Hey, what if Cast Away had been really cool and didn’t have so much of that fucking volleyball in it? Also if it took place on a chain of islands instead of just one? The answer is close to Beam Team Games’s Stranded Deep, out now on ps4 and xbox one. Yes, it mainly focuses on survival, crafting and base-building, but don’t run off just yet—it may not reinvent the wheel, but this title has several neat little tricks up its sleeve.
When you start a new game of Stranded Deep, you’re on a private jet that suddenly crashes in the middle of the ocean, leaving you in an archipelago with only a small, inflatable life raft and a paddle. A tutorial shows you how to craft crude cutting tools to chop down yucca trees and hack up palm fronds to make lashing, a shelter, a campfire and more. Once you’ve learned to keep yourself from starving and dehydrating to death, you’re on your own.
Your character must collect resources and use an in-game crafting menu to make increasingly elaborate items that will aid their travel from island to island and eventually escape from the Pacific entirely. Standing in your way are your needs for survival—including hunger, thirst and a risk of overexposure to the sun—as well as forces of nature like poisonous snakes, sharks, giant squid/kraken and more.
But before all that, you have to start small. My biggest mistake going into this game was trying to rush it. You may be tempted to leave the first island you reach as soon as you finish the tutorial, but patience is rewarded as you find enough components to craft a fire pit, a water still, crude spears and hammers, a coconut flask for carrying sun-blocking aloe vera, shelter and more. There are also small fish and crabs to eat and coconuts to drink (never drink three in a row; trust me).
Taking these small first steps is an exercise in patience, but it will be rewarded. Your character has several skills that can level up with practice, including physical (running and swimming), hunting and crafting. Leveling up your crafting is vital because it opens up new recipes. If you sail onward without leveling up your crafting, you may find yourself encountering a snake and dying of a poisonous bite before you’ve learned to craft antidotes—believe me; I learned the hard way.
As you progress, you unlock incredibly useful crafting recipes. Initially, you’ll travel from island to island at a snail’s pace by paddling your inflatable life raft. Within a few hours, you may find yourself the captain of a makeshift sailboat. Eventually you’ll be literally island-hopping in a gyrocopter. Tools are the same. You start with a stone tool that’s little more than a rock with one sharp edge, but well within an hour you can put together fishing spears for catching shallow-water seafood and hammers for building your first vehicles. Steampunk-inspired spear guns follow.
Shelters also progress alongside your character. During the tutorial, your first shelter is essentially a couple palm fronds laid together in the shape of a small tent, which I recommend building near a campfire. By the end of the game, many players will build themselves full-sized houses of bricks and wood planks, complete with meat smokers for cooking your quarry. And yes, I did say “the end of the game,” which I’ll get back to later.
So let’s talk drawbacks. Personally I’m not usually a big fan of survival games. I don’t know if I’m unlucky or stupid, but in most survival games I often find myself suddenly missing one thing, like a certain kind of flint or kindling to make a fire, or maybe one crafting component to make a first aid kit or antidote or whatever, and I end up running around like a chicken with my head cut off for like 20 minutes as I slowly freeze to death or get poisoned or something. And it’s always really embarrassing too—I’ll have like a triple-A shotgun or a fully-functioning ranch with pigs or a house with reinforced steel walls and I’ll seem to be in really good shape, then a bee will sting me and I can’t find a bandage and I’ll die over the course of an hour and have to start over.
That happened to me less in Stranded Deep, which I definitely appreciated, though I never quite got the hang of staying hydrated. An over-reliance on coconut milk will lead to diarrhea and quick dehydration death, but being too cautious will dry you up too. Building a water still or two is a great way to keep thirst at bay, but that leaves you at the mercy of the game’s dynamic weather system. If it doesn’t rain for three days, no water will accumulate.
Second is that some of the graphics can look dated. Stranded Deep looks fine overall, but it’s been out for a few years on PC and it shows. Some of the environment is lovely and detailed but other aspects are clearly last-gen. The pickup mechanic is also a bit too exact; your dot reticle has to be exactly on an item you can interact with—which can be problematic when you chop down a tree and the parts you need from it end up deep in the underbrush of other trees and plants. Likewise, the sound design is fine but not quite exceptional, although I did appreciate the oven “ding” when the meat you’re cooking on your campfire is done.
So what helps the game keep your interest? First off, it’s more forgiving and less of an endurance-and-luck experience than other survival games like 7 Days to Die and Don’t Starve. Your fate isn’t solely in the hands of a randomly-generated world, nor is the point of the game just to survive as long as you can. Stranded Deep rewards patience during its slow first couple of hours, and those rewards do ramp up. Simply put, it’s just enjoyable and cool to keep getting better stuff.
Second, one of the majorly successful components of the game is the bountiful shipwrecks your character can explore. Nearly every island sports a clearly visible crow’s nest or rusted ship’s bridge just off the coast; swimming out to them and diving underwater provides crates full of advanced crafting parts like corrugated scrap metal and gyrocopter components. It’s one of my favorite parts of the game and a smooth way to work in rare materials.
Third, Stranded Deep has an objective. My biggest gripe with survival games is a combination of my earlier complaints. First, when you combine a randomly-generated world with hazards, sometimes it feels the gamer’s skill has been left out in favor of a roll of the dice. Second, so often, the goal of survival games is just to see how long you can live—which, added onto that previous point, really feels like a colossal waste of time. It’s like instead of seeing if you can win a coin toss, how many coin tosses you can win in a row. In this title, however, as you build yourself up, you don’t just survive. You thrive, eventually having sturdy enough tools and enough food and water and storage space and skills and high-tech vehicles that you can reach a location in the game where you can fix up one specific thing and leave the archipelago for good.
You just have to be doing well enough for yourself that you can spend the time looking for that location and not get taken down by the larger ocean predators lurking about.
So Stranded Deep doesn’t completely revolutionize the survival/crafting/base-building genres, and sometimes the graphics leave something to be desired. However, I enjoyed my time with it considerably more than I thought I would and it definitely fixes some of the problems I’ve had with other titles in its genre. It’s priced right at $19.99 USD, so pick it up and enjoy the adventure.
Stranded Deep Review Overview
Stranded Deep doesn't reinvent the wheel on survival games, but it has a lot going for it. A couple lackluster aspects hold it back from greatness, but it's worth a buy.