Stranded Deep is in an interesting position. It has been in Steam Early Access for quite some time and still is. The console versions of the game have an ending that the PC version lacks and it’s being sold as a finished product on consoles.
At the same time, the console version flat out doesn’t have quite a few features that the PC version does. It’s a confusing and admittedly eyebrow-raising situation.
Stranded Deep places in you in the shoes of a plane crash survivor in the middle of the ocean. Your only refuge is a series of randomly generated tropical islands that you must travel between to keep yourself alive.
Resources on each island are scarce, so using a raft to move between them is a necessity. Hunger, thirst, deadly animals, and even the sun itself threatens your life. However, Stranded Deep does feature difficulty settings and some customizable options for you to tinker with.
You may, for example, disable snakes and sharks, play with permadeath or even tinker with generating your own island. So is the console version worthy enough to grab your Wilson and pretend your Tom Hanks?
I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts
Depending on your choice of difficulty you may or may not start with a small inflatable raft that you can row between islands, but you’re otherwise on your own and need to craft and find the tools you need to survive.
Each map is randomly generated with a set of islands and the islands themselves are random. You obviously can’t drink seawater. The sun is persistently cooking you alive and food selection isn’t exactly a Golden Corral Buffet. Though crab is an option and is only half as likely to make you crap your pants, so maybe it’s not all bad!
You have a set of skills such as crafting, cooking, and hunting. The more you perform relation actions the higher they increase and the more effective they are. Crafting specifically unlocks more recipes the more it increases.
Stranded Deep features a day and night cycle and your character can only go so long without sleeping. The darkness can really put a damper on your activities, lest you bump into a snake or step on an urchin under the moonlight.
Since your needs are always decreasing, a decent amount of the challenge is managing your time well enough to use your limited resource to make things as sustainable as you can. Trees, rocks, and sticks never respawn. Animals and fiber plants do and within an hour you will be willing to sell your big toe for the latter.
Fiber is used to make a lot of recipes, like lashings which are required for the majority of tools. Tools break down over time so the fiber is always in demand.
The fiber plants regrow in a few days, but one island’s worth is never enough and is one of many reasons you will sail around to other nearby islands.
Stranded Deep doesn’t hold your hand. If you choose one island as your home, you had best used a compass if you ever plan on finding your way back to it again. Stranded Deep makes some decent strides at realism.
You can climb trees to grab coconuts and you can get a small drink from a coconut then split it open for a snack. Eat or drink too much of it and you will be worse off than you were before.
Most objects, including your rafts, have physics to them. I certainly made a couple of costly yet hilarious mistakes when making and using a raft. Such as building the first part and walking away, only to turn around and watch as it was already deep in the ocean drifting with the tide because I hadn’t made an anchor yet.
You can drag nearly every object around and the smart idea would have been to pull it on to land. It was a definite, “Aha, you fool”, moment and I had a few of those which I really enjoyed.
Most islands have shipwrecks on them that you can explore for supplies. Doing so can be dangerous as poisonous snakes, fish and a variety of sharks lurk in the deep. Bleeding and poison aren’t simple status effects that you can ignore. They will kill you if you don’t give them proper attention.
Stranded Deep has a robust building system and you can create a really cool looking survivor shelter complete with essentials. Such as a hobo stove, loom, and furniture. Your end goal, however, is to escape.
Doing so will require you to find and defeat three sea monster type bosses. A significant change of pace from the rest of the game that you woulden’t expect.
Lifes A Beach Then You Cry
One of the first problems I found with Stranded Deep is its inconsistency with how it handles survival. Since survival games are a genre that you mostly need to learn as you play, its important that they set the player up with the correct expectations of what they can do early on.
The games short tutorial has the player climbing trees for coconuts, learning to drink and eat from them. Spearing a crab, building a fire from sticks, crafting kindling, and then tapping the controller’s triggers to work the kindling into a fire so you can cook the crab. You then cut down a tree to use its palm fronds to make a shelter.
This all painted a pretty realistic picture in my mind so when the game left it up to me to figure out the rest, I tried to employ basic ideas. When I needed more fiber, I tried every which way to see if I could craft more from palm fronds and I could not.
I dove into the ocean and tried to cut the long vine-like portions of seaweed for rope, and I could not do that either. Fiber is from two specific plants in the game and that is it.
The first time I saw a fat juicy fish the size of a large dog, my mouth watered with the amount of meat I was about to get from it. Only to find, I couldn’t spear it or interact with it at all. In fact, there was a lot of sea life that are just for visual effect.
I don’t know what I expected the first time I threw a spear at a hissing snake. What I did not expect was a five-foot spear to stick out of the snakes head as it chased me down the beach.
Crafting recipes being linked to an RPG like skill was also problematic, as I would need to craft a thing I hadn’t unlocked yet and had to waste precious resources crafting things I didn’t need in order to unlock what I did. It felt very at odds with the rest of the game.
The robust building system is largely wasted. You don’t get any type of survival benefit from building a house. It’s not like the sharks are gonna grow legs and raid you.
Your basic leafy shelter you make five minutes in is all you need to save and sleep. You could build just for the sake of doing it, but again, it utilizes the limited resources you need to survive with no benefit.
Building and expanding a raft is a really nice feeling milestone in the game. If your playing on normal though, there is largely no point. A raft with a sail or motor is faster than the inflatable one, but a lot wonkier.
You can’t actually build structures on the raft and the only storage you obtain is from crates that you find. I quickly found that placing crates on a raft was a bad terrible idea as the physics can, at times, screw up and catapult your precious crates into the sky like Team Rocket in every single episode of Pokemon.
It felt really weird to not be able to make the raft into any kind of mobile base or even a storage center given the focus on sailing between islands for limited resources.
Another central problem was a simple lack of variety. There isn’t any emergent gameplay to really throw a wrench into your survival plans. The only time you encounter the boss monster is if you seek them out and its actually rather easy to stay fed and watered once you are established.
Despite the islands being randomly generated, the shipwrecks become pretty familiar with similar layouts but most damaging is the lack of loot variety. The excitement of finding a shipwreck quickly wears thin as you can expect the same pieces of loot to be in them. usually some cloth or leather pieces with the occasional flare gun, motor part, or binoculars.
The framerate dipped often and spearing a boar to death had a solid fifty-fifty chance that it would spaz out into the ocean, never to be seen again taking its meat, leather, and your spears with it.
Stranded Deep is a pretty chill survival game. I enjoyed the setting and my early hours with the game. It had a few high points such as building my raft and my first boss encounter. My enthusiasm didn’t last long, however, as the lack of variety and surprise combined with the game’s problems and inconsistencies wore me down.
It’s also difficult not to wonder about the state the game launched in. Yes, it has an ending that the PC version doesn’t, despite that version being in early access since 2015. Yet the console version lacks features such as the ability to properly store crates on a raft that the PC version has.
While it is normal for updates in early access to lag behind on one platform or another, games really should have feature parity across the platforms. Besides, Stranded Deep isn’t being billed as an early access title on the consoles anyway.
In the end, the more interesting parts of Stranded Deep don’t make up for its shortcomings elsewhere and I believe there are better survival choices you could spend your money on.
A copy of Stranded Deep was provided for Gideon’s Gaming by Beam Team Games.
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- Interesting setting
- Difficulty options present
- Robust building system
- Realism and mechanics are inconsistent
- The building system has no tangible benefit
- Lack of variety, loot is predictable and shipwrecks quickly feel similar
- Jank, bugs and framerate issues can be frustrating
- The mechanics aren’t always coherent