When it comes to survival games, you can choose from several kinds of zombie apocalypse, you can escape from despotic robots, and you can even survive freezing temperatures or explore a raging river. One theme that has seemed to be strangely vacant from the genre may, in fact, be the most obvious — and Stranded Deep looks to correct that.
There are no spoilers in me saying that the game opens up with a plane crash. Shortly after, our player character finds themselves stranded on a pseudo-Pacific island. You’ll find yourself in the baking heat, sitting in an inflatable raft, with nothing but a small island studded with palm trees and littered with a few strategically placed pieces of debris to help you.
Of course, your first task will be to ensure your short term survival. The focus here should be crafting basic tools and ensuring a reasonably consistent supply of water and, to a lesser extent, food. A basic but helpful tutorial takes you through the first few steps here — how to make a basic stone tool, how to refine it into a knife, how to build a shelter and so on.
One thing that I find especially helpful about Stranded Deep is the crafting menu, which not only shows more and more “recipes” as the player’s crafting skill increases but also allows the player to “pin” a recipe that will appear in the HUD during gameplay. This is really helpful for remembering some of the bigger builds, as is the fact that items left on the ground or stored nearby also add to the recipe in real-time, meaning that you don’t have to store it all in your limited inventory.
Of course, establishing a water collector (or a ready supply of coconuts) and catching enough crabs or fish to keep you fed only takes so much effort. It won’t be long before you’ll be collecting corrugated steel and felling trees to build your first hut or raft, and in particular, once you’ve built the latter, Stranded Deep really gets interesting.
The initial island upon which your journey begins will always have the bare essentials, but it will also lack any means of creating some of the more advanced items (including engine components, clay, forged metal objects etc.) With that in mind, you’re going to need to set sail to a neighbouring island at some point.
Undertaking the journey from one island to another can be a hazardous one, especially depending upon the quality of your craft. The starting life raft is a decent choice in a pinch, but it will easily capsize if a storm rolls in. A log raft will provide a robust alternative and should you manage to obtain and recondition an engine, it’s pretty fast and can be outfitted with several storage crates.
The end game, which I’m sorry to say that I’ve never achieved, is to locate and ultimately repair an aeroplane that will get you the hell out of the island chain upon which you find yourself. Another interesting feature here, which I have seen a little of, is the idea of bosses that guard the components you’ll need to fix the plane. Personally, I did encounter one of these bosses, and it was terrifying, and I died.
On that note, aside from starvation, dehydration and heatstroke, you can die from all sorts of things in Stranded Deep. In particular, a number of sea creatures can poison you (as can eating too much raw food) whilst sharks are a slightly-too-frequent menace.
Diving into the sea provides players of Stranded Deep with some of the most interesting sequences of the game. Sharks, turtles, eels and numerous and varied shoals of fish live here. The amount of breath that the player can hold is also one of the most generous “resources” in the game, allowing the player time to explore the many shipwrecks and reefs that lie beneath the surface — there are also plants that can help extend the time allowed underwater.
The undersea world of Stranded Deep is by far the most interesting place to be, with both modern and ancient shipwrecks to visit, some of which contain a number of rooms that can be explored, occasionally with their own air pockets, and often with useful items aboard. The downside is the sharks, moray eels and other nasties that are a little too frequent and a little too aggressive.
Thankfully, the level of aggression (which I think is unnatural, but probably done in the name of entertainment) is offset by the fact that when a potentially hostile creature comes into range, the music changes to clearly indicate danger. This is not only a useful warning but a good way of increasing the tension, which I find quite rare in games that broadly encompass the survival genre.
Obviously these creatures can kill the player quite quickly, especially if you can’t get back to shore and access the relevant bandage, splint or other lifesaving items in time. Bleeding to death is possible, whilst broken limbs are also fairly common — more likely because you get stuck up a palm tree and have to jump than as the result of a shark attack.
As the game progresses, fauna certainly becomes more of a threat than death by natural causes, but the need for resources like clay, or the specific engine parts for the plane, will drive you beneath the waves. I enjoyed how Stranded Deep forced this issue repeatedly and never really allowed me to get comfortable. Thankfully, spears, harpoon guns and other makeshift weapons are a good deterrent against sharks, and can even mean that it is you bringing them home as lunch.
Stranded Deep is largely like any other survival game above the surface, in terms of what you’ll actually be doing. Crafting, cooking and surviving works a lot like it does in any game of this kind, and there’s little to differentiate those elements. Where Stranded Deep succeeds however is in its setting.
With several islands to explore and a whole host of shipwrecks above the sea, you’re already into quite a unique and interesting proposition. Bring the underwater world into the equation however, and things get really interesting. As a result, Stranded Deep is one of my favourite games in the genre, if not my outright favourite, and the inclusion of a clear endgame (given away by silhouettes in the build menu) will keep me going for some time to come I think.