The Survivalists Review: A Most Marvelous Kind of Monkey Business

Before we get to The Survivalists, let me tell you a brief story. Sometime in the 1940s a wind-up alarm clock key broke. Annoyed, a man named James F. Reynolds attached some string to the clock’s hands, and ran the other end to the volume knob on a radio. When the clock’s hands hit the appropriate time, the string pulled the knob, and volume on the radio rose. 

And so, through happenstance and ingenuity, so began the era of the clock radio. Folks across the globe could wake up to drive-time, easy listening, or anything the airwaves could bring them. 

Two great ideas in one (eventually) simple package. 

Team 17’s The Survivalists feels quite a bit like a clock radio. Two ideas, one familiar and one novel, sewn together into one pretty awesome whole. 

Primately Familiar

But let’s back up. The Survivalists‘ premise finds the player washed up on a tropical island with all the survival crafting fixings. Random generation, trees, stone, shrubbery, fish, animals, ore, hostile settlements, shrines, tools, treasure – the gang’s all here. The goal: gathering enough resources to build a fort, sustain yourself, and eventually make an escape via keys located in temples scattered across the island. 

There’s a bit of Terraria in The Survivalists‘ DNA. The game pushes the player toward exploring the many temples and caves for the best resources. This challenges your combat chops against enemy tribes, demons, and floating skulls as they live in those very caves and temples. 

There’s also treasure maps that lead to a range of booty for completing specific tasks. And a mysterious merchant appears to sell you crucial and special items.

Thankfully, outside of the occasional raid, The Survivalists respects the player’s wishes. If you want to hang out and build up your home for a while first, you can. This can be as directed an experience as you want it to be.

As you expand your resources, you build walls for protection, rafts to explore nearby islands, and even things like teleporters to make travel a touch easier as well. If you’re at all interested in the genre, you’ve seen most of this stuff or some variation of it.

Unlike a title like Ride 4, The Survivalists is welcoming to just about anyone. Veterans will surely enjoy the the cute art style and hopping on the survival crafting treadmill. Newbies will…also appreciate the cute art style and the game’s laid-back vibe.

So you may be asking yourself what sets The Survivalists apart? Why this game instead of any number of older, more robust, more famous crafting titles?

Because clock radios of course.

God Bless You, Dr. Zaius

Throughout The Survivalists, you’ll recruit monkeys, programmable to a single type of task. Putting this mechanic into already solid crafting gameplay is a masterstroke.

If you direct a monkey to collect resources off the ground and bring them to a chest, they will. If one chest fills up, they’ll move to the next. They might even go exploring for more on-the-ground resources as well. 

To put it another way, you train monkeys to do your bidding in The Survivalists, and it is an absolute joy. Augmented by this automation, The Survivalists transforms from a solid crafting game into something resembling a cute-and-cuddly Rimworld or Factorio

It’s Minecraft for the construction site foremen.

What a blast. it’s fun to just sit back and watch the fruits of your labor unfurl. At this moment, one monkey is chopping down trees, another harvesting the wood and taking it to a chest. A third monkey is taking that wood from the chest to a crafting bench. A fourth is using that bench to craft axes. Soon the whole island will be a deforested wonderland and I’ll never need to craft another axe again. 

…Now that I think about it I suppose there’s no point in having so many axes if there’s no trees left. That’s assembly lines for you I guess.

See, the best games are also toys. You can play and complete them, but you can also play with them. Grand Theft Auto’s open-world Sandbox. Metal Gear Solid’s arsenal of devices designed to frustrate and harass guards. Half Life 2’s gravity gun. The Survivalists‘ Monkey Minions. All exceedingly different mechanics unified in the fun and excitement of discovery and experimentation.

Another example. Keeping all resources in check and organized is a nightmare in games like these. In The Survivalists, dropping your full inventory on the ground, and assigning a monkey to put everything away for you results in wonderfully organized chests and a heck of a lot of micromanagement off the plate of the player.

Oh, you can also train the monkeys to knife fight. Thus accompanying you on sojourns into hostile territory equipped with whatever weapon you give them. Their support of paramount importance to success in the bowels of the game’s toughest locations. 

There are likely other games with similar mechanics, I’m reminded of 6 Billion Humans, Rim World, and a few others. But, as far as I recall, no console game has implemented a system like this, this wonderfully, in a crafting game.

Bonobo Oh No No

Alas, while monkey may do what monkey sees, monkey can’t hold much at all – in inventory or otherwise. You can’t equip a monkey with a coconut fanny pack allowing them to gather more resources on a long trek. Nor can you queue up multiple actions for a monkey. If a monkey is cutting down trees, that’s *all* they’re doing until you tell them otherwise.

Which is possibly for the best. If The Survivalists‘ Monkeys boiled down to a series of If / And statements, perhaps some of the charm would have been lost.

While on the subject of minor disappointments, I ran into a bug or two. A piece lumber I couldn’t pick up was a minor annoyance. Also an item’s icon remained in my inventory, making it hard to see what exactly was under was also irksome.

Also, as is a problem in many crafting games, finding resources required to progress proved challenging. I scoured the island for ore, before realizing it’d require fisticuffs in the underground to locate.

Final Thoughts

Let’s be honest. Monkeys are the uncanny valley of creatures. They’re too human and too smart to be anthropomorphized like a cat or a dog. Too much of a wild animal to be truly domesticated. They’re sorta creepy, sorta loud, seemingly always masturbating or flinging poop.

Yet, when it comes to The Survivalists, they’re indispensable. Subtly transforming a solid (if unremarkable) crafting game into something quite chimp-azing. If you’re a player who likes the genre, The Survivalists offers something quite new. If you’re new, well, you may wonder what the heck all the other games were thinking.

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