Co-op and open world survival games are some of the best. Some of my best experiences have been playing with friends on some digital island, surviving by gathering resources and grinding out whatever version of upgrades that game required. But they’re definitely a double-edged sword, and I’ve had some of my most disappointing video game experiences in almost the exact same type of gameplay. It’s all about execution, and even with such a worn concept as open world survival, sometimes execution is all that is important.
The Survivalists is an open world survival game with adventure elements thrown in. It’s played from an isometric top-down perspective, so it’s a little bit more Don’t Starve than it is Minecraft. You play as a recently shipwrecked person who finds themselves on a deserted island. The island is full of potential wonders to uncover, and lots of dangers to survive against. And of course, lots of objects to break so you can make items out of their constituent pieces.
Open world survival is synonymous with crafting, and The Survivalists definitely has that. It’s even implemented in a way I haven’t really seen outside of management games—with the closest comparison being something like Factorio, and even that’s not accurate. In The Survivalists monkey sees, monkey does. You can make a number of primate friends through your explorations, and then promptly put them to work doing your bidding. You don’t like grinding out all those mats? Have your monkeys chop trees, gather materials, and even deposit them for you. These monkeys serve you by providing a small degree of automation, and it’s fun trying to figure out what you can make them do. But even when given tutorials on how this system works, I found it to be a little cumbersome on Nintendo Switch.
Most of my time playing The Survivalists was on Nintendo Switch. It runs great on the handheld, and is completely playable—but some of the actions feel clunky. I usually love to play indie games on Nintendo’s portable system, but I ended up longing for a mouse to move the cursor around instead of my joysticks. Luckily, the controls are set up so you don’t have to use the cursor often—usually when managing chests, or selecting monkeys. The cursor isn’t implemented poorly, and it’s completely playable—I just wish it was done away with completely on the console version in favor of mapped controller buttons. This also would have been a good chance to implement touchscreen controls, but as far as I can tell, there are none.
Exploring is essential in The Survivalists. Not only do you need to explore to find better items to upgrade your crafting output, but there are island secrets that can be uncovered. If you want the rarest materials, and the best weapons, they are usually found in these hidden places. But exploring can be dangerous, as there are hostile fauna, tribes of orcs, and possessed skeletons that will try to kill you. But if you want to get off the island for good, you’ll need to find and get help from the Mysterious Stranger.
The Survivalists takes place in the universe of The Escapists, so there’s no surprise that there’s a co-op component. It doesn’t seem to play as heavily into this title as it does The Escapist games. Solo survival feels like a breeze, especially with an army of monkeys helping you. Of course, if it wasn’t for the orc raiders your camp would be relatively safe.
Building your base to be defensible is advised. Raiding parties will periodically come to wreck your hard work. I wasn’t prepared the first time, and I was slaughtered and my base was looted. Luckily, it’s easy to come back from such a setback. If you find the orc camp, you can always take the fight to them– especially if you have an army of monkeys at your back.
The Survivalists doesn’t break any molds, but it does add some new fun elements to a worn genre. Open world survival can feel like a chore, but with a group of helpful monkeys it never feels like a joyless grind—after you figure out how to get your monkeys to work for you, that is. If you’re looking for a new open world survival fix, The Survivalists will definitely provide that for you.
The Survivalists is available tomorrow on Nintendo Switch, Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
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