It's no secret that I absolutely adore Team 17's Escapists games and the subsequent DLC installments. With nearly 200 episodes under my belt spread across the two games, I know a thing or two about pixel pals in predicaments by now.
The previous titles had you on edge almost constantly due to the scrutiny of guards, cameras, roll calls, bunk checks and the occasional aggy inmate.
It was an environment that left you frantic meaning an hour's worth of prep and planning could buckle because you forgot to make a fake vent cover!
Those games required hyper awareness of your surroundings, precision timing / movement and the real fear of getting cornered then clobbered. The Survivalists, unfortunately, does not...
It's not all doom and gloom though, so be sure to read on!
I think the best way to tackle this is to go through everything you encounter in the game chronologically and discuss them.
Right off the bat, your eyes are blessed with some crisp and honestly refreshing looking waters, the kind that makes you want to head to the beach irl. The accenting white speckles and sun reflections map are all pixel art, which is a relief. The reason I point this out is because I've played far too many games where the environments, characters and items are all pixel art sprites but then bodies of water, lava or space gloop are rendered in a completely different fashion and it's ALWAYS a clash.. The Survivalists is a masterclass in how to bring sprite work to life!
It might seem silly to focus an entire paragraph on the water but you have to bare in mind that this is an Island Survival game. It's everywhere. You'll very regularly be walking through shallow depths, skirting around your island and trudging between little lumps of land before later on spending longer durations sailing, so it's such a critical detail to get right.
Atop these waters your little avatar is out cold bobbing along on the scattered remains of a raft. The frame rate of these animations (and all character ones throughout the game) are a lot lower than the water but surprisingly, it doesn't feel uncomfortable to look at.
I was really excited to see the developers carry forwards the higher resolution sprites like they did in the second Escapists game because it allows for so much more detail. The shrubs and trees look lush, your character can be really expressive and enemy designs have room to be more intricate.
You wake up on the coast alongside your shipwreck. It's morning, the red tint of sunrise still hanging over everything. Tall grass swaying (but not the palm trees oddly. They do wiggle when whacked but they're static the remainder of the time) and shadows deepening as noon approaches. The tide flowing to and fro along the sand with an equally elegant sway and when you step out in to the waters a little, you get to see the subtle shift in colors indicating the depths. It's slick.
As you progress through the game and craft a campfire or discover those lucrative vault doors, you'll be treated to the ambient glows it gives off accompanied by the odd particle effect which is really charming.
Entering in to a labyrinth or vault casts that familiar red sheen across the screen but not quite as intense. With it, your edges are darkened by a none-intrusive vignette, leaving a little mystery for what lies ahead. This gives the underground a real mood and caution.
Having completed the game 100% (to my knowledge) with all Labyrinths explored as well as the crafting / blueprint trees uncovered in their entirety, it's safe to say I've seen just about every visual this game has to offer... and I can't fault a single one of them.
There's not a single mob, item, chair or rock that made me recoil and scream "THAT DOESN'T BELONG HERE!", it's a very concise pallet. Hell, even the Teleporter which is an out-of-this-world piece of tech somehow retains that makeshift aesthetic as much as, say, a throne of bones!
The Survivalists has perfected its art style and created something truly gorgeous.
CONTROLS AND SHORTCUTS
If you've played their previous titles then the movement and attack mechanics are very familiar to before. It's your typical WASD for movements, left click to swing (with that slight cha cha slide to hoists you toward the enemy if they're in range) and Space Bar is for just about everything else. That's where one of my biggest gripes lies...
The space bar issue
Having the space bar used for too many things opens you up to a world of accidents.
Interact, trade, pick up - they're all in this not so happy meal!
After any combat encounter it's not uncommon to have a stack of monkeys fumbling all around you and for there to be loose items all over the floor fresh from the kill. You think you're about to pick up a nice slab of meat but instead, you've just given away your Legendary Wind Spear to a little chimp champ.
Does 'Swap Item' with a monkey really need to be on Space Bar?
The feature itself is beneficial. It's much quicker than using the slightly buggy radial menu (which we'll get on to in just a moment) but they could've chosen any, other, button!
Not so shortcuts
For console I'm sure that's a seperate challenge but for PC the game utilities plenty of other keys. F is to cancel recipe requests, M will bring up your map and K is for Treasure Maps.. Huh? Why not T?
My guess is they wanted to keep all those quick menu presses in a huddle on the far right of your keyboard. Fair enough, but even then things are a little backwards..
- Lore is on L which makes sense, convenient
- Treasure is the tab to the left, so K is the logical choice, nailed it
That should mean Monkeys would be on J right? Wrong. That's on N.
J is actually Profile which lives to the right side of Lore(?), H opens the Monkey Glossary which is on the furthest right(?!) of the menu and... Well you get my point, it doesn't line up.
I know that might seem petty to point out but I just like it when things make sense and feel intuitive. I appreciate why they had to do this because Maps and Monkeys couldn't both live on M but if we're not matching letters, let's at least double down on the left-to-right layout.
Anways, my point is. They should separate pick-up and trade monkey inputs.
MONKEY SEE, MONKEY DO
One of this game's standout features is the ability to micro-manage a legion of monkeys to do your bidding!!
Once you've given them an item of their choosing, they'll reciprocate that gesture with eternal undying allegiance. THEY WILL DIE FOR YOU!
You can command them to do just about anything from here on out. Anything you can do, they can do... as well.
Make sure you delegate to them as often as possible because oh my god does your character like to cry and bitch about it every time you *shudder* cook yourself some food "Oh a monkey could do this for me" WAHAWAHWAH WITTLE BABY
Ahem. Er, sorry about that..
Let's start with the good. The ability to chain monkeys roles in to a well oiled machine is incredibly satisfying and actually really fun to watch unfold.
You can leave them going all day long and when there's nothing for them to do, they'll stand idle awaiting further commands. A typical example would be:
Monkey A, chopping down trees
Monkey B, collecting any loose items on the ground and popping them in a chest
Monkey C, delivering any ingredients from chests to the stations (furnace/crafting)
Monkey D, crafting the requests for you
Let's just quickly talk about Monkey D (Luffy, ha!!) because maybe the biggest misstep with the crafting automation in this game is the distinct lack of a quantity option.
Your monkeys will keep repeating these same tasks until there's a void. Either through a lack of materials or their tools break. Meaning one innocent request for some Golden Nails ends up making 20 and exhausting your gold stash!!
Whilst a monkey is in the middle of crafting, you can't even cancel further attempts until they're done.. You have to be primed and ready to drop that command between completions.
I'm not asking for the ability to queue different items of varying quantities. All I want, is when I choose an item in the Furnace, to also say how many I expect to be made. 5 golden plates please por favor and not a plate more! Just food for thought.
Monkey B, picks up complete product and dumps it in to the chest
The radial menu
Once you've got a few monkeys recruited you'll want to start doling out these tasks, so you hold Q, all nearby monkeys huddle around for a team talk and on the PC you can click+drag an area to select a batch of monkeys, then scream at them like a drill sergeant.
The simplest of these commands in Follow, they follow you, you get it.
This next command SHOULD have been simple, but it's not.. It's Dismiss.
Dismiss will relinquish the monkey of its duties and it will no longer follow you around BUT what I came to learn very quickly is that they don't stay local to the area.. Instead, they'll wander aimlessly to all 4 corners of the island with only deep water to stop them. NOOOOoooo!!!
Luckily recruited monkeys can always be seen on the world map but it's rather annoying to wrangle them up again.
Sometimes I just feel a little claustrophobic when lots of monkeys are following me and I want my fighters to go chill out in the locker room whilst I do some inventory management.
I don't know if the intention is to build walls around for your base to box them in and that triggers some kind of 'home' recognition or if my alternate method is the intended anchor..
I eventually figured out a trick to keeping them inactive and in one place is to highlight them all, hit Teach and then perform an emote.
Every monkey will rush over to your exact location, no clip stack on top of one another and hold that pose indefinitely.
It works, but it looks a little rigid / unnatural.
Heads up kid!
Our next option is Throw Item. Again it's fairly self explanatory, whichever item is highlighted in your hot bar when you click this will be given to the chosen monkey. Exceeeeeept...
There's a really frustrating and consistent bug. This isn't a 'every once in a while' kind of bug, this is easy for me to recreate over and over again.
When you select a monkey and press Throw Item, if there happens to be another monkey stood beneath that radial button (which there almost always is) then THAT monkey will often receive the item instead. Sometimes, like shown above, if the game feels generous, it'll give an additional nearby monkey one too. Why not?!
I really hoped this one would be ironed out by time we got the full release but it just simply wasn't. Now every time I want to give a monkey an item, I either have to be vigilante about who's stood nearby or risk the previous Space Bar method.
Both methods have their flaws and it can really grate on you.
Teach 'em a lesson
Finally, there's Teach. It's a very simple setup. You select Teach which throws them a banana to hold and until the timer expires, the very next action you perform they will mimic moving forwards.
There is one problem however.
There doesn't seem to be any kind of priority order for the information monkeys receive. I've lost count of the times I've gone to whack a goblin to trigger my squad but in the same single motion, I'll have obliterated some tall grass with my spear mid-thrust before it pierced the winged rat.
Suddenly, the monkeys start running around gnashing on every berry bush they can their grubby teeth into, all the while leaving me alone to fight my own battles! Remember: The player doesn't want to do anything themselves. Bad monkeys.
Resetting Monkeys again and again and again..
I do enjoy the novelty of teaching a monkey an action for the very first time so it commits it to memory but moving forwards, I'd love it if instead we could pick simple modes to enable.
It was a common occurrence to be midway through a Labyrinth and a room required me to pop numerous monkeys on to different pressure plates in poses in order to unlock the pathway.
Puzzle solved, I welcome them back in to the fold, select Teach then head in to the next room. As I breach the doorway, I'm hawkeyeing the room to locate the nearest mob because if I don't land the first hit then they'll either be dead too quickly or it just becomes a dog pile. I just want my puzzle boys in fight mode again 😭
I'd like the propose a little addition to the Teach menu if I may. How about some smaller buttons further left for simple modes?
Here's a scuffed mock up of how that could look:
This would be an abbreviated menu of course because actions like crafting, cooking and litter picking (transferring items from floor to chests) are a little more unique so shouldn't be in this menu. I'd limit it to some basics like Mining, Woodcutting and Attacking which can't be misinterpreted. It would be a great quality of life feature in my opinion.
I really enjoy the crafting in this game, it's clear and simple with 2 separate trees.
Some people watching my stream seemed confused between the smaller item crafting menu found on the C shortcut and the expanded version unlocked via the Crafting Table. They're the same thing.
To make a direct comparison, the C shortcut takes you to Minecraft's equivalent of 2x2 crafting and the crafting bench takes you to your 3x3, simples!
The other types of crafting is Blueprints. I'm a big fan of this separation and distinction. Regular crafting is for items that can be wielded by the user where as blueprints are for structures. Walls, paths, beds, etc.
Just a quick note (another bug) on blueprints. You can place the blueprint down in your world to gauge how it would fit in the local space before dedicating to its creation.
It will appear as a blue hologram version of itself BUT you can't seem to remove said hologram, even when you toggle on the blueprint's destroy option and click on it, the hologram remains. This hologram stays present even when you leave the blueprint menu entirely!
All you can do currently is replace it with another blueprint. They're a real eye sore so be careful when you start constructing your base to keep it picturesque.
Lastly, props to the team for listing ingredient NAMES in recipes as opposed to just the sprites. Some games assume you know what everything is at a glance but that's not always the case. That little bit of clarity will helps player crack on and go gathering.
IS THE GAME DIFFICULT?
Not at all. Upsettingly so I would say..
Even if you have a bare minimum of say 2 or 3 monkeys by your side, you're going to absolutely overwhelm every enemy that stands in your way, even if there are numerous.
As it stands there seems to be no capacity limit on how many monkeys can follow you at any given time (other than how many can follow you in to Multiplayer worlds). This means you can deck them all out with even the most simple of weapons like a Baseball Bat and they'll bombard enemies like a school of Piranha leaving just the bones.
I was able to breeze through the 4 main Labyrinths of the game simply by sprinting in to a room, doing some minimal dodges (but usually not even that was necessary) and leaving my monkeys to do the rest. Sure, I could make it more difficult for myself by taking less but why would I?
Labyrinths are just big Vaults
On the topic of Labyrinths, each one has a unique figurehead at its entrance. There's the Bat, Monkey, Big Cat and Boar which also correspond to their respective keys purchased from the Mysterious Shop (a cool hot air balloon store that roams the islands and never stays in one place too long)
I'm really disappointed that the final room of each of these has nothing more than the same copy and pasted skeleton pirates and floating skulls.
I was half expecting each Labyrinth to have a unique boss encounter with a supersized version of each animal to vanquish!
Boss aside, even the architecture for these final rooms doesn't stand out from all the previous ones on your journey. There's often the generic spike pits you've seen 10 times over and no fresh hazards to note.
Where are the falling roof tiles? The arrows shooting out the wall? The... ANYTHING?!
The key item at the end of each Labyrinth goes towards repairing the large Galleon found on your world map, so they're a hard requirement. I just wish the experience was more thrilling.
I did appreciate the puzzle rooms, as simple as they were. We could've done with more of them. I think there were barely 3 inputs: emotes, whack the gears, quick pressure plate pressing.
Labyrinths didn't offer much and it's a damn shame.
Raids feel none-impactful
Occasionally you'll hear the horn blare to warn that a raid is inbound. These are never really a big deal, they're more of an annoyance that you swat away like flies when you're eating outdoors.
What's really strange about these is that they trigger even when you're inside a vault or a labyrinth which is odd because when you're in those instances you can't actually access the world map. In my opinion, raid possibility should be put on pause whilst dungeon delving.
I've had plenty of raids occur when I've been halfway across the world too, only to return home and seemingly everything was fine. I think on one occasion they'd broken a chest of mine but all my monkey buddies were completely unscathed..
There's no consequence for failure
When your monkey pals are bested in battle, they're a bit like Pokemon and simply faint rather than perishing. They don't lose their weapons (from what I've observed) and after a brief cooldown they're up and kicking again.
- If they die during a Labyrinth battle, no biggie.
- If they die whilst you're away from home, it's just a quick nap.
I'd have felt compelled to create walls for my base rather than being exposed to the elements if I actually felt there was a danger to prevent.
How about when you Monkey loses its HP, it scurries off and you have to track it down again with a new peace offering to get it back on the team?
I wouldn't wipe their stats back to zero, but at least their allegiance would waver.
Some might suggest "nah, just completely kill 'em off" but you've got to remember the audience this game is aimed at and once they've given their favourite buddy a name and changed their fur to hot pink, it'd be a real gut punch to lose them forever.
It's not too grindy
With a lack of engaging combat, the game really needs to lean in to its gathering / building aspects which it does, really well.
Building is a breeze thanks to your monkey assistants. So then we're left with the potential grind of tracking down and gathering resources. Luckily, that's a short process too.
Every so often when a new day ticks over, you'll notice the moon on your mini map will be a luminous red. I won't lie, this scared the hell out of me initially. Almost every other game ever uses this to symbolize a blood moon, often followed by a wave of powerful mobs and a swift death!
Here though, it means all resources are about to be replenished. Destroyed trees are regrown, ore deposits plentiful again. It's handy! It means you can pop markers on your world map and frequent those places to stock up for your recipes.
SO WHAT RATING DO YOU GIVE IT?
I've said from the get-go that this blog won't contain scores because frankly, they're a bit convoluted and if today I label something an 8/10 but later down the line it actually sits more at a 7 then I'm not in the business of retroactively going back to alter every other score ever.
What I will say though, is that the time spent vs. the money spent felt fair.
I've sunk about 17 or 18 hours in to my playthrough, which at times was a pretty break neck pace. I really lingered around my base at the beginning of the game just quickly churning out one of everything in the crafting tree to see how far Day 1 resources can get you (it's surprisingly really far!)
Most players would likely venture around more and make discoveries so that will add time on. Plus, I blitzed the final 2 labyrinths speedrun style simply because I could.
I also didn't spend much time following treasure maps because realistically it wasn't worth the time. The loot was always often something simple like a sturdy multi-tool which I could easily make myself ya know?
It was nearly 20 hours, for a £20 game, can't fault it really.
I always tell people to compare that price to a movie ticket. 10 bucks, 2 hours, no replayability and overpriced food. Games are great man!
Thanks so much for reading. The initial responses to these posts has been great and it's humbling to know my opinion on things matters to some of you! Most of me writing here is to document my own thoughts like a diary but also to refine my written skills for the future if I ever step in to some kind of community management role. It's fun. Let's keep going!