Developer: Juuso Hietalahti
Publisher: SANDBAY GAMES OY.
Music: John Leonard French
Platforms: Android, iOS
Released: November 11, 2016
Genre: Survival, Text Adventure
Right, so perhaps driving up to a lake 50 miles away from town in a terrible, awful storm wasn’t the best idea. Maybe I should’ve checked the weather beforehand. Maybe I should’ve let someone know where the heck I was going.
Unfortunately, I didn’t do any of that. And now all I can do is assess the situation, figure out what my next step is, and survive.
My car is totaled. Thankfully I’m fine, I’ve got a couple of bottles of water, some energy bars, a trash bag, a few other bits and bobs. It’s still pouring rain, the area I’m in is at risk of flooding, so I need to move. I at least have a vague direction to travel, but should I go towards the lake, or down this really muddy path?
Survive is a mostly text-based mobile survival game, with enough visuals to add to your immersion, and a surprisingly complex combination of mechanics, easy to learn, difficult to master.
So, Survive is fairly straightforward. You can select from a number of starting areas that promises differing levels of difficulty, whether it starts you further away from civilization, or the terrain will be more challenging. The items you start with varies, your starting condition varies, and even if you select the same starting point, no run is the same.
You take stock of what you’ve got, where you’re at, and what options you have. Which boils down to gathering wood or resources, tracking prey, building shelter, a fire, or raincatcher, crafting, and travelling. Each action takes up time, energy, body temperature, everything has a cost.
You’ll want to travel as far as you can, ideally during daylight. But you’ll need to find drinkable water, or create some. You’ll need to look for food, but you’re not guaranteed to find anything useful, especially in some areas. Raining and you’re starting to get dangerously cold? Shelter. Hungry? Your actions take more out of you. Repair your shelter, hopefully you can make a fire but, oh no. It’s raining! Of course you can’t make a fire. Maybe you should try to push forward, maybe you should stay put. You have to weigh up your resources, your actions, your options, what could go wrong if you walk, what could go wrong if you stay.
And just travelling isn’t straightforward. You’ll have a choice of paths, one may head in a direction that could offer more resources, but the other is supposed to head towards a road and you can travel a lot further, more quickly, on a road.
And night is falling, you probably don’t want to try to travel through thick forest in the dark. But it’s getting awfully muddy where you are, and the rain is pretty heavy.
Survival games can get pretty complicated, and text adventure games can be pretty hard to keep track of, and Survive does a pretty good job of balancing the two. With some simple visuals, a clear user interface, Survive streamlines some of the survival mechanics. For example, when you travel, you will always travel in the right direction, so you don’t need to draw up a map to keep track of where you’re going. Crafting is simplified, and your stats are kept to the essentials. But these decisions to make it more streamlined doesn’t necessarily make it a simple game.
There’s a lot of things Survive does that doesn’t really make it a true text adventure game. Images kinda get in the way of that, but it’s not overdone. It’s enough to communicate the game and events, it’s pretty minimal, and makes it easier to navigate and visualise. And one of the things it does is also create a soundscape with a bit of music. Footsteps when I’m travelling. Rain building up to a storm. It’s not much, but it makes me feel like I’m being told a story by a narrator who is getting really into it.
I love text adventures, ever since I was a wee little tyke with those choose your own adventure books, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But Survive leans enough into it for me to take in each word and build my environment in my mind, but to also make it clear what I have, where I am, and where I need to go.
One of my favourite things is that Survive is a really good game to play on a commute. A run takes maybe 10-15 minutes, so I can usually play a round or two on my way to work. If I have to abandon a run for whatever reason, it doesn’t feel like a huge deal. But while I’m playing it does take my entire focus.
It’s a game I’ve been playing on and off for a few years now, and it just seems to keep improving here and there. It’s easy to pick up, easy to put down, but in between it’s a joy to play and get my survival game fix.
And look, not a lot of games has a dedicated achievement when you make the very hard decision to eat maggots. So, Survive is just a perfect mobile game as far as I’m concerned.