Imagine being stranded on an island populated only by hostiles and monkeys – that’s exactly the premise of Team17’s new survival sandbox game The Survivalists. Visually and in terms of branding, The Survivalists takes clear inspiration from Team17’s series of prison-based sandbox games The Escapists and plays like a cross between Minecraft and Terraria, two of the most popular sandbox games out there.
As it’s set in the same universe as The Escapists, it’s no surprise that this survival-based spin-off follows the same pixel design, but The Survivalists offers a much brighter, aesthetically pleasing environment, a stark contrast to the dreariness of a prison block. It’s simple but effective, and the isometric projection adds some additional depth, though at the cost of hindering movement. There are times, mostly in rocky or forested areas, that it’s genuinely hard to move around. You come across hidden obstacles and are left with no choice but to swing around your axe in hopes of destroying said obstacle or find another way around.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the aim of the game, which is, you guessed it, to survive. You wake up on the island with no food, no shelter, no tools to build with and no weapons to defend yourself with – all pretty standard for a survival game. After a quick rundown of the game’s basics, you get to crafting your first item. It’s nothing special, just a simple stone hand axe, but it paves the way for crafting better items. The first thing you’ll want to make though is a bed. You can make a better one later in the game once you’ve unlocked more blueprints and have better tools, but for the time being, you’ll have to settle for a simplistic bed made of grass. It’s important you make one right away though as in The Survivalists, it’s the only way to save in the game – this can be a little annoying once you start to really explore as you have to trek all the way back to your camp whenever you need to save, but I suppose it does add to the sense of realism.
Surviving the Island
For the most part, The Survivalists doesn’t add anything new to the survival genre and is perhaps a little simplified compared to a survival game like Don’t Starve, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and that applies here. You have two health bars to watch – one for physical damage inflicted by enemies and the other for your hunger. The island has plenty to offer in terms of berries, but they do little to satisfy your hunger unless you eat them by the dozen. It’s enough, however, to keep you going until you have the opportunity to craft some weapons and traps for hunting, and since the world replenishes frequently, you can easily stockpile them. You’ll have to make some chests though – perhaps my biggest gripe with this game is the very limited storage. Unlike Minecraft, which boasts an inventory and a hotbar, the latter of which allows for quicker access to the items you use the most, with The Survivalists you can only carry eleven items with you at a time. Considering you’re likely to have a couple of weapons, tools and food on you at all times, this leaves very little space for goods you might find throughout your exploration.
I’ve briefly talked about crafting earlier in this review, but it’s such an important aspect that I feel I need to go into more detail. The crafting mechanism within The Survivalists is pretty good, and it works much like a skill tree in an RPG in the way you have to craft one thing before unlocking the blueprint for subsequent objects in the crafting tree, as can be seen in the image above.
The basics, like ropes, stone hand axes and wooden rods, can be crafted on the spot, assuming you have the necessary materials on-hand. Other more complicated designs require a workbench or furnace to create – it’s worth making at least one of each as soon as you get the option as they increase the variety of items you can create. Bigger projects, like walls, doors and beds, require you to set a blueprint down and add the required materials before crafting. The only real downside to crafting is the inability to repair weapons and tools – you can repair bigger objects that might be damaged during pesky orc raids (it’s disheartening to see all your hard work destroyed, so make sure you have some defences in place), but you have to create new tools and weapons from scratch. It would be great to see some more blueprints added too.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
The Survivalists allows you to play with up to three other players online, but you can easily enjoy it by yourself too. Some of the vaults and labyrinths can be a little tricky by yourself, but the game has you covered with monkey companions!
Having a flock of monkeys to command is something I never knew I needed in a video game until The Survivalists. There are two ways to recruit monkeys to your cause – you can rescue them from cages found within vaults (amongst other things), or you can bribe them with monkey meals that you can craft at a campfire. While you can only take five with you when you visit a friend’s island through the multiplayer mode, there seems to be no limit to how many you can have in your own game. Monkeys can be trained to do most things through the mimic player function, and if you have enough of them, they can pretty much run your camp for you. Aside from my steadily growing bow, sword and spear-wielding primate army, I have monkeys trained to gather materials from the ground, deposit them in chests or to relevant blueprints and to craft. When done right, it’s a smooth process and beyond satisfying to watch. I’ve seen some criticisms about the monkeys, with some saying the AI is a little off, and I’ll admit there were times my monkey minions got in the way, but the only real problem I encountered was that I would accidentally hand them things.
Monkeys are especially helpful in combat. Combat in The Survivalists is a little clunky, but I’ve found that to be the case in a lot of similar games. With a couple of monkeys at your side though, it’s much easier to make your way through the various vaults and labyrinths throughout the game and reach the treasures within. The monkeys can help with your storage issues too, if you have one carry a chest for you.
Team17’s The Survivalists is a beautiful survival sandbox adventure with easy to manage controls, plenty to offer in terms of exploration – oh, and it has monkeys. I’ve spent a lot of time with the game, but I’ve barely scratched the surface – the map really opens up to you once you’ve created a raft, even if it’s a little slow to traverse at times. I mentioned the glaring issues with inventory size and the isometric projection obscuring obstructions, but despite that, The Survivalists is a truly enjoyable game, especially if you’re looking for something a little more easygoing than something like Don’t Starve. I’m looking forward to any future updates Team17 might add, and if The Escapists is anything to go by, we can expect to see some DLC in the near future. Team17 has already got the ball rolling with a costume pack featuring hats for both the player and monkeys, but it would be nice to see some additional content of substance added, and if they could iron out the kinks in future updates, The Survivalists could reach the success of its predecessor, The Escapists.
Developer: Team 17
Publisher: Team 17
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: 9th October 2020
Gaming Respawn’s copy of The Survivalists was provided by the publisher.