Survival games are the Marmite genre in the gaming industry. Ironically, if you happen to be in the love camp, you’ll no doubt end up loathing the game as its brutal ways end your life and game prematurely. It’s an extremely challenging genre which will make you scream with frustration, while still compelling you to keep playing. Have you ever wondered what it was like for Tom Hanks in Castaway? Living each day as it comes, learning survival skills as you go along, and scrabbling around for items to make a shelter, and food to survive? Well, wonder no more. Beam Team Games and Fun Labs presents us with the Pacific ocean and tropical island survival game Stranded Deep.
Stranded Deep first hit the market as a PC only release on Steam Early Access, January 2015. In its infancy it was merely a basic, yet tough title, where you explore an open world, trying to fight the elements while staying alive. There was always the promise of a storyline, and more in depth gameplay. For many years a rumour floated around about a console release also. As it gained in popularity, and the updates came rolling in, it eventually fulfilled its promise and made its way to the Xbox and Ps4. This has allowed me to sit here and review it for you.
The action starts with a rather calm setting. You sit in a private jet on a flight to some unknown destination, for some unspecified reason. This peace is very quickly disturbed when the shrill alarms sound from the cockpit. A sudden shudder, and you are free falling through the air. Sections of the body are ripped from the fuselage, followed by the inevitable crash landing into the sea. You somehow exit the wreck and must make it to a life raft, from here your adventure begins.
As the cutscene ends, you are given full control. You are now introduced to basic gameplay mechanics in the form of a short tutorial, this explains how to gather and craft, how to use your watch to observe your stats, and the importance of building a shelter so that you can save your data. Once the tutorial is complete you are on your own. Afforded the freedom to explore your first little island, and the world around you. There really is a lot to see and do; you must hunt animals, farm or scavenge off the land for food and water supplies. Use your raft, or build a new vessel to cross the open waters. Find new islands to call home, explore shipwrecks in the depths of the ocean, and clamber across the decks of marooned tankers to search for vital clues to help find a way home.
Whatever task you decide to undertake, you must plan and consider the benefits against the negatives. Nearly every action is fraught with danger, you must stay alert in order to ensure you can live another day. Snakes, sharks, poisonous coral, heat, UV, starvation, dehydration, and many more pitfalls will welcome you on your journey. For every negative, there is an action you can complete to overcome it. You can craft weapons to fight, Antivenom to overcome poisons, a shelter can be made to hide from the sun, and water collectors and cooking areas will keep you topped up on your vital statistics. These things are all good while you are at home, but when you go exploring you must be prepared. Do not run before you can walk.
The wondrous thing about Stranded Deep is the freedom to choose whether you live in this dangerous open world for as long as your heart desires, while luck is on your side, or you attempt to complete the story mode. If you do try to escape your new life, don’t expect to be given clues as to how to achieve this, you must discover the solution for yourself. This lack of direction will not be to everyone’s liking. The true hardcore fan will love the challenge of pitting their wits against a harsh and ever changing environment, which has considerably more hazards than it does safe areas. The learning curve is almost unforgiving, so expect to die an awful lot when first starting out. Once you understand the basic fundamentals, you should still expect to perish just as much. You’ll soon learn that the save facility is your best friend. There is nothing more frustrating than being poisoned halfway through a run through, with no Antivenom. You either panic and search like a crazy person for the much needed medication, or you resign yourself to the fact that this is another save that didn’t get you to the end game.
Character progression is achieved by completing any given task. Hack down a load of palm trees, and your harvesting skill increases. Smash a crab with a rock, you’ll be a better hunter, and so on and so forth, you get the point. Action equals reward. Better stats ultimately make the game easier, by reducing the time it takes to finish a job. However, this isn’t the only way to make your experience much simpler. You start out with rudimentary tools, these are made from sticks and stones. As your skill improves, you can craft better items as long as you have the correct resources. Searching shipwrecks and Islands will occasionally unearth chests. Inside these will potentially be rare resources or advanced equipment. You discover that everything has a limited durability. Everything breaks eventually, and if your luck is like mine, it usually happens when you are attacking a predator, this leaves you powerless to overcome any attack.
Stranded Deep utilises both a day and night cycle, and varying weather fronts. As the light changes, the shadows work perfectly in creating a sense of realism. The night darkness really keeps you on edge. Why not make a torch? I hear you say! If only it was that easy to come across cloth in the early game! Your only choices are; walk by the light of the moon, or cower by your campfire. The howling wind and driving rain looks prefect, the trees sway and the rain hammers down on the water and sand. Only the brave and stupid venture into the waters in a storm. I won’t ruin the surprise for you, but needless to say, rafts and waves is not an experience I’m willing to go through again in a hurry. For the most part the game looks fantastic, the variety of hot and cold colours transport you to the tropical lands, the sea looks cool and refreshing, and the animal animations are smooth. That being said, there are a few downsides. Some of the textures are rough and ugly when you get up close and personal. Snakes are renowned for being experts at camouflage, but Beam Team Games, and Fun Labs have taken this to the next level, they are practically invisible. The final gripe is with the raft itself. If you happen to fall into the water, and try to reenter the vessel, you find that you clip through it, and at one stage I managed to merge through the underside of the vehicle.
In certain genre’s the audio is incredibly important. It helps to transport you into the world, makes you empathise with the characters, and makes you feel connected with the story. The survival genre for me falls into this category. Luckily the sound effects are both calm and daunting. The crashing of the waves, the sound of the wildlife, and the crunch of the sand underneath your feet are all realistic. The noise reduces to a deafening silence when underwater, this is both calming and petrifying all at once. If you then add the shadowy image of a shark in your peripheral vision, you have every right to be scared. The music plays on and off, it’s not too overpowering, and really suits the theme. With haunting panpipes, to drums and percussive instruments, it has a tropical feeling that would make any one of the islands seem like paradise in any other situation.
As you come to expect with a game in this genre, there really is a lot to do. Unfortunately, this impacts on the simplicity of the button mapping. Having been ported from the PC, where the keyboard and mouse gives a developer lots of scope for a simple User Interface, you are aware that there will likely be an issue. The developers managed to overcome a lot of the problems by using multiple radial wheels, and a number of the buttons have several uses. This does take a bit of getting used to, and was one of the more complicated console games that I’ve tackled in a while. Once you are familiar with the control system the action plays out very nicely. The response rate is very good, and a number of shortcuts have been implemented to help with in game tasks, including being able to pin crafting recipes to the screen to help with gathering resources.
One of a few title’s that I have reviewed, where I’m barely scratching the surface of what can be done, and how much I can explore. This title is vast, with plenty to make you want to return. If you feel that the designed world gets tedious, then you can create a whole new procedurally generated one to explore. You have the ability to alter the difficulty, and remove the main predators all together. There is a leaderboard to compete with friends, and a plethora of easy and difficult achievements to aim for. As already mentioned, you can spend your whole time surviving and building yourself a home, or you can push to try and escape. All these options make the replay factor of this game incredible. I honestly feel the only thing that will prevent you from wanting to keep playing, is the brutal difficulty level. I found it quite disheartening, until I decided I wanted back in again.
The way the action plays out, and the graphical presentation makes this an extremely immersive title. It really bugged me that there was an issue that causes the game to hang for a random period of time. I found it mainly happened when at sea, everything would freeze, as if the game had crashed. It would happen for a few seconds at a time, before the game would burst back into life. Very much like the buffering circle of doom when streaming, this shouldn’t be happening in 2020, and certainly not with a title that has been in Early Access for around 5 years.
I opened by saying that the survival genre is like Marmite. You either love it, or hate it. I think that Stranded Deep will emphasise this fact. This is one unbelievably in depth game that will push its fan base to its limits. With no multiplayer mode available yet, this is going to be one for the lone wolf. With the options to live out your Tom Hanks, and Bear Grylls dreams indefinitely, this is one that will ensure that you spend many hours trying to ensure that you survive your isolation. Great value for money, and something that I’d certainly recommend. The only downside for me was, there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to start breaking the mysterious storyline. Grab yourself a volleyball, paint a hand on it, and keep it with you. Your “Wilson” may be the only friend that will help to keep you sane is this lonely existence.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Stranded Deep Review
Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 8/10
Replay Value - 9/10
Break out your inner Tom Hanks, and Bear Grylls. Do you have what it takes to survive this brutal environment? Can you stay sane and escape the Pacific when you are Standed Deep?
- Atmospheric graphics and audio.
- Masses of replay factor.
- Intelligent character levelling.
- Brutal learning curve.
- Lack of character customisation.
- Screen hangs when at sea.
- The controls are a little complicated to start with.