Do you play games to escape life? Well, how about escaping civilization altogether by getting stuck on a desert island like your boy Tommy Shanks? And, much like in his situation, Stranded Deep does indeed have an ending.
Beam Team Games from Australia have crafted a makeshift world, drenched in beautiful sea-life and stunning sunsets. But, they also filled the same bucket with sharks, snakes, and Australia’s MOST deadly enemy, the bloody Sun. Oh, and a butt load of strange glitches or poorly designed mechanics.
Stranded Deep follows the classic guidelines of the modern survival genre, leaving you with little resources, zero lifelines, and a hypothetical ticking clock, which is frustrating beyond all belief.
You will experience incredible hunger because a man (or woman, or whatever) has gotta eat. Thirst is a huge issue, and there are only so many coconuts you can drink before feeling green. And of course, you need to sleep from time to time, so some shelter and a place to rest your weary melon is needed.
Taking all of that into account, you have the framework of your own bottled hell in which you will have to quickly make decisions in order to see the sunrise tomorrow. Waste time and you will die.
There were times in which I felt completely safe and secure, only to step on a sea urchin and get poisoned, drastically reducing my health and at a point in the game where I hadn’t crafted any remedies or consumables at all for that matter.
It’s a fine art to dance on the line bordering complete madness and complete satisfaction, and that’s what you will need to master to play Stranded Deep. Because it will drive you utterly insane at times when you are trying to throw a spear or shoot an arrow at a shark, only to have it glitch through your raft and pin you underwater… Downing you. But the worst oversight during development and testing wasn’t so much the collider issues, or the overly complicated inventory and item interface, or the constant grind to eat food (how much does this guy or girl really need to eat?). No, the main gripe I have with the design of this game is the gimpy looking Gumby arm that our character is stuck with.
It looks like they had their arm broken and set incorrectly in a cast, which would be forgivable if it wasn’t for the Watch that you will need to look at regularly to track your stats. So, if there was going to be so much emphasis on looking at our wrist, why not make sure the arm doesn’t look like it was microwaved? The world has been beautifully designed, and the audio to back it up is almost perfect at creating that sense of loneliness and at times suspense. But Beam Team missed the mark a little bit when it comes to some of the core design features, and given that this game was released on PC several years ago, it’s a bit baffling that it hasn’t been addressed yet.
That being said, my experience with Stranded Deep wasn’t one of angst like I feel when playing Battle Royale. There were no moments of fear, even when coming face to face with a shark in dimly lit waters. In fact, even in the more stressful moments, I found that Stranded Deep was peaceful and very easy to let the time slip away in real life. Now, around 40 hours of playtime in, I can safely say I have conquered the islands, the creatures, and mother nature herself. It was easy to forgive a lot of the game’s issues once I got to a point where food and water was a resource I could handle in quick order, and exploration was open and didn’t require paddling a small raft for long periods of time.
My absolute favorite moments were when traveling at sea during a storm. The crashing waves, thunder, and lightning, accompanied by some incredible ambient audio was enough to make me feel like I was actually aboard that raft. For that, Stranded Deep deserves some extra points.
What do you done did?
My first playthrough ended fairly abruptly, and not due to player error or an overwhelming environment. It ended because the raft in which you begin your scramble to safety became lodged on an imaginary collider in the ocean, rendering it useless. Now, this may not be an issue when reaching the island, since it’s almost within your reach, but with the knowledge that we will be hopping to other islands later down the track, it seemed like a good idea to do a quick restart.
The subsequent attempt didn’t last much longer, with my mistake to explore a ship wreck under water and drowning when I got lost in the dark. You are probably seeing a pattern here, and you’d be correct, I am indeed not good at survival games. Seriously, you should see me play ARK.
The premise of Stranded Deep is easy to grasp, gather what little resources are at your disposal, and gradually build up your inventory with useful items.
The islands are a harsh son of a bitch though, with long cool-downs for resources to spawn again.
Take the humble and feisty Yucca plant for instance. Each island has a few of these prickly bitches, and with a couple of love taps from your axe, or even a stone tool, a Yucca will drop a handful of Fibrous Leaves which are needed to make Lashing or rope for anyone that isn’t a pirate. These lashings are used to craft pretty much every useful piece of equipment or tools.
They are also required to put together a makeshift raft if you want to start building a dwelling that can travel between the islands with you. Yes, I wish I’d known that when I restarted the game in order to save my bugged up life raft.
Depending on the settings you have selected, the experience can vary slightly from player to player. There is even a Cartographer option that allows you to generate your own island within a few variables such as the amount of resources to spawn, and which critters will be sharing your living space or how deadly the sharks and snakes are. Apart from that, your experience will be pretty much the same as ours.
So, once you’ve surveyed the starter island and gotten a feel for how long resources will take to spawn, or where to find everything, it’s probably a good idea to gather what you can and lay it all out in a single location. Why? Because, the last thing you want to be doing is going in search of that Tarp you saw on the beach earlier, especially after wandering around for quite a while waiting for Yuccas to regrow. Trust me, this isn’t a game where enemy players are raiding your loot, so it’s ok to leave it all where you can find it easily.
I told you about the Fibrous Leaves, but what else can you find on the average island? It’s a good idea to get familiar with all of the available materials early on.
- Rocks (picked up all over the island)
- Sticks (picked up, or gathered by cutting down trees, or splitting trunks)
- Fibrous Leaves (Yuccas, or Young Palm Trees)
- Coconuts (take from palm trees)
- Crab, Fish, Bats, Boars (varied locations, dependent on each island)
- Tarp (normally two of these on the beach somewhere)
- Medicinal Ingredients (Aloe Vera, Ajuga, Pipis)
You won’t necessarily find all of these items on your first island, for example, there were no Boars on my first run but I did have Bats that would land in the Palm trees at night, they could be hit with pretty much any tool and killed.
Food, glorious effing food.
Everything you eat needs to be prepared though, so be careful. Any of the animals you kill need to be skinned with a knife and cooked. So, make sure you have a campfire built before skinning an animal to avoid letting the meat spoil before you can use it. Further down the track, you will upgrade your simple campfire to a firepit, a spit, a smoker, and so on. But, in the beginning, you will only be able to cook one piece at a time, so a bit of time management is crucial to ensure you aren’t wasting precious resources.
Coconuts, on the other hand, have multiple uses, just climb a tree and remove them, drop them on the ground, and hit them with a sharp tool to remove the skin. You are then able to drink from them to restore a small amount of Hydration. They can be hit again to open them up, making them a source of food, or you can use the unopened coconut to make a flask, or a vessel to carry medicinal concoctions.
As mentioned earlier, you won’t be able to rely on coconuts alone to quench your thirst, but there are a few items that can be crafted early in the game to help keep you from blistering in the sun.
A Water Still can be put together fairly easily, and additional coconut flasks can be kept somewhere close by with water in them. The last resort of course is the coconut itself, which can be stockpiled close to your camp for quick sipping.
Laying down roots.
To be able to save your game you’ll need a simple shelter which the tutorial will see you make, but it’s barely big enough for a toddler to sleep in, so what about a proper hut? Luckily, you can get pretty creative in this department, but HEED MY WARNING:
If you have the means to build on a raft, do it. Being tied to one island is a bad idea that will slow you down immensely. As I have said, there are limited resources per island and the respawn times are long. Being able to hop between locations with your house and all your essentials is going to make your time a lot easier down the line. So yes, you can still build a simple house on the first island and get comfortable, but it wont be long before you start getting bored.
Build light, and by that I mean don’t try to make the fanciest structure as quickly as you can, it simply takes a lot of time, and time equates to your health dropping. You will get your chance to build a nice base, made of brick and designed to perfection, but it’s definitely not your first priority.
Scattered around each island are some very handy landmarks that I touched on very briefly; Shipwrecks.
These broken vessels come in several types, but aren’t all unique, making it easy to remember your way in and out once it’s been done a couple of times. But, each wreck has an assortment of supplies that will help monumentally. It could be anything from vehicle parts to make a Gyrocopter, Rations, Oxygen Tanks for deep diving and prolonged ventures under the waves, Torches, Compasses, Binoculars, and various building materials.
You’ll also find Buoys and Tyres which can be used to make the base of more superior rafts. Don’t count on grabbing everything at once however, due to your limited inventory and breath holding capacity it’ll probably take you many trips to pillage a wreck and drop all the booty off at camp.
Again, these resources will still be limited, and while it will seem as if you’ve hit the jackpot and brought home a tonne of great stuff, it’s still not going to get you very far until you start moving around.
There are two types of island, which can be recognized by the size, and the presence of cliffs. The larger ones will feature cliffs, and also be home to a larger array of plant species.
Story islands can also be found, but they will still look like the other islands more or less but these are areas where you will encounter some nasty sea creatures and be tasked with a mission to kill them. It’s in the killing of these Boss creatures that you will unlock the more advanced crafting items that won’t be available to you in the beginning, so my advice would be to not rush to get to these fights.
We have gotten to that awkward point in all of my reviews, where I struggle to find a way to cut off the flow of spoiler-like information while also finding a proper conclusion or summary for the reader.
Once, you have paid your dues and survived the first 15 days or so, your options will open right up. You’ll no longer be confined to your tiny island, you will have gained a thorough understanding of what will lill you and what will keep you alive. Your weapons will be getting more impressive for a guy stuck at sea, and your character’s stats will be at a point where you can safely spend around 10-15 minutes exploring, hunting, or building before you will need to tend to your hydration and hunger.
The sea life goes a lot further than a generic named “shark” or “crab”, and you will encounter many different fish, squid, turtles and stingrays to either run away from, kill and cook, or simply gaze at.
So get out there tiger, and see if you can take your unnamed stranger, who seems to be down a private jet, from a sun burned scrub to full blown survival master. Or don’t, I give Stranded Deep a 6.5/10