Back in 2015, we had The Escapists from publisher, Team 17 and developer, Mouldy Toof Studios (bought out by Team 17 now). In it, you played as an inmate trying to escape from prison. Follow the daily routine, roll call, exercise, mealtime, etc. Maintain an everyday prison life… But gather resources and do favours for other prisoners as you secretly planned your escape. If you’ve ever played the classic The Great Escape on the old microcomputers of the eighties, then The Escapists was basically an update of that… And bloody great it was too.
In 2017, we got The Escapists 2. More of the same, a few bells and whistles and also bloody great. Then just last year (yes, I’m a wee bit late with this), we got The Survivalists. A spin-off from The Escapists franchise, set on a deserted island. But is it any good?
I feel the first thing that needs addressing are the gameplay changes from The Escapists to The Survivalists. As the title’s of the games suggest, one is about escaping an enclosed place, while the other is much more open and revolves around survival. While the two games exist in the same game universe and share a lot of assets, graphical styles, etc, they’re actually very different animals in terms of gameplay mechanics. Still, if you’ve ever played any kind of survival based game before, then you’ll know exactly what to expect here.
You find yourself on a randomly generated island, where you can customise your character’s appearance. Once done, it’s time to survive. Your inventory is empty and you can’t really do much other than pick up some pebbles. So you bring up the crafting screen and there, you can make a simple chopping tool from those pebbles. With that, you can now cut down tall grass and smaller trees. These give you even more resources, which you can craft into bigger and more helpful tools. Find food to eat, water to drink to keep yourself healthy and alive. The more you craft, the more you unlock as your basic tools become more advanced. You can start to craft a bed, build a fire to cook food, a chest to store your goods in and so on. Eventually, you can build walls and even begin to create yourself a nice little dwelling.
Of course, it isn’t just about surviving, as the randomly generated island offers a variety of things for you to discover and do. Vaults and labyrinths house plenty of places to explore and plunder. Treasure maps to read for some treasure hunting, animals to find (and hunt). Occasionally, you’ll get raided by the game’s main enemy, the Orclings. These Orclings want to take your stuff. This is where your base building skills are tested. Are your walls strong enough? Have you got decent weapons to fend them off? The combat when fighting off the Orclings is pretty basic stuff, a button to attack and a button to roll out of the way. In terms of combat mechanics, The Survivalists won’t nab much praise. But combat is not what you play these game for, it’s the building and survival elements that sell this genre. Then, if you think you’ve seen all the island has to offer, build a raft and go exploring the seas, discover new islands to explore.
There’s even a handy little feature in the game where you can obtain and train monkeys to do the work for you. If you don’t really feel like spending time and effort chopping down trees to get some wood or chipping away at larger rocks to get recourses, then just get your monkey helpers to do it for you. Need some help in fighting off invading Orclings? Give your monkeys a weapon and have them get their hands dirty. It’s a nice little mechanic that alleviates some of the work from you, or can be used for multi-tasking. But, the main problem with it is that you monkeys can only learn and uses one skill at a time. So if you need one of your hairy helpers to go from chopping wood to dealing with Orclings, you have to retrain them, give them a new weapon/item, etc. And if their weapon/item breaks, you are the one who has to replace it too. Honestly, it just gets a bit too bothersome re-training each monkey and re-equipping them, that you may as well just do the job yourself. I guess the monkey use is a bit like having a multiplayer option in the game and getting help from others…. Which the game already has anyway. Now, I’ve not tried the multiplayer mode, but from playing other similar games with the same feature, I can pretty much guess how it all works anyway.
The Survivalists is a very typical survival-type game, it’s a genre that has been done many times before it. To be honest, the game doesn’t really do anything special to stand out in that regard, it’s a survival game. However, The Survivalists has something that other games in the genre don’t have, Team 17 as developers. There’s just something about Team 17 games, a certain charm, personality and attraction that make them really pop. There’s some very nice pixel art graphics, which if you have ever played the previous The Escapists games, will look very familiar.
So, is The Survivalists worth buying and playing? Yes. Okay, so it may not revolutionise the survival/base building genre, but it does do it very well, and all topped off with that wonderful Team 17 flavour. Plus, this was released back in October last year, so you can probably pick it up for a pretty decent price by now. Then there’s the fact that the game has had a few updates since its initial release to add new features such as farming and much more too. There’s a lot of game here for your money and The Survivalists offers a very balanced and playable game, unlike some other titles of its ilk.