The Escapists has been one of Team 17’s runaway hits in recent years, but its refreshing to see that they’ve decided to spin off from it rather than have you Prison Break all over again.
They started sowing the seeds with recent DLC – Wicked Ward, Dungeons and Duct, Big Top Breakout etc – with each one having a narrative driver over the top of it and you have to work within the confines of its mini-universe.
The Survivalists is a different proposition altogether, though. A procedurally generated desert island full of monkeys and a day and night cycle that supports 4 player multiplayer – whether that’s co-op or competitive.
Befriending Monkeys is a key mechanic, and it takes me back to that classic Secret of Monkey Island puzzle where Guybrush has to get the monkey to pull the nose so you can walk through the Giant Monkey head. The Survivalists is more sophisticated than that, of course, and Monkeys can do a lot more than just dangle around, holding doors open for you.
You can have Monkey Warriors, swinging swords, fighting to protect you. They can even wield a bow and arrow. But they’re not just fighters as Monkey’s make excellent crafters, fortifying your position by building walls or by putting something together at a craft table.
They can even dig riches for you. And you can literally have an army of them at your disposal, all doing very different things at the same time.
You have to build trust with the little folks, though. Usually, by bringing them what they want – they’ll have a small image over their heads, indicating their heart’s desire – so you’ll have to find it and bring it to them. When you are friends, though, you use the game’s mimic system which has a surprising amount of depth to it.
This lets you configure custom commands for the monkeys and have them work independently of you barking out instructions every few minutes. Over time, you’ll see the benefits of that by having multiple numbers of monkeys working on different things, freeing up your time to go exploring. The best part is, the more they do the actions, the better they get at them.
And that’s probably the most surprising and impressive thing about Survivalists. Despite the natural environment likely being isolated and barren, Team 17 have managed to make it feel like an Escapists game with plenty of monkeys to interact with, animals to see, and creatures to fight.
As you’d expect from a desert island game, you have to stave off hunger and thirst, while also contending with all the other threats on the island.
The island is full of natural resources that help you to build out new and interesting things, like glass bottles, animal traps, training dummies, as well as things like shovels and pick axes. Like Animal Crossing, you can also pick up blueprints which let you build even more extravagant, specialized things.
You can get through the entire list quicker than expected, though, which does expose some limitations with the content with the game. It feels like you can see a good chunk of everything Survivalists has to offer in a few good sittings.
The UI is also a little bit of a headscratcher – particularly on the smaller Switch screen as there’s a lot to take in – and the game’s tutorial doesn’t do the best job of making it clear either. It can actually confuse things more than make them informative.
There’s some good secrets to uncover when venturing around, though, which will make you want to explore the island from top to bottom just to get the absolute most out of it. Most of them are found in the game’s massive temples, which are usually well guarded with tricks and traps. These are good fun, particularly in co-op, as it actually encourages you to work together a little bit.
The game really is at its best when played in co-op, as you learn secrets and tips by watching other people play, and maybe even pass some of that knowledge along yourself, The Survivalists really encourages you to experiment, tinker, and try new things, whether that’s crafting recipes, or venturing into the unknown. Sometimes the risks will outweigh the reward, and other times you might get really lucky.
On the whole, Survivalists is a good game, with a catchy soundtrack, some really striking visuals – particularly the way the water moves in and out and the striking golden aesthetic of the sand. It’s a lot of fun with multiple players and there really is no better game I can think of where you can make best friends with the cutest of little monkeys.
The initial raids and battles you come up against can be brutal, particularly if you haven’t had a chance to set things up, and as mentioned, the UI isn’t the most user friendly or tutorial very helpful. Once you get through the initial hurdles, though, you’ll have a blast.
There’s a demo, so it’s definitely working taking the time to try it for yourself and see how you get on. Survivalists has a really fun gameplay loop and it feels different enough from Escapists that it’s worth a look if you feel a bit burned out with the series.
Ultimately, though, The Survivalists is fun, if not a little limited in its current state. Fortunately, there’s lots more coming down the tracks with the game’s extensive content roadmap which will surely flesh out the experience even more and make it interesting for months to come.
+ The mimic system is a great way to avoid grind
+ The game has some surprisingly striking visuals
+ Survivalists is at its strongest in co-op
+ Lots more content still to come
– Raid system can be brutal early on if you don’t have time to setup
– Content feels a bit thin at the moment
– UI and crafting is a bit convoluted and tutorial can be confusing
The Survivalists is now available on PC, PS4, Switch and XO
Code kindly provided by Team 17
Tested on Switch