Monkeys of War!
The Survivalists from Team 17 is exactly what it sounds like, a survival game. Now, I know what you’re thinking, Aren’t they a little late to that party? Well, Yes, but Team 17 were late because they were busy gathering monkeys, and everything is better with monkeys.
Survival games fall into a genre that I call ‘Busywork Simulators’, in which there’s no real objective or narrative other than just ‘Playing the game’. Usually I avoid these kinda of games, all the charms (and we know what a sucker I am for charm) of games like Stardew Valley are lost on me as I constantly ask myself “What’s the bloody point?”.
So with that preamble out of the way, let me explain why I was drawn to The Survivalists. Team 17, it’s that simple really, many an afternoon of my youth (and to be honest, even today) I could be heard laughing as Super Sheep send enemy worms up in a cloud of smoke. Team 17 have a legacy of well crafted humorous games so when The Survivalists was offered for review my heart swollen with patriotic pride, I jumped at the chance to enjoy some monkey business.
The game beings with your character, whom you can customise to suit your tastes, (I went for the classic Tom Hanks Castaway vibe) adrift on a raft that slowly comes to rest on a tropical island. Now, all the islands are procedurally generated meaning that all our experiences will at least differ when it comes to island topography. A quick wonder around and you’ll learn the basics of what is really the heart of the game, crafting. As with all games of this genre, you craft the basics, to acquire resources needed to make better tools and items and so on until you’re a master craftsmen.
It’s on your initial sojourn around the island you’ll come across a monkey in a cage, free him and he’ll become your buddy. You’ll encounter wild monkeys as you explore the island, eventually you’ll be able to craft monkey meals, dropping these near the wild chaps will tame them and your monkey family begins to grow.
The game really stresses and will take you through some well crafted tutorials on how to turn your Barrel of monkeys into a skilled bunch capable of everything from foraging to crafting thus removing much of the busywork from the game. We know how I feel about busywork, but the simians under my command would use no tools but weapons. The islands are full of dangers, from wildlife such as bats, boars and tigers to savage orcs and skeletal pirates intent on slaying you.
As well as resources and foes the islands are host to treasure, now we are talking my language, vaults full of foes to battle and goodies to plunder.
Vaults are hidden about the Islands and raiding these hidden treasure troves was the most fun I had with The Survivalists, I often ignored the games advice (which it will repeat every time you attempted to craft something yourself) that my monkeys could be crafting and instead built my very own monkey army with every paw holding a golden spear with which to murder the native orclings. I guess you could say that I turned a game firmly focused around survival into a monkey based colonisation sim.
Life in the Survivalists isn’t perfect however, issuing commands to monkeys is simple enough but switching between those commands became tiresome very quickly. One a monkey learns a skill be it crafting or the art of war you can’t just click on the monkey and switch his task. You have to once again ‘teach’ the monkey what to do, and you must do this each and every time for each and every monkey in your cohort. That’s the main reason my monkeys were more of an army that’s anything. Firstly, I found switching them from task to task annoying and secondly, because those pesky natives will occasionally drum up enough courage to try and drive you from their island.
There I would be, crafting swords for the conquest of the western volcanic island and Orcs would attempt to raid and destroy my camp. It was immensely useful to have a standing army ready to repel these indigenous insurgents. In fact, so skilled in a ruckus did my monkeys become that no real threat existed on the island. Myself and in this example my troop of 6 monkeys would be exploring some uncharted region, all my monkeys set to solider mode as they escort me though the wilds. When out of the long grass leapt a tiger, well, surely my monkeys were in danger (fear not, your monkeys are merely knocked out when their health is reduced to 0) but no, barely had this tiger had chance to scream Carol Baskins when my army would pounce and chop it to chunks. Chunks we would then cook up and use to keep me alive, thankfully you don’t have to feed your monkeys. Team 17 wisely decided that keeping yourself alive was challenging enough.
Crafting of course takes up most of your time (and your monkeys if you play the game properly) and there are many blueprints and recipes to discover, ingredients for which often require you to take the sea on a raft to find on other islands. The ultimate goal is to of course escape the islands (the means of doing so were spoiled for me by the description in one of the achievements) and head back to civilisation and maybe conquer that to with your monkey horde.
So, did Team 17 and The Survivalists change my mind on the ‘Busywork’ genre as a whole? No, not really but it did give me a title from this genre that I will recommend to everyone, it has monkeys, monkeys of war!