So many stories and scenarios have been explored in video game form throughout the years. Though, for some reason, the classic “lost at sea” story has evaded a good adaptation up until the PS4 generation. The game that finally filled this niche is ‘Stranded Deep‘, an independent title developed and published by Beam Team Games. Since starting this game, I have sailed through violent storms, gotten diarrhea from a coconut, and slayed the Giant Grouper. In this review, I will lay open its flawed glory.
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Fire in the Sky
Your experience begins with a nice ride in a private jet. Comfort quickly becomes chaos as the cabin begins to shake, then collapses entirely. You are flung into the sea and prompted to swim to a nearby life raft among the flaming wreckage, after this you are at the mercy of the Pacific Ocean and the few islands scattered therein.
The islands you find yourself on are gorgeous and where you will put your nose to the grindstone for most of the game. They are covered with palm trees, miscellaneous flora, and are inhabited by a small variety of creatures. Every island will have crabs scuttling about and a few species of fish gathered in the shallow waters. More than a few islands will also be home to wild hogs, giant crabs, and venomous snakes waiting to hinder you. There are few resources to gather, though gathering them will consume a substantial portion of your playtime. Wood, palm leaves, fibers, and rocks will be lining your pockets for the entire experience. There are sunken ships scattered around many of the islands. Exploring these will provide necessary tools and resources for survival. That is about all there is to the land aspect of the game, not very much at all. That was the point, but it still feels barren.
The real star of Stranded Deeps environment is the ocean, a lack of assets does not hinder it at all. It feels vast and instills in you a fear like no other. The best experiences of the game are to be found in the sea. A handful of shark species roam the waters, often following you as you sail, nudging your raft and sometimes capsizing it. This is scary at first, but the novelty wears off quicky, even becoming annoying when you are trying to accomplish something. There are also whales, whale sharks, and marlins to be seen, though they tend to keep to themselves.
You will be plagued by a couple of weather systems, heatwaves, and thunderstorms. There are also seasons that make heat or rain more likely to occur. Storms are atmospheric, making sea travel more stressful if you are brave enough to endure it. Waves grow taller and the water becomes as black as night while lighting cracks in the sky. The weather is a splendid feature though a few other types would not have hurt.
The pitfall of this game. As I said before there are few materials to gather, but gathering a lot of them is necessary to progress. Along with a lack of variety is a lack in volume of resources, though this is intentional. This means you will be either traveling from island to island in search of materials or waiting days for them to respawn. This coupled with how much you will be crafting can make for a monotonous and aggravating experience.
A replacement for your life raft will be one of the first things you will craft. You can get creative with it, but only to a certain extent. There are sails, anchors, and canopies to add, plus some furniture. I had really hoped for more, given how much time you will spend on your raft. It is a cool idea with a less than adequate execution.
It is implied that you should build a shelter, but it seemed to me to interfere with progress in other endeavors. I have seen impressive shelters online, though building one myself sounded exhausting. Why spend hours sailing between islands to gather wood for a shelter then going back to said shelter to store and exchange items? It is far easier to craft the essentials as you travel, there are not that many things to find to begin with.
Farming is also possible, though I did not find myself using it until I needed to refine gasoline. Plants can be gathered, planted, and can even dry out if left to the elements. Farming’s purpose is to provide a steady supply of flora that can be used for status effects. I never really found myself in need of these and did not bother farming them. I feel as though this should have been a more prominent feature.
I was most disappointed with the bosses of this game. They are scary until you get close to them. They are cheaply modeled, as if they were an afterthought. Being in the water with them is scary enough and their attacks are effective in contributing to this. They have no polish though and are no challenge at all to defeat. There are three in total, with three varying difficulties. I defeated the hardest of them first without knowing it and, if I had not researched it afterwards, would not have known the difference. It is required that you tackle them all if you intend to finish the game, so I will not spoil them here. Just be prepared for disappointment.
Even with all its flaws, this game is gorgeous. Up close the textures are basic, but the big picture is vivid. The sun setting beyond the horizon on the sea is awe inspiring. The moon’s reflection on the water will leave you at peace with your troubles and warrant a screenshot. I could not imagine what this game would look like with a PS5 remaster.
If you enjoy survival games, then this may be a multiple playthrough kind of game for you. I simply could not do it. The gameplay loop has insignificant variation to keep me engaged enough for another 30-hour bout of crafting and sailing. Beating the game will gift you with a starting crate option for future playthroughs. Inside the reusable crates are a few improved items to make the experience a little easier. These are nice, but not convincing enough.
Stranded Deep fills a void in the gaming market and I believe this to be the reason it still has a fanbase. It was a worthwhile experience even though I doubt I will be playing it again. Visually it has a lot going for it. I have rarely been so entranced by a game’s aesthetics. I would say that Stranded Deep accomplished what it set out to do, making you feel alone and deprived. They captured the horror of the sea, and everything it contains. I only wished it were left to bake for a bit longer. Overall, the game feels barren, I could count the enemy creatures on two hands, and its mechanics leave much to be desired. Its content is stretched thin, with most of your playtime being the repetition of simple tasks that never change and lead you to rewards that only help to continue the cycle. I do not dislike this game and recommend that anyone interested should play it at least once. Hopefully, Beam Team games will take another stab at the island survival genre soon and build on the foundation laid by Stranded Deep.
- The only game of it’s kind on console
- Causes genuine fear
- Bad physics
- Boring gameplay loop