Team 17’s The Escapists still remains one of the best sandbox experiences available, giving you interesting tools that you can experiment with in order to get out of a captive environment. It’s for that reason, I was excited to try out The Survivalist, hoping that they’d once again put a unique spin on the popular survival-crafting genre.
Whilst the game undoubtedly shares the hallmarks of a survival game, where the loop is based around resource collection and crafting, they do put an interesting spin on it with the introduction of Monkeys.
The Monkey system quickly sets The Survivalists apart from other games of the same ilk, by letting you control an army of impressionable apes that you can teach to complete specific tasks for you. In essence, what the developers have cleverly tried to do with this system is automate some of the grind present in crafting games, by letting you delegate the more monotonous tasks.
You basically perform an action after turning on a monkey’s observe mode, and they start copying you. Crafting and Cooking are two examples of this, where I would often highlight a monkey and put them in learn mode before briefly interacting with a crafting table/campfire. As long as you have given them the right tool, they will be able to take over, leaving you free to do something else.
The system isn’t limited to crafting either, and they can help you with numerous chores such as scavenging, building, and even combat. It’s incredibly fun to equip your army of monkeys with different weapons and watch them clear out enemies without you having to raise a single hand. It’s a really engaging system that has experimental potential, allowing you to assign roles freely. Where it sadly seems to fall a bit flat, however, is in its accessibility.
As mentioned before, the monkeys are capable of performing various chores, which you can delegate freely, but it sadly gets a little messy when you start switching between them.
You see, rather than just giving you options to switch roles through the monkey management menu, you have to retrain them. It definitely makes sense to teach brand new monkeys who have not held a specific role before, but it feels a bit inconvenient to have to do it again on those that are already skilled in that area.
Combat is a particular area that struggles with this. In one example, I had given my companions the task of resource collection. However, whilst they were doing so, an army of orcs started raiding my base. To get them all to start attacking the enemies instead, I had to:
A: Select all monkeys
B: Put them in teaching mode
C: Attack an Orc which put the monkeys in combat mode
D: Found or crafted some weapons
D: Gave them those weapons so they could fight
The extra steps feel off for a system trying to provide you with autonomy in the first place. It gets a bit more frustrating as they only seem to hold one item at a time, so they drop or lose something when they start picking up things.
They could have remedied this by giving you unique slots for each monkey, where you can equip them with both a weapon and a tool. This would have allowed the developers to experiment with letting you switch roles at a flick of a button.
If this was any other developer, I would have probably assumed that such a thing was not possible anymore, but with some of the significant improvements Team17 has made with games like Escapists even after launch, I won’t be surprised if they continue to iterate on this system.
Still, despite this inconvenience, the core idea behind the system is interesting and does help fix quite a few problems encountered in similar games. Furthermore, by introducing sailing between different islands and treasure hunts, the game does feel relatively fresh.
The game also offers its own take on dungeons, where you have the potential to find exotic materials. These materials can be used to craft stuff like legendary weapons and other mystical items like portals.
The biggest concern I have when playing games of this genre is how they might limit your inventory. I am not a huge fan of limited inventory systems in these games, as they always clash with the core crafting loop, putting you in awkward situations with arbitrary management.
Whilst a limited inventory is also present here, the game thankfully does something exciting to mitigate that; it lets you carry around chests! So, you can fill up a chest with all your items and carry it around with you, essentially taking extra space wherever you go. This is even better than it sounds, as it lets you pass the chest to one of your monkeys instead.
I did this a lot whilst raiding dungeons, as it essentially meant that I had a walking backpack with extra space for any item I found. This, in turn, actively encouraged me to explore more dungeons and places without being intimidated by limited space. It really feels like the developers creatively solved the inventory problem by playing on the strengths of their existing systems.
Overall, there is a lot of fun to be had with The Survivalists, and its Monkey Mechanic makes it stand out amongst a crowded competition. Sadly, its accessibility leaves a lot to be desired, preventing the overall experience from being perfect. It’s currently available on PC via Steam (£23/$25), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.