The Survivalists review: multiple monkey management

As at the time of writing, being cast away on a desert island doesn’t sound like such a bad thing. Just me and maybe a few friends, getting away from pandemics, politics and, you know, people. All we’d have to worry about is keeping fed, sheltered and healthy. I think I could live with that. However, the premise of The Surivialists from Team17 is to escape this scenario in an attempt to return to ‘civilisation’. Whatever floats your boat, I suppose.

Yes, the latest title from Team17, developers of all the Worms games and, more pertinently, The Escapists, would have you escape from a mysterious tropical island full of wonder and monkeys. To be fair, it’s not all sunshine and sandcastles, as there are plenty of dangers too. Orclings are out to eat you and wreck your stuff. So are some of the animals, too. Then there’s the undead pirates and hazardous environments. OK, maybe civilisation doesn’t look too bad by comparison.

The Survivalists sits rather neatly between the ‘survive a hostile and mysterious wilderness’ of Don’t Starve and the ‘brightly-coloured resource management and exploration’ of Stardew Valley. I admit, those are quite lazy comparisons to make, but to my mind they’re also completely unavoidable. The Survivalists falls roughly between these games in terms of difficulty, too: danger isn’t as optional as it is in Stardew Valley, but nor is it as ever-present as it is in Don’t Starve.

You begin your island adventures on a beach next to a smashed up raft, with nothing but its remaining contents and the clothes on your back. Your survival knowledge extends only far enough to put together a basic stone axe and a makeshift bed. Pretty quickly though, you’re able to start scavenging additional resources, unlocking new items and objects to build.

This happens remarkably quickly, actually. Pretty soon you’re able to build all manner of tools, weapons, objects and structures. The types of resource that become available are so varied that inventory management swiftly ends up being a full-time job. Basic resources, including food, are not hard to come by though, so dumping the more basic items isn’t too much of a handicap if it becomes necessary.

The aforementioned monkeys can also lend a helping hand. These practical primates can be rescued and/or recruited to your cause, and taught basic skills. For example, you can teach a monkey to chop trees or build walls, and they’ll keep doing it until they become unable to do so. As you progress, you’re able to train them for combat, which becomes particularly useful when fighting off Orcling raids, or exploring the islands’ treasure-laden crypts.

Note that the apostrophe in that last sentence isn’t an error – it soon becomes obvious that your island is part of an archipelago. The other islands are explorable (once you build a new raft, of course), and exploration isn’t just to satisfy your curiosity: to escape the island(s), you’ll need to collect all the required keys. Notes left by previous explorers offer hints to the odd nature of your hopefully temporary home.

All-in-all, it’s a neat if not especially original concept. There are some small quality of life changes which, if implemented, would make the whole experience more enjoyable. For example, the controls feel overwhelmingly geared towards consoles. Playing on PC, I found the keyboard/mouse set up to be astonishingly unintuitive. I gave up on them and switched to a pad, and my time with The Survivalists was all the better for it.

Also, although you can queue the construction of multiple copies of a given item, you can only add the materials required for one copy of the item at a time. Adding materials isn’t something you can delegate to a monkey, either. That means you have to hang around and top up the workstation after each item is built.

Aside from these minor gripes, and the faffing about involved in managing your inventory, there’s not much wrong with The Survivalists. It’s on the more forgiving end of the survival/exploration genre. Death isn’t easy to come by, and isn’t too punishing if it happens. Any items you were carrying when you expired are dropped where you fell, but you’re then immediately respawned in your base at full health. Food is relatively plentiful, and you’re healed every time you sleep in your bed.

The Survivalists supports up to four player multiplayer too, so you can add your friends to your monkey army if you like. That means if you’ve had your fill of Zoom-based pub quizzes (and who hasn’t), then this might be a good alternative for a social life this winter. Or of course, you can stick to single-player mode and lead a horde of killer monkeys in the conquest of your own island empire. I’ll leave it to you to decide which is the more appealing prospect.

The Survivalists was developed by Team17, and it’s available on PC, PS4, Xbox One and Switch. We played the PC version.

Disclosure statement: review code for The Survivalists was provided by Team17. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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