ll find multiple rooms of combat if you stumble across vaults or labyrinths as well, which are the game’s dedicated dungeons. Overall, the combat is solid, featuring good battle animations and several weapons to use.
Vaults & Labyrinths
If you see a glowing door set in the ground while out exploring in The Survivalists, don’t be afraid to investigate. These are vaults; dungeons that contain enemies and rare resources. You can also use the torches found within to quickly make food if you run low on health or become peckish. As always, having a group of monkeys with you while tackling these areas will do you well. The enemies you’ll find here tend to be tougher than those encountered in the wild. Each vault also has a special crafting table that allows the creation of legendary tools and weapons, though it takes some time to obtain the resources necessary to make them. Labyrinths are larger dungeons that require special keys that can only be bought from the Mysterious Stranger, a merchant found somewhere on the island.
At any point during play, you can change a few characteristics about your character. Categories such as skin color, hairstyle, and the color of your clothes can be set and changed throughout your playthrough. You can even change your name if the mood strikes. The name and color of each of your monkey friends can be changed as well. This can be an important way to tell your companions apart, especially as your posse grows.
Perhaps the most important aspect of survival games like The Survivalists is crafting. In order to keep yourself alive and safe, all kinds of things need to be crafted. This game provides several ways in which to craft essential items. Food can be cooked from fire sources, such as a campfire. Simple tools and materials can be crafted by hand wherever you are, provided you have the materials available in your inventory. More complicated items require the use of dedicated stations such as a crafting bench or forge. Each new item you craft opens up other recipes, expanding your available crafting pool more over time. This is a great way to make crafting exciting as you play.
Somewhere on the game map, you will find the only merchant in The Survivalists: The Mysterious Stranger, easily identified by the giant hot air balloon where he sets up shop. They have many things available to purchase in exchange for dubloons, a currency obtained by finding hidden chests throughout the game that are outlined in treasure maps you discover. You can also get dubloon every time you defeat an enemy. The Mysterious Stranger’s inventory consists of treasure maps, useful tools and materials, and labyrinth keys that are needed to enter the game’s toughest dungeons. His prices can be steep, so completing vaults and looking for chests will be essential for buying his wares.
Monkey friends are nice, but sometimes you might get the urge to play along with some human friends too. If you find this to be the case, The Survivalists allows you to host or join a multiplayer game session. While hosting, you can label your game depending on what type of gameplay you want to focus on, such as exploration or combat. You can have your game session be discoverable by anyone or only visible to your friends. When joining a game, you can likewise search for hosted games that fit these criteria as well. Items you find in these multiplayer sessions can be transferred over to your own save game provided you’ve found a special chest in your game.
The Survivalists has a great pixel art style. The whole island environment features vibrant colors and all the features you’d expect to find on a deserted island. The character sprites are well-animated, each having a variety of movements they may use. Orc settlements and ruined structures you find have a good amount of detail, and the vegetation on the island is rendered to the point that you won’t have difficulty engaging with the game despite its pixel look.
The game’s music has a chiptune sound, utilizing synthesizer instrumentation. The music changes along with the time of day, and considering how fast the day/night cycle is in The Survivalists, you will hear frequent changes in music tracks. Dungeons also feature their own music, getting you into the spirit of exploration and combat. Overall, the music goes well with the gameplay. The sound effects are also a nice touch. Monkeys that follow you or that you find all let out occasional monkey sounds, a small but important detail, as is the clang of weapons as you attack and the roaring of torches.
The scope of the game’s map and the fact that there are so many things to craft in the game means that you will have things to do in this game for some time. Even if you finish a playthrough, making a new save will yield a completely new island with different features and geography. Thus, you will never have the same experience twice. Attempting to craft everything the game has to offer will also keep you gathering resources and completing vaults.
The Survivalists is a great survival game. The monkey companion system central to the game gives a new way of survival that isn’t seen in the games that have come before it in the genre. There are many things to find in the game, making exploration quite fun. Parts of the game, namely the way the monkey mechanics are implemented, leaves a lot to be desired. There will be times when you want to enjoy the game and make your monkeys work in a streamlined way, but that just isn’t possible when getting them to start and stop simple tasks is so laborious. Add the fact that there’s a possibility your save file won’t even load, and you get a game that has the potential to be an exceptional survival title but is held back by technical issues. With any luck, some of these things can be addressed in the future so the full extent of the game’s quality can be enjoyed.
Final Rating: 8/10.