I’ve been putting off writing this review for about a week because I just don’t know where to begin. It’s not like it’s a large game in any way; in fact, it’s only just gone into alpha, but has already received considerable attention for its quality and potential.
So what is this game? Well, it’s a survival game. Another one, you say? Yes, another one. Like all survival games, it has its “catch”. Just as DayZ has zombies, and The Forest has natives, Stranded Deep has… Islands. Yep, just islands. No immediate threat from some savage beast, you’re generally safe, and your biggest threat is the elements.
The goal is the same as any other game of this genre: Survive. From my experience so far in this game, it’s not been too hard. After getting on an island, its a trivial matter of making some crude tools, a fire, killing some crabs, collecting some coconuts (for their juicy, juicy milk) and sitting around until there’s nothing left to eat or drink. Then you paddle over to the next island and repeat until you get bored.
But that’s really playing the game at the basic stage it’s at, and I can only assume that a significantly large amount more content will be added. There is plenty more to do, even now. You can build rafts, simple houses, fire pits (which are permanent features, useful for signifying places you’ve already been), beds, and hunting spears (useful for fishing and hunting sharks).
Oh, did I forget to mention the sharks? Well, this is a game technically about hopping between scarcely resourced islands to survive, so putting something inbetween to make that slightly more difficult makes sense. At this stage of the game, they don’t do much at all (I’m not even certain if they can attack you), but you can hunt them for meat and it’s every so slightly scary to see one when you’re half way to another island circling your little rubber raft.
However, there’s also fish in the sea. And you can hunt them to eat them. To be honest, you’d have to be a fool to die of starvation in this game, since these seas and islands are chock full of tasty creatures to eat. It reduces the challenge, definitely, but this game is very early alpha and we could see a huge change in the future, potentially making the creatures less numerous, or spawn less often.
Crafting in this game is unique, as far as I can tell. Unlike other games, where it generally involves using a recipe and crafting in your inventory, Stranded Deep requires you to drop all the items into a pile on the floor. This will then present a menu which will display all the things you can make with what is currently in the pile.
There are things I like and dislike about this system. On one hand, it makes crafting a lot easier and give you a slightly more realistic inventory. No longer does the game need to give you the ability to carry fifty tonnes of material to craft, so your inventory space is more realistic (note, more, not perfectly realistic). However, it does mean that things you might not have expected to work together might present you the ability to build, much to your surprise. For people who hate discovering crafting recipes, this is slightly helpful (though you have the internet anyway), and it makes crafting a lot faster. However, it’s a wonder that any person could one day throw a pile of items down and suddenly think “You know what? I could make a sword out of this.”
I’m very glad it’s done away with the minecraft way of making things, or simple combination recipes. I just don’t know if it is quite perfect, yet.
There is one other major feature to Stranded Deep I haven’t yet mentioned which, to me, is a defining feature. Exploring ship wrecks.
All around the shores and seas of stranded deep are ship wrecks. One can only assume that this area is effectively the Bermuda Triangle. There tends to be at least one ship wreck per island, with more in places and at sea. Then it’s a matter of getting into the wreck. For ones on shore, this might be as easy as walking over to it and finding a chest to open. For deep ocean ones, you’ll be diving down amongst the sharks, rifling through cupboards, grabbing what you can and returning to the surface to gasp for air.
Ship wrecks contain items you simply cannot craft. Lighters, good quality tools, torches, lanterns, bandages, buckets (for collecting rain), even motor parts so you can craft a powered raft to traverse the seas more quickly. As a result, you’ll spend a good amount of time exploring these wrecks.
My only problem with this at the moment, and I’m sure it’s something that will be fixed, is the game gives you no indication of how direly you need to breath. You can be thinking “just a few more seconds, just a few more seconds” and then find your character blacks out to “You have died”. Disappointing, but again, this is an alpha game.
Now, let’s just touch on one thing that really annoys me.
You spot an island out of the corner of your eye. “Wow, that isn’t too far! Let’s head that way.” As you slowly turn your head, the island gets further, and further, and further away. And suddenly you realise, for whatever reason, you have binoculars on the side of your head.
Irritating. Not least since it takes a long time to paddle between these islands. It actually makes exploring kind of boring, because you’re just sat there holding left mouse wishing you could accelerate time.
But for all this bad side, there are some incredible cool features. As I’ve said, cutting down trees feels fantastic and immersive. But another feature, which took me a long time to figure out, was dynamic water levels.
I picked up a bucket in a ship wreck. Obviously, it was full of sea water. I couldn’t figure out how to empty the sea water without drinking it. So eventually, I just put it on the ground. After dropping it, there was a splashing animation surrounding the bucket, and I just thought it was an effect to symbolise how it was full of water. However, in picking up the bucket and trying to rotate it, I noticed that if the bucket stood up, it didn’t make the animation. And I then noticed, there was actually a liquid in the bucket model. Holy shit, that wasn’t a buggy animation, the water was actually pouring out of the bucket! I played around with this, and realised I could actually watch the water level in the bucket go down. Sure, the water itself isn’t dynamic, but the fact you can see a water level in the bucket itself that rises and falls blew me away! I can’t express how amazing it is that they actually created a dynamic model that displays how much liquid is in the bucket, that reacts to it’s position. It’s something I’ve never seen in a game before.
All in all, Stranded Deep is looking to be a survival game that stands out. Nowadays, with the huge host of survival games about, they all need something to stand out, and Stranded Deep manages it by presenting that necessity to explore in a beautiful, procedurally generated environment. I have high hopes for this game in the future and can only sit here eagerly anticipating future updates. It isn’t too expensive to buy right now, but I’d personally wait until a little more content is added before splashing cash on this.
Stranded Deep is developed by Beam Team Games and is in Early Access. You can find it on Steam for £10.99. Article written for Spirit of the Robot by Static.