I first tried The Survivalists as a demo back in August. As someone who has spent a shamefully extensive number of hours in multiple survival games, I was delighted by the lighthearted monkey companions and the quirky pixel graphics. The demo had a lot of potential, but as a demo, it was hard to gauge how the game would turn out.
The Survivalists is a sandbox survival game from Team17 Digital that’s set in the same universe as another one of their games, The Escapists. There’s no real story; it is a true sandbox, driven by the player’s creativity. Visually, the game excels in a small, delightful way. It’s nothing complex, but it will excite pixel art fans. The simple graphics work well with the saturated colors, making for a vibrant and charming experience.
In the demo, there were small and frustrating aspects of the game I hoped would be fixed for the full game. Unfortunately, as enjoyable as The Survivalists is, those little quirks remained in the full game, leading to an entertaining but short-lived experience.
Survival of the fittest
In its favor, the game is procedurally generated, creating unique environments for every player. This makes exploration more entertaining and rewarding than a standard map. The game pushes you to sail the open seas and expand beyond your starting island. It is an important, and featured, part of the game. Yet, as rewarding as it can be, the exploration is often short-lived. Most of the necessary supplies can be found near where you start.
Due to its procedurally generated nature, you may or may not have a vault or caves on your starting island. Exploring isn’t just limited by the supplies, it’s limited by space and hunger constraints. In the early game, the player is alone or has only a handful of monkey friends. These buddies are better served as defenders from the island’s hostile denizens than mobile storage, especially when your tools and weapons aren’t the best — which leaves you gathering and carrying everything. Your storage space is so limited, and your hunger drains so fast (and your character complains so much), that you’ll end up running home for a smoothie with only a small bit of wood and berries.
With you running back and forth so often, progress may seem slow. It is an odd, and yet natural, combination of fast and slow. The slow part stems from the gathering portion, where it takes a long time to trek resources around, especially after you build a raft. Meanwhile, progressing through blueprints and recipes is very fast, since most of them reuse the same four or five resources. I was left wondering how far along I was when I’d unlocked so many things, yet I had barely explored. Ultimately, I felt underwhelmed with the available recipes and blueprints. Some blueprints keep evolving past their usefulness while others stop short of their potential.
Blueprints sometimes unlocked in counterintuitive ways. For instance, building the raft is encouraged early. You need to explore other islands for things like glowing stones or gem stones. After building the raft, you need a sail to actually get anywhere. The raft is made of simple, abundant materials, but the sail is not unlocked with the raft. In order to get the sail, you have to build the luxury bed sheets, which require multiple rare or risky sources and take significantly more time. This felt odd when the game clearly wanted you to build that raft very early.
While we’re on building, the building is one of the more frustrating aspects. It’s not bad, necessarily. The parts that make it good are the same parts that make it so irritating. Players can place the blueprint where they want the item to go, similar to the system in another recent survival game, Grounded. This is handy for quickly setting up your design, but once you place that blueprint, there’s no going back. If you decide you don’t want something there, or want to change a wall to a window, you have to build it and then delete it, losing half of your resources. It’s really odd that the blueprint is permanent, and this is a major quality of life issue for the game. It just feels awful to realize you need to destroy a metal wall when it takes so many resources to make it.
Good help is hard to find
Your monkey allies are very limited in their actions and have no initiative. They can do a lot, sure, but they aren’t going to restrict themselves in ways you might want. Having a monkey harvest wood will send him after every tree and bush on the island. They often wander off if they don’t have a task, prompting you to take the time to fetch them. And since they can walk through doors and have a fairly smart AI for pathfinding, doors and walls mean little to them in terms of confinement.
If you need your monkey friends to pick up an item and put it away, they will fill your entire storage in a matter of minutes, as they will pick up everything that drops on the ground. This mass gathering habit is useful while chopping wood with an entire troop, but not while sitting around your base. Ultimately, the monkeys were useful in specific scenarios, not throughout the entire game.Perhaps it’s not a surprise that monkeys aren’t the most organized animals.
And, much like real monkeys, your island companions have some bugs. While delivering items, they sometimes get stuck holding the item, unable to deliver it or drop it. In some cases, they drop it and the bugged item cannot be picked up. It sits there forever, cluttering your base. This was infuriating as it started to happen more and more. I didn’t want to stop my supply chain while I was gathering on another island, but after each excursion, I’d return to find a bugged monkey angrily jumping in front of the crafting table. You can fix it by throwing a tool to the monkey in question. It has to be a tool or it won’t work. The monkey drops the tool and the bugged item vanishes from their inventory. This solution wastes resources, but it keeps the broken materials off the floor of your base.
Overall, The Survivalists is an enjoyable survival-lite experience. I didn’t get to test the multiplayer side of the game, but the experience can only be improved with friends, whether through chaos or cooperation. The flaws are quality of life issues that make certain aspects of the game frustrating but not game-breaking. It adds challenge in the wrong areas by limiting building when raids could be a bigger threat.
The Survivalists has potential. It could evolve into a worthwhile survival experience with a couple patches. As it stands, it is a decent game, but not one that will keep you coming back.
6 / 10
|+||Cute monkey friends|
|+||Good, charming graphics|
|+||Procedurally generated environment makes exploring fun.|
|–||Easy and repetitive after the early stages|
|–||Intentional building limitations are not challenging, they’re annoying|