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Xblig review: Survivalist: showing AAA games how it's done[some strong language] - Destructoid




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About
A qualified Environmental Chemist who happens to live in a fairly dense city with no real environment or chemistry industry.

I review indie games on another blog and you'll see them pop up here if I think the review is a good or interesting one (along with a shameless bit of self promotion)

I also operate another blog reviewing films and I mean t pick that back up when I can.

I've been gaming since the SNES days. I've been in the pro scene before for tribes 2 but hate the present pro scenes and have no interest in going back into it.

I tend to get into quite a few Betas and love ones without NDA as it means I can write about them. I have even beta tested an xbox 360 game in my time (and no not a normal public Beta one )

In gaming I'm normally the guy looking at the shelf below the AAA titles first to see if there are any great hidden gems.

My gaming drug of choice: Timesplitters in any flavour (Why won't you make Timesplitters 4 Crytek, why ????? I need my fix of insanity )
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Name: Survivalist


Cost: Ł1.99 / $2.99


Review: 


Authors note: this is a review of version 1.7 the game may have changed in later patches if you're reading this later than the published date.

Also this review is very in depth so feel free to skip to the verdict if you just want a quick summary

This part of the review is totally useless, no seriously if you’ve copied and pasted it into another document simply to read what this says then you’v e wasted your time. Really I’m honestly just going to have the word fish repeated over and over now as this part is to illustrate a point.

fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish seriously you copy and pasted this out to read it ? fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish fish ok I've haddock nough of this I think this did need a place in this review.

So hopefully that introduction helps highlight the main issue, I can't read the damn text. Infact Indie Gamer Chick even mentioned this issue so it’s apparently not just my non HD tv that’s the issue here.
I have not finished this game........... I don’t know how many reviewers would admit this but I haven’t. I have played about two 15 hour campaigns in this game and finally I’ve reached a point where I feel I can finally write this review.

Survivalist is a game that nails it’s goal almost perfectly. It’s a game about survival in a bleak apocalyptic world and it does make every small success seem like a big victory. This is a game that reflects a lot of zombie flick approaches in that it’s not the zombies that are the biggest threat, it’s the humans.  Don’t get me wrong the zombies can be a problem and survivalist is a game where just when you’re beginning to feel like a zombie hunting badass it will take great pleasure in proving how vulnerable you are.

You play Albert Wesker (If I can’t read their name I’m calling them what I like) an investment banker who upon finding out the apocalypse is brewing, seals himself inside a survival shelter with a years supply of food. After a year Wesker emerges to try and find out what’s going on, this is where the game starts and as you’d expect from here you run into another survivor. After letting Claire Redfield out of a car park where she’s trapped she becomes the first to join your team.  She also reveal what will become one of the key tasks in the game, she’s diabetic and needs insulin. In a local town built into a stronghold you run into Burt Gummer who eventually joins your team and gives you access to the local gun store.

After looting as much ammo as you can you then have to make your way to a local survivor outpost in the form of a fort. The reason you have to do this is simply to keep up the supply of Insulin Claire requires. However once you reach the fort you run into Dr Robert Neville who has abandoned his Hippocratic oath and won’t treat you, unless you will pay that is. That’s fine though right   Albert Wesker was an investment banker and carries $2,000 in cash with him, or it would be fine until you find out that money is worthless. Instead of cash the economy has gone back to basics and peoples love of shiny metals. Gold is the new currency so hope you looted all that seemingly worthless gold off all the enemies up to this.......... you didn’t did you............ you wanted to carry more ammo. So it’s back to collecting all the gold you left behind. Alternatively you can take work from people at the fort to help pay for the constant need for insulin.


Side Note: I really wonder if cash for gold could have released the virus in a bid to control the world via being the new economic power house.

Now the games mechanics works pretty well. Each character has a set of bars which must be managed almost Sims style to prevent them dropping dead. Each character needs: food, water and sleep with Claire also having blood sugar levels, let any of these get too high and you characters could start to be in serious trouble. Also yes I did say sleep, this means you’ll often find it best to split your group off slightly to have one lot working on an automated task and the other lot actually being played and exploring / looting.


With the needs system it does almost sound like you’re going to be spending most of your time babysitting. Luckily the game mostly automated this if you give the characters the items or have the character simply carry one or two of the items in spare. Except Claire who has caused me to save scum plenty of times after she dropped dead in the desert only for me to realise she didn’t take her insulin and her blood sugar had gone too high.

The game offers two styles of play to an extent. You can split off members of your group and making sure you arm them they can be given commands in a command view to do certain task. The tasks you can set are often the more tedious and boring tasks such as gathering supplies, building structures and watering the plants if you have a farm. Luckily this frees you up to do more engaging and interesting tasks as the game will automate the characters including getting food, water and sleep by themselves and even in the case of building tasks automatically setting them to find the nearest supplies if you run out of stored supplies, oh and they can and will fight / defend themselves too.

The alternative gameplay style is of an isometric shooter with the ability to adjust your targeting to say hit an enemy in the legs to slow them down and knock the to the floor a bit or to the body to try for a quick quite lethal shot.

The aim of the game pretty much as given by the end goal is to set yourself up so you can survive for the future. This is a surprisingly vast task which includes: growing your community, building a base, growing enough crops to be self sufficient, setting up wells and neutralising any threats in the area.  

So add to all this an RPG like skills system, where characters gain skill by doing the tasks and you suddenly have a game which really does build on the idea of survival being a group thing. Initially you start off with Albert who is mostly useless; Claire who has high skill in medicine (more on these mechanic later)  and negotiations (a skill which can’t be learned)  and Burt who is fairly good at firearms and actually ok at construction.  

Fitness improves how long you can run before fatigue and relates to carrying capacity and I believe bare knuckle brawling ability.
Construction means you can build structures faster quite simply and your base will need them. You have: shacks for extra housing and storage; out houses because you need them; fences to keep people out and chain fences to let you shoot out; wells which give you water to drink and use while farming; guard towers to give you better vision and coverage and bunkers to give you a secure place to shoot out from, not to mention solar cells and energy storage to do more for your community should you wish to.

Firearms allows you to shoot more accurately and decreases the time taken to aim at a target. As you aim the cross hair closes in and changes colour, the smaller the crosshair to the point it goes red the more likely you’ll hit. Also you need higher firearms skill to effectively use more advanced weapons such as shotgun, sniper rifles and Assault rifles.
Farming determines how fast your plants grow

Medicine is an interesting one as medical skill come in when applying a bandage, and other people can do this for you. Higher medical skill decreases recovery time. If it’s just blood loss this will recover over time (full blood loss = death so you need to bandage up). If you’re injured then the injury recovery speed is dependent on the medical skill of the person who applied the bandage. Injuries are a major thing as too many in a specific area of the body can impact stats such as fitness and Firearms.


Note the blood loss and on the character the plasters show plastered injuries


Now what would a good zombie game be if I didn’t talk about the zombies. In Survivalist you’re vsing runners, you’re not fighting the old shambling type of zombies,  these are the rage virus monster you’ve seen in films like 28 Days Later. They attack by running and jumping at you attempting to pin you down and take a bite. This is where the first fight mechanic comes in in the form of stamina, as you run about and fight off zombies your stamina bar slowly fills up yellow, if it reaches the top you can’t fight it off and need an ally to get the zombie off or you get bitten and more than likely infected. During the fight you can shoot a zombie in the legs to stop it doing these running dives and turn it into the more traditional shambler zombie that just slowly walks at you. Alone a zombie is not too dangerous but in a pack of 5 or more you seen start to see how they can overwhelm you.


Now if you do get bitten you can buy a cure, this is where the game throws in the next little (very cool) trick.  There are different types of zombies. In the games story it’s explained that the zombie virus strain evolved over time and as such there are different cures for different strains and each strain has its own pathogenicity and as such certain strains are far more hazardous than others.


The strains include : Green, your basic level zombie fairly soft and easy to kill with an incubation period of about 7 days. Blue, the second strain of infection which produces tougher zombies which are more resistant to damage, Blue has an incubation period of about 3 days. Red , the third strain which produces very tough and aggressive zombies capable of easily surviving glancing and even direct hits with more powerful weapons and very resistant to handguns, red strain has an incubation period of a matter of hours and finally white, the last strain which produces zombies only about as tough as blue strain but with a nasty surprise, white strain has an incubation period of about 1 minute and the cure (if there even is one) is extremely rare so unless you’re carrying it you’re dead from 1 bite. 


I have to say the world building in the game is one of possibly the best I’ve seen for a while. This is even including most AA A games I’ve seen and played. Every character seems to have a story. You aren’t stepping into a game you’re stepping into a world of people all with friendships and connections. One quest just shows this so well and I’m going to tell you it as it’s not spoiler really. In the fort I talked to one of the characters who was an guard duty in the forts hide, he gave me a quest to take books to a little old lady who was hauled up on a hill with her husband, the reason for this ? She was his former teacher and loved books and he thought she might enjoy the book he’d found. This was a random NPC who I’d not talked to before this point as he wasn’t in the main quest.

To add to the point on world building, Skyrim was once described as an “an ocean with the depth of a puddle” due to the characters interactions not changing based on your actions. In Survivalist I’d say this is a lake with the depth of the Mariana trench. If you threaten someone then members of their community will remember and even mention it. If you do a quest then members of the community will remember it and react differently. Even playing it hordes will pick up your scent or even come randomly marching through, looters (people who attack other groups not simply people who loot items) can track you back to your base or even be seen walking round possibly on the way to attack another settlement

Now it’s only fair I mention the surprisingly stylised but functional UI, it tells you pretty much everything  you could want to know. Firstly you see your character or the character you’re talking to or who is speaking in a panel in the top right, this gives a real comic book feel to the game. However this picture changes to an extent depending upon events around the character. For example if you beat someone up in a bare knuckle boxing match then you might notice they have bandages on them. If there’s an important event happen somewhere else with another member of your team the game with have them appear and tell you what’s happening. A second lower section shows your characters fatigue, equipped weapon, ammo in the weapon, ammo reserve and if relevant blood loss and injuries and of course a mini map.




The characters in the game operate under the same rules as you mostly. Heck on one mission I had an NPC get injured and come to me with an offer of 50 gold for a bandage. Another example is after the bare knuckle boxing match an NPC had no bandages but someone in their community did so they went to said person and got bandaged up. The game doesn’t cheat as such

The bad points

OK I’ve spent damn near 2,000 words talking about how good the game is, it’s now time to talk about the issues. First and foremost is the issue with the text being pretty much unreadable I’m not the only one who has found this and it really harms the game as you can’t hear people’s stories or hints about other things.


Now It’s very possible that other issues I’m about to bring up are actually not issues but I’m listing them due to the text size issue.

The game doesn’t explain things fully. I only found out I could shoot enemies in the legs by accident 10 hours in, can I shoot enemies in the head or does that require higher weapons skill ? I don’t know it doesn’t say. I have no idea how farming works. I don’t know why I can’t equip an upgraded back pack despite having the gold to buy one from the fort, the game won’t let me buy it, I guess it might be due to not having the fitness stat high enough but the game doesn’t say, could it be because I’m wearing one backpack ? The game doesn’t say. What injuries impact what stats ? I have no clue. Does fitness improve the damage of punches and improve your bare knuckle boxing ? I don’t know I can guess at yes. Which way round should a gate go ? I have no clue the game doesn’t make it quite clear enough and I had to guess.


The other community members can ruin your plans. This sounds stupid but I found by accident that given certain characters certain items was a bad idea. Given Claire for example an erotic novel or sci-fi book lead to her reading it and throwing it away, sounds ok right ? Well books are worth 20 gold which is Ľ of another Insulin dose so why is the book consumed ? Giving Burt a detective book or a pack of cigarettes caused him to use those up, I get the cigarettes but again the book being thrown away ? Though I do like the touch that Burt gets a new bar called “Lung cancer” which goes up if he’s allowed to smoke more.


One personal objection I have is with the loot exhaustion. I get that this is again part of the mechanics to force you to progress but I can see a point in the game where it could become an issue. With nothing left around you just end up screwed. However this could easily be fixed by having for example a looting level and as this goes up you find loot you missed before (again requiring you to explore but allowing you to later return to an area and find some items back. Especially with looter raids and zombie horde attacks draining resources over time. Or maybe a system where you search harder at the cost of hunger or sleep deprivation (tiredness).

Now this is another personal objection but I believe it fixes itself later in the game and has a perfectly valid reason to be there. The insulin thing. I hate timed mechanics where a character can die if you don’t balance them right and having to throw most of my loot to get the required item constantly really did drag on me as it slowed me getting more useful items such as bullet proof jackets . Now the reason for this is obviously to force the player to explore and progress but it really did grind on me and feel almost un-needed as if I could read the stories I’d have a reason to explore etc already. Later in the game I was told by an NPC (as a squinted to try and make out the text) that I could get the key to a hospital and that would solve the need to keep hunting for Insulin. Now I get that me and the fact wheat can put me out of action for a day or two wouldn’t be great in the zombie apocalypse. I’ve accepted that I’d probably be the one doing all the stupid no chance of returning style mission but even so I really do find the “having to find X to keep person Y alive constantly” does grind.

Now this next problem is most likely sitting between the seat and the controller and I’m sure the developer will set me straight on this but I found a mission I couldn’t complete. I don’t know if it was just me but not to spoil too much a later mission has you burning down the barn of another faction, this is to get you the hospital key. Part of the mission says to do it unseen and to approach from the east. I’ve tried walking past then doubling back to approach from the east and attacking the barn. I was spotted and failed the mission. OK I thought maybe I need to clear the base, so I convinced the faction members one by one that the rival faction was attacking. With all of them out of the base I went outside and attacked the barn, I failed the mission as I was seen again. Ok I thought maybe it’s because it’s daylight. So I did it again at night, I failed again with the game claiming I was seen. The entire faction was no-where near their base and yet I was immediately seen doing it. I don’t know if this mission is bugged or if there is a specific trick to it. I approaching from the east but there’s a cliff of impassable terrain. There is a small gap seemingly but that is also impassable terrain so you can’t sneak right up to the barn that way. The reason I took the mission was because the only mission left with the faction were bare knuckle brawling, which brings me to me next point.

I get that this is the post apocalyptic but bare knuckle brawling quests seem all too common, there is a good quest variety mostly but it does appear too much. There really needs to be some other quests especially due to the fact you can get badly injured during the matches and end up using resources to patch yourself up along with time taken to heal from injuries. I really feel maybe some kind of other activity is needed, maybe a target shooting range near some of the bases. Maybe a contest to see who can kill the most zombies out of a horde nearby to the base. Maybe even a foot race to another nearby location.

OK final big complaint. The music. Now I know some reviews have praised this but I really have to question why. There are multiple tracks but at best they are un memorable and at worst I actually ended up muting the game as the track drove me mad. I’d really suggest checking through places like incompetech, freepd and even having a word with Maximalism (who actually has a set of songs designed for games and will let independent games developers use them for no charge).  If I have to mute a game then there is a problem.

Now just a few minor issues I have. Firstly it would be nice to have some way to tell the time other than waiting for the sun to set a watch or time of some kind even if it only counts the hours. Next it would be nice (especially considering the mission complaint) if there was an indication that some-one could see you, maybe an eye icon. Finally it would be nice if you got radio messages or something from other people if they are in your party else where being attacked or from other people alerting you of hordes and looters passing. The reason I say this last one was it broke the immersion slightly having a message pop up from some unseen force saying looters were tracking me or a horde had my scent. Would it really make sense it being an NPC saying this ? maybe not but it could be worded such as “Um guys juet warning you I saw a horde [insert location] heading your way” or “Guys some I just narrowly missed some looters but I think they found some of your tracks, watch your backs”.




With all that negative stuff said and the score obviously reflecting some of it. I must say the developer is working on the game still. In just the short time I was playing an update came out to make the status bars clearer. Allowing you to clearly see when a character was in danger and needed food, water or sleep. I’ve even been in touch with the developer who has said a patch should hopefully be coming to sort out the text size issues.

Verdict:

Survivalist is a very ambitious game which really was surprisingly good quality to me. It’s clearly well made and the developer does care about it. The game honestly provides far more play time for the cost than I expected as I normally say Ł1 = 1 hour of good gameplay and while Survivalist has its fair share of ups and downs in gameplay but in the 30 hours I’ve put in I have to say it’s easily given me enough time even if it wasn’t all gold and was about 3 hours from of me save scumming.  The art style and UI really does work for the game and the amount of depth is enough to pull anyone i.

Survivalist however does also have some pretty off putting problem which really did hamper the experience and the major one which has the biggest score impact is the text being unreadable. It's not a perfect game is the point to take away here but it is very good

I am going to recommend this game as I’m in no doubt I’m going to be coming back to this game down the line especially if the text size issue gets fixed and I’m sure I’ll probably also end up reviewing and playing the game again in some form once the text size is fixed. This is one title that I really do feel should have a life beyond XBIG and come to PC. Even if it only goes on steam at say Ł3 as it is it will do well, heck if the developer gets it onto Early Access and works on adding even more variety to the game I can see it being a Ł5 well spent. Just think of that being  one of the cheapest Early access games which is already a substantial game but the money funding yet more content for the game.


Score
4 out of 6 

Earning a recommendation from me





Authors last note : There a total of 4 horror franchise / article references in this review, did you get them all ?
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