The Survivalists is a canny choice when expanding the universe of The Escapists. After all, the pre-vious game had crafting, fighting, and surviving already. Instead of prison yards, we now have is-lands, jungles, and an annoying race of goblins to contend with. Oh, and monkeys.
This game loves monkeys. Had The Survivalists focused only on survival, it would have been a com-petent, if vague facsimile of Don’t Starve. However, the central mechanic constantly hammered home the ability to train the local primates, urging them to build, craft, and gather for you, while you build, craft, and gather elsewhere.
This concept is endearing and recalls Autonauts. The player holds a button placing the monkey into ‘observation’ mode while they complete an action. Following this example, pass the monkey the correct tool and they’ll stand ready and willing.
For example, a monkey can be trained to build furniture at the crafting table; if they’re near your campfire, they can also make dinner. But you have to train a second monkey to grab materials from a chest, and a third to take the complete item to another chest. In the end, you have a reasonable production line.
The idea that this mechanic could take out the boring aspects of survival games feels forced and situational. When the time came to build a small boat for further exploration, I decided to try it my-self, only to watch my islander moan that the monkeys could do it while he explored.
The monkeys became the main point of playing, whether they followed me, carrying a chest to store items – because the hotbar never expands, and switching out items is a chore – or were armed with swords to fight my battles, which is handy, because the combat is clunky.
Away from primates, the actual act of surviving is fine, though the game constantly undermines itself. The island replenishes every few in-game days, meaning food isn’t that hard to come by, and materials for basic recipes are always to hand. There are random chests to be found here and there, which when broken open reward the player with tools, weapons, and rarer materials.
I reached a point where I didn’t build any tools at all and had a chest brimming over with good weaponry. It entirely removes the need to get out and explore. As does the magical shop which appears randomly and accepts gold, which tends to fall out of everything you pick up.
Of course, there’s a loose storyline to give players a sense of completion, and there are temples full of treasure and enemies, but none of it feels particularly rewarding. Maybe it’s because I didn’t build much along the way – I simply sat back and let everyone else do the work. Bring in a friend via multiplayer, and you’re a consortium fleecing the local inhabitants for profit.
There’s a feeling of art imitating life here. I sent out a monkey to harvest wood by showing them how to chop down a tree. Ten minutes later, there were no trees left standing on my island. I showed them next how to make swords and soon had an army. I felt like Jeff Bezos, minus the bil-lions.
A briefly satisfying yet hollow experience which doesn’t quite capture the spark of The Escapists.
Format: Switch (tested) / XBO / PS4 / PC / Apple Arcade
Release: Out now