The Future is Shite is a general overview of upcoming unreleased or early access games, discussing everything from current features and playability to developer reputation to speculating on future development. This week we are covering Stranded Deep, an early access survival game set on an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, developed by newcomer indie developer Beam Team. The player is tasked with basic survival, hopping between islands and diving into wrecks for supplies, all the while keeping an eye out for that elusive plane that spells ultimate survival. Currently available on Steam Early Access.
Stranded Deep has potential. A lot of potential. The gaming world has had a massive influx of survival games, particularly of the zombie variety, and you could definitely say that the market is becoming well-saturated with shovel-ware from poor developers trying to cash in on the trend. However, Stranded Deep does something different: for one, there isn’t a zombie in sight, and for another, there’s a lot more salt water involved than your average survival game. There’s also the fact that the game is, even at this early stage, extremely fun to play and relatively polished, barring some semi-major bugs. However, there are some concerns for future development prospects and some major current problems that do limit the fun factor.
Particularly interesting in Stranded Deep is the crafting and building system: a minimal UI and an interesting physical crafting system does away with the usual crafting table menus. Crafting and building are all done in real time in the game world, using the items that you have in front of you. Stack up some sticks and build a campfire, add in a rock and some rope and you can have an axe. Simple, but very polished, and really helps to create a sense of realism by taking away clunky and cliche crafting menus.
Building in the game takes a similar route: stack up items, equip a hammer and your usually orange crafting highlights change to blue: a very simple and visually pleasing way to differentiate between the two. Building itself is also environmentally adaptive: select a “foundation” blueprint on land, and it will build a shack floor (which can then be snapped to with other foundations), but hover it over water and it will turn into a raft. Again, no additional menus need to be brought up or buttons need to be pressed, simply move the blueprints physically in the world.
The crafting system also allows for a small inventory system: when you don’t actually have to have items in your inventory to craft, it allows the developer to reasonably only allow a small inventory space. Instead of inventory space being used as essentially crafting material holders, they are instead used as spaces for potentially useful items. This forces you to think carefully about what you bring with you and what you bring back.
Moving on to the actual survival aspects, there are the usual basic needs like food, water and health. These are simulated adequately, whereupon losing all of one of them will result in death. Perfectly fine for a survival game of any description, at a minimum. However, there problem here is difficulty: coconuts abound on nearly any island, and a few sips of coconut milk and a couple of bites of coconut flesh provide all the water and food your character needs. This, however, is subject to change, and will almost certainly be remedied to provide higher difficulty. In fact, I would argue that this is absolutely necessary, as at the moment really the only way you die consistently is from shark attacks or from drowning, both of which are in themselves easy to avoid for the moderately experienced player.
At the moment Stranded Deep suffers from a lack of content, as do a lot of early access games. The islands are all basically the same, the loot from wrecks ends up repeating itself frequently, and strategies essentially amount to: gather all the rocks you can from your island, stack them up, go to another island, get all the rocks from that one, bring them back, repeat, with the occasional dive wreck or shark fight in between. These do, however, remain quite exciting and engaging, and shack-construction is still entertaining in a “how advanced can I build with these basic tools?” sort of way. You will also spend far too much time paddling, even for the sake of “realism”.
While I think that Stranded Deep has a lot of potential, there are some concerns for future development. I have heard that the developers don’t want to be working on this game forever, and intend for it to be finished some time this year. Their uncompleted feature list, however, seems to be far too lengthy to possibly complete adequately in this time: multiplayer is one of those features being considered, a notoriously tricky feature to implement to a level that is actually playable. There are still plenty of bugs to work through as well, including islands popping in and out, disappearing into the distance as a result of poor FOV, sharks swimming through land (a terrifying prospect by anyone’s account) and various other major issues that have to be resolved before even beginning to introduce major new features.
Stranded Deep is an enjoyable game, but ironically for an ocean-based game, is rather shallow at the moment. The current end-game is being able to build a motor for your raft, and building an enormous stick-mansion, perhaps trying to hunt a white shark or two just for the challenge. This lack of content is understandable for an early access game, and I believe that it has a great deal of potential: a very important factor in a game that will continue to develop well into the rest of 2015. The crafting system and the use of physics-based gameplay is well-developed and entertaining, and the setting provides a nice breath of fresh air among all the zombie survival games. However, as with all EA games, don’t invest unless you want to support a brand new developer team that hasn’t yet completely proven its chops. The game may well turn out to be an excellent Castaway simulator, or may end up floating dead in the water by next month. That said, in its current iteration, I had a great deal of fun playing Stranded Deep, and hope Beam Team all the best in waylaying those bugs and implementing that hefty list of features. But I think they may be slightly over-ambitious. The future, in this case:
Might be shite.
Want to form your own opinion? Stranded Deep is now available on Steam Early Access. Disagree and wanna fight about it? Leave a comment, share on various social media and say how stupid I am. It’s okay. I can take it.