Early Access Gaming. Three words I’ve learned to loathe from bitter experiences since the idea made its way onto Steam. I do appreciate that these entries on the Steam store page are to generate hype and interest, as well as provide the developer with the needed funds to complete the development of the game, which, to its credit, Steam Greenlight does well. However, the amount of crap that gets voted through only to be purchased because of some good screenshots and persuasive description is annoying. This makes purchasing an early access game a real crapshoot. The game will either have constant dev diary entries and flowing updates, or it’ll remain in its alpha stage forever, taunting you for having spent money on the sub-standard tripe that will now sit forever in your Steam library.
So when I bought Stranded Deep, I was nervous. When I started to download it, and noticed the game was less than 500mb, I thought that this was a con. The features they promised and the wonderfully presented game they previewed in the screenshots could surely not fit into such a small package, could they?
Apparently, Beam Team found a way. My fears of having wasted £11 were quickly allayed; as soon as the game started, I was thrust into a relatively unique survival experience. Whereas most survival games seem to rely on surviving against an enemy, be it zombies or mutants, this game doesn’t. It is just you against the elements – and sharks. It may even seem like, in this day and age, bizarre not to have a multiplayer option, but in this instance, I think multiplayer would ruin the game. This game is about combating life on your own on a pacific island with little around but the things on your person and whatever you can scavenge, and adding in any form of tribal play would, in my opinion, detract from the game as a whole. The reason I’ve enjoyed it so much is because I’ve not had someone to rely on and I’ve not had a crutch, nor have I been someone else’s crutch. I’ve had to figure things out on my own, see what I can put together and the best way for me to survive in the wild, either by creating a shack on an island and visiting nearby islands to scavenge for supplies for me to take back, or by going to every island I can see and try to live more as a nomad. The open nature of the world leaves you with largely endless possibilities in your quest for survival.
So far in my various games, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I’ve not done everything possible yet, and that can only be a testament to the amount they’ve managed to fit into this game in its early phase. I’ve been more of a hermit survivor in most of my playthroughs, going to other islands, hacking down the trees I find and pulling the logs back to my island, diving underwater and looking through the many shipwrecks that pollute the seabed and getting into fights with various sharks when the opportunity arises, which, since the last update, is very frequent and prove to be quite a challenge if you’re ill-equipped. The various ways the game tries to kill you is quite inventive, and to continue your journey of surviving can also lead you to some interesting situations – diving deep underwater while batting off sharks in order to find some antibiotics to cure your sea urchin poisoning, for instance.
One of the other key points which makes Stranded Deep as good as it is, is the atmosphere it provides for the player. The only sounds you can hear are of the sea and wildlife around you, or when you interact with something. The only time any background music can be heard is when a shark nears you, which can be a frightening experience if you’re underwater, or midway through a paddle across to a different island. The developers even excelled when it came to producing weather. The game gets so much more difficult when it starts to rain or a dense fog rolls in, especially after nightfall. I’ve struggled to find my way back to base or run away from a nearby shark so many times because I have no idea which way I was headed, there was no landmark to align myself with, so I had no idea which direction was safe. When that happens and you realise that you’re actually pretty hungry or thirsty, you know you’re pretty boned.
To say this game is complete, or anywhere near a stage that could be considered complete, would be a lie. There are a few things that could definitely be improved, such as the crafting system – it’s decent and a nice change from the box-screens you get in most games, but definitely not the finished article. There are also a few notable bugs, including something that happened in one of my games, where a whale swam straight through my island, which would’ve been fine if it hadn’t knocked all of my scavenged goods everywhere as it made its way through a number of times. It wouldn’t have been so bad if it hadn’t knocked my medicine into places that I could no longer see it, which was very irritating as medicine is, as expected, very scarce. This is a bit more realistic, but I was finding myself ill a lot more frequently than I was picking up medicine, so many of my playthroughs were ended prematurely because I either couldn’t find any curative items, or I couldn’t figure out how to heal myself without these items. Perhaps this was more my fault of not doing enough research online, but other than a very short intro-tutorial, there’s very little in terms of explanation of how to survive, or what you can do with things. This is probably something most “hard core” players would enjoy, and for the most part, I did too. I just would rather have some way of finding out what is possible to do with the game without resorting to browsing the Internet.
This would be more of a game to watch to see if Beam Team continues developing it. In its current state, it’s playable, but currently I’m waiting for more updates to drop, then I’ll play that for a few hours until I’ve seen or done everything and made a sustainable life for myself on my home island, and then I’ll wait for the next batch of updates and repeat. The fact I had to restart when the new update came in as well was quite annoying, though understandable, and I have no doubts I’ll have the same issue in the next update. All in all though, bloody good fun and, once a more complete version has dropped, definitely worth the money.