The Survivalists is a new survival/crafting/MONKEY game from Team17. Monkeys are probably the best animal after bears so it goes without saying that The Survivalists is clearly starting out on the right foot.
On the surface, The Survivalists is a cutesy 8bit looking title but if anyone reading this has played The Escapists/The Escapists 2/The Escapists The Walking Dead you know full well that looks can be deceiving.
The basic premise is that you wash ashore on a damaged raft with nothing but the clothes on your back and your wits. A quick tip, search the raft, I didn’t and found there was quite a bit of useful stuff in there a few hours in.
Whilst the game immediately feels like The Escapists on an island there are differences that only become apparent after playing for a while.
For example, there is a dodge roll mechanic that I don’t remember being in The Escapists and in general, there is a slower pace to the game as a whole. This is something you don’t realise until after a raid on your base and the frantic action that ensues reminds you that there is actually a serene feeling most of the time.
In The Survivalists the game mechanics, mostly crafting and fighting, are surprisingly good but training the Monkeys is a little overly complicated and the tutorial didn’t help too much. I mostly found my way by clicking lots and working things out as I went.
For example, you make a bow and so naturally you then make lots of arrows but this is wrong. What I should have done is make a bow and combine it with arrows. There is no need to reload when it breaks you make another bow and combine that with arrows.
And every night the monkey butlers will regale us with jungle stories.
How many monkey butlers will there be?
One at first, but he’ll train others.
Getting the monkeys to complete tasks in The Survivalists could have been easier too. I will explain the labyrinthine task that is the gameplay loop of making pickaxes automatically.
To make a pickaxe you will need a handle, stone chunks and rope. To make the handle you will need timber and pebbles, to make the stone chunks you will need pebbles and to make the rope you need long grass.
OK so you need a supply of three things, let’s send our simian assistants or monkey butlers, whichever you prefer, to gather these items, so let’s start with timber, we need an axe, I teach a monkey to gather pebbles, to do this I need a pickaxe to mine some stone so there are some pebbles for him to gather.
I began to teach another monkey to carry on mining stone, then I need a monkey to just make hand axes to keep these guys going, for him to do this I have to craft a workbench.
After crafting a workbench, I attempt to teach a monkey to take hand axes to the monkey mining stone but he won’t for some reason. After hanging him for treason I realise I will have to make sure the working apes have the tools they need. There is no prompt to tell me someone has stopped working by the way.
Next, I need timber, so I teach a monkey to chop trees and then another to gather the timber and take it back to camp. The area they will gather from is reasonably large so I have one monkey bringing stone and timber back to camp.
I now need a supply of rope so I have to teach another monkey to cut the grass but this is too far away from the stone and timber so I need another monkey to bring grass back to camp. The grass runs out quite quickly so these monkeys need to be moved around a fair bit.
Next, I need a workbench and a monkey to make rope and another workbench and monkey to make stone chunks. I then need another workbench to make handles and one final workbench to put it all together.
In all to automate the making of pickaxes so that I can mine metal from another island, I needed 11 monkeys. To get a monkey to work for you they need to be fed a Monkey Stew that takes a bowl made of palm leaves, you have to gather those and berries and petals, they need gathering. Then you have to cook them by using the multi-tool. I know, I will automate this!
My biggest issue with the apes is that they often forget what they do between play sessions. Sleeping on a bed allows you to save, save and sleep or sleep. When you quit the game and return later every ape had to be reminded that they were a fighter or should be chopping trees, I am sure The Survivalists will be fixed for launch but it was annoying.
I found myself doing most jobs because it was easier than arranging a million apes to do it for me plus, they are much better used as fighters.
There are dangers all around in the shape of Boars, Bears, Big Cats and the male Long Horned something or other that will attack if you try and kill it. Not unreasonable I suppose.
There are also Goblins or Orcs or some other strange faced creatures and, in the tombs, Skeleton Pirates.
It can be challenging fighting all these creatures alone but tool up your monkey army and they will rip whole villages to shreds in a matter of seconds.
The first time I encountered an Orc village (I’m calling them orcs from now on) I was killed in quick fashion. Arrows are easy to avoid and the guys that run at you with spears can be dodged but 3 arrows and two spear guys were too much for me to take. I managed to get my stuff back but I was really annoyed.
5 minutes later and a raft full of sword-wielding apes laid waste to the village while I spent the whole fight running around grabbing gold.
Gathering food to survive, building a substantial base with floors walls and paths is great fun. The raids are not too hard once your army of monkey bodyguards have been taught to fight but the early game could see you lose some hard-won progress that can be frustrating.
I was unable to play the four-player co-op mode before review but I am sure it would only add to what is a good experience. As a solo game, it is competent enough and fun enough to come back to and I enjoyed my time with it.
Despite the frustrations at managing a monkey workforce, the crafting is solid and the progression from simple tools to other simple tools with handles is logical.
I did build a teleporter in two places thinking I was a genius only to discover I need a green gem I had not seen so I still have something to play for despite spending a good chunk of time playing to write this review.
The Survivalists is a very good and well-made game. It has a solid pedigree to draw on and a fan base that will love it. Far more serene than previous titles but you still always have something to do and something you need to gather to help you with another task.
Exploration, crafting, building, survival, it’s all here and it’s wrapped in a very solid package.
Fun but monkey doesn't beat bear
A great game and one that is full of fun. There is a lot to do plus there are Monkey Butlers.