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If Being Shipwrecked on a Deserted Island is Terrible, Why is This Game So Fun?

Tom Hanks would have you believe after watching the film Castaway that being stuck on a small island all by yourself, without another sole in sight, is awful. With only your thoughts and a bloody volleyball to keep you company, it seemed like the situation was nothing but dire straights time and time again.

Tell me then, why is a game like The Survivalists so much fun? It’s essentially the same thing: you wreck your ship and land on a seemingly deserted island. There’s no other humans in sight, everything seems to want to kill you, you’re starving, and with a few rocks and grass you can eventually a rudimentary jungle empire. I mean, what isn’t to love?

All joking aside, The Survivalists is a single or multiplayer survival game with a 16-bit aesthetic. Taking cues from survival games that came before it like Rust or Ark: Survival Evolved to name a few, The Survivalists has you scavenging for resources, crafting new items, fending off invading foes, and rescuing cute little monkeys. Your goal at first is simply to survive, and as you continue playing alternative goals and the eventual endgame becomes clear. And yes, this game does actually have an end, credits roll, you’ve seen it all, now playing something else, end.

Having only played a small handful of survival games beforehand, I think I can now safely say The Survivalists is a very approachable game. It is simple in concept, and you as the player know what you can do right from the beginning. Pick up stones, pick up grass, make stuff, use said stuff to get more stuff to make even more stuff. It’s the basis for all survival games, and it is simple, clean, and efficient here. Also, and most importantly, the collecting and developing is fun and attainable. It never seems too far off to get the next upgrade or find the next island’s clue, which is a huge factor for going back to the game play session after play session.

Before long, you’ll set out to explore more than just your starting island, and that is when The Survivalists really hit its stride. A whimsical score picks up as you set sail, inspiring your intrigue to see what the next area can bring. Finding new resources, or rather finally finding that one resource you needed to complete the next upgrade, is addictive. As the game progresses, too, you’ll also discover side quests and other objectives to occupy your time instead of just scouring the land for supplies, which is something I definitely welcomed. Having a goal to work toward that was clear and upfront was a nice touch.

An interesting mechanic the game uses are helper monkeys. Scattered across the map and often hidden inside dungeons, monkeys can be tamed and given a simple task to perform. For example, if you toss your monkey a hammer, they will start completing workshop tasks you have at your base. Or if you give one a weapon they’ll fight with you when enemies appear. It is pretty satisfying to bring a brigade of monkeys with you to explore an unknown island, and then watch as they decimate any enemies that get in your way. Sorry, swarm of mountain lions, you’re done for!

Where I think the game loses its way just the tiniest bit is in its “Story” progression. It is very easy to simply work toward the end goal to “beat” the game (which I won’t spoil for you here). But in so doing you miss out on entire quest lines and upgrade possibilities you will never see otherwise. Also, and perhaps even worse, is that the game does not allow story progression for anyone other than the game’s host. So for example, if you want to join and play with a friend in their world, you can do so. But if they unlock any new crafting recipes you will not have them at all, and instead have to unlock them on your own in your own game. This isn’t game breaking, but it does kind of suck to have to do things twice if you want to be a completionist.

And speaking of multiplayer, this game has it! Up to four players can connect online and play on one island. Working together to gather resources and explore is pretty fun! You and your pals are also free to explore anywhere at any time; you do not need to go together at all. The freedom this allows is wonderful, and is something survival games such as this do quite well. The game overall is on the easy side, and this is exacerbated even more in multiplayer, where dispatching enemies is simpler when there’s less of them and more of you. Still though, I think The Survivalists is at its best when enjoyed with friends, and if you are thinking of playing the game you should consider gathering a group in order to do so.

One of the more apparent differences you’ll notice right off the bat with this game are the visuals. Unlike the realistic direction of the aforementioned Rust or Ark, The Survivalists is a 16-bit, old school looking game. The graphics lend themselves well to the lighthearted nature of the gameplay, as well as the humor. I found the bright colors and simple-yet-cute look of all the enemies and items in the game to be charming. As mentioned above, apparently the whole “Stranded on a desert island” trope doesn’t have to be so drab!

I played through the entire game on the Playstation 4, and I found it ran excellent, controlled well, and sounded great. I can see how it might be a bit easier to play with a mouse, namely due to the number of menus you’ll navigate through, but that isn’t a deal breaker. Also, I would call this game “Survival Lite”. If you are already a fan or expert of something like Ark you’ll likely breeze through this game. But if you’re someone like me that doesn’t normally play those types of games, you will find a lot to like with The Survivalists.

Having been out for a couple years now, you can find the game pretty cheap. I think on sale I paid about $8 for the game, and I cannot think of many more entertaining things you can get for that price. If you have someone else to play with, the experience is amplified. Though not perfect, The Survivalists is a thoroughly entertaining survival game that is friendly to newcomers, and just the right amount of chill to lead to a relaxing gaming session. Who knew being all alone, stranded on a strange island, could be so fun?



I've been writing about video games for years and playing them even longer. You'll find me playing all types of games, old and new. Mega Man III is greater than Mega Man II.