Date Posted: 16/05/21
Stranded Deep recently popped up on the Playstation Plus as a free monthly game which I simply downloaded into my library to sit beside all the other games I have saved in there since realising if I saved them when they were free I could download them anytime I wanted after that. Apparently Stranded Deep was fully released in 2017 having been in early access since 2015. It was developed by an Australian-based independent development studio named BEAM team games. I couldn’t find out exactly when the game was ported to PS4 so all I’ll say is that as of May 2021 the game was free for Playstation Plus subscribers.
I have said before that GTA Online with the MTU settings changed so I can be in a solo public lobby, has become my unwindy game. I can while away a few hours just doing the Cayo Perico Heist or selling stock from my Bunker or just rearranging my many cars in my many garages. However, I had been awaiting the release of Subnautica: Below Zero for the PS4. When its predecessor Subnautica arrived for PS4 I jumped into its rich colourful world that despite having numerous bugs and at times being very uninformative about what you are supposed to do most of the time, I sank hours into playing. There was something very appealing about building up your base and supplies, expanding your tools to go wider afield to uncover new and interesting bio-domes. I was awaiting the release date of Subnautica: Below Zero eagerly but then in May one of the free games for Playstation Plus members was Stranded Deep. Like I said above, now normally when games are available for free I put them into my library meaning I can download them at a later time if I ever want to. Most of them simply sit there awaiting that day, but as I was in the mood for a survival crafting game that actually has a purpose (and one that had a very interesting looking trailer) I downloaded Stranded Deep.
Similarly to my Minecraft review I am going to share my experience based on my timeline rather than explaining a plot. There is a plot I guess, man (or woman) survives plane crash in Pacific Ocean needs to stay alive until rescue or builds a means of returning to civilisation (or at least that is what I assume the plot is)
Attempt 1...after the intro cinematic in which our private plane crashes leaving us stranded in the ocean in a life raft, we awaken near to an island. After following the instructions in which we are told to pick up a paddle, then sit in a very specific place on the raft in order to paddle, and then paddle over to the island we step foot onto a tropical island about as large as a tennis court. The game then guides us through a tutorial in which we have to pick up a rock to craft a sharper rock, then combine that sharper rock with a stick, and some lashing to make a knife. How do we create the lashing? Well, you go to a yucca tree, hack off its leaves, and craft some. Once you have a knife the game tells you to pick a coconut, break it open, and drink the contents. It then tells you that your stats are on your watch and you must eat, drink as well as some other readouts that it doesn't explain. If you flick through the screens on the watch you can also see any status effects. You are instructed how to make a campfire, how to kill crabs, and how to cook them on the fire. After you have done these things the game smacks you on the bum and tells you that you have learned all you need to survive, waves you farewell, and then buggers off leaving you to figure out the rest yourself.
As I was in the mood for exploration I spent my first day after I was let of the leash by exploring the island. There were a grand total of about ten palm trees with two yuccas. There were some trees that I could interact with and some I couldn't. There were also invisible walls made up of impenetrable bushes. There was a cargo container on the beach, and this was about it, as you can imagine it did not take long to explore my island.
My crafting skills would develop as I crafted more items so I used a stick to craft a spear (just a stick with a sharper tip) but it counted as crafting so my stats increased. The limited amount of stuff I could craft all seemed to involve lashing which as I said could only be crafted from the leaves of the yucca tree, and after constructing my knife, and shelter, guess what there was precious little of on my starting island?? Yep, yucca plants. Now around my island there were other islands that I could see in the distance, so I hopped back into my life raft and carefully (and fiddle-ly - yes that is a word) managed to make it to another island. This one had a Boar running around next to a rock, hoping it would run from me or at least leave me alone I started exploring looking for resources. Sadly the Boar took issue with me being on its island and started attacking me. My wild slashes with my knife made very little difference and I died. It was at this point that I released the game had not buggered off, instead it was sitting just over my shoulder with a clipboard rating me. So it was after death that the game informed me that I had survived one day and died of dehydration. The coconuts I had been drinking from had given me about a thimble-full of water so that is what had actually killed me
I consulted a Reddit post and discovered that water is the most precious commodity early on when you start this game so crafting a thing that can draw water from leaves (or something) was what I needed to make my priority. Unfortunately at the time of my death I had not unlocked enough crafting skill to make such a device, so until my crafting was better I couldn't make it.
The game also only saves at your shelter and if you die, you return to your previous save. I assumed that you respawned with a clean bill of health on your starting island, but this proved not to be the case. I had saved before I had my jaunt to the neighbouring island still there were plenty of coconuts on my island so if I drank a few of those then I would be fine, however, coconuts are natural laxatives which the game has taken into account. Therefore if you drink more than two in rapid succession you get sick, which dehydrates you even more. Plus every item I wanted to craft needed yucca trees for lashing which I had none of on my starting island, and whilst there was some on the other islands there was also dangerous animals over there that would kill me. I decided that I had faffed about too much during the tutorial becoming dehydrated and hanging around in the baking tropical sunlight, but if I had gone through the tutorial quicker, then I'd have more time to explore more islands before dehydration could attempt to claim me.
Attempt 2...Intro, paddle to island, tutorial...right this time around I zipped through the tutorial as fast as possible and immediately set my sights on a neighbouring island. I headed over there as fast as possible and discovered a bigger island with some indigenous wildlife and a better array of crafting materials. I quickly built a new shelter deciding that this island would be far better than my starting one to make home. Yes it too had Boars but these ones seemed to just run away from me, and the giant craps also just kept their distance. So whilst trekking through the undergrowth I heard a hiss and moments later the screen flashed red. You have been poisoned the game told me as it once again leaned over my shoulder letting me know. Okay, I replied, what do I do about it? Unfortunately the game had returned to its clipboard and just stared at me blankly. I have been poisoned in games like Red Dead Redemption II before and basically you just wait out the poison if you can’t find a way to treat it and it eventually goes away. So I continued crafting, and exploring discovering that one of the items I needed for my water collection thing was a piece of cloth, which I found on the beach. Up until this point I thought I’d need to craft a loom out of sticks and, you guessed it, more lashing but after discovering this piece of cloth I could effectively skip a step.
I saved the game and crafted a few more spears until my crafting skill improved enough for me to build the water-gathering thing. Around this time the Boars and Giant Crabs on the island decided to take exception to my presence and started attacking me. I had a slightly sharp stick which the game assured me was a spear which kept the Giant Crabs at bay but was insufficient to keep away the Boar. So I bravely ran away and stood on a rock that Boar couldn’t climb, it eventually got bored and wandered off. At this point I then dropped dead, having died of poisoning. The poison had not thinned in my veins and I outlasted it, nope, I had succumbed to it and perished. The game reloaded and I assumed that I would be poison free, sadly this is when I realised that you return to a previous save and unlike some other games which return you to full health after returning to a save point Stranded Deep does not do that. You have 1 save file and as I had saved after I was poisoned then there was no way I could just reload a pre-poisoned save to have another try. Plus, once again I had not unlocked enough skills to craft an antidote so if I had effectively killed my second try.
Attempt 3...Intro, tutorial...right this time I was determined to survive. In short order I had a shelter and crafted some spears to unlock the recipe needed to craft the water thing. I knew where I could find both cloth and lashing, so I leapt into my life raft, paddled over to the neighbouring island as fast as I could and avoiding the snakes, Boars and Crabs I raced to the cloth and picked it up. Sprinted to the yucca trees I hacked down the leaves and crafted lashing. I then charged for my life raft with the animals of the island nipping at my heels, jumped on board, pulled it back into the sea and headed back to my starting island. I crafted the water gathering-thing and sat back flush with pride that I had finally started to make progress. I had enough water to keep me going and could kill various crabs on the beach cooking them to keep my hunger levels low.
I was able to craft a flask to keep water in, and I was looking at the lists of things that could be used to build new items. Naturally everything needed lashing, but my sprint approach had worked on a neighbouring island so perhaps it would work again. I waded out into the shallows pulling my life raft with me, and stepped on a poisonous starfish...
I consulted Reddit and it said that if you get poisoned early on there is basically absolutely fuck all you can do about it, and the advice was to restart or reload a save.
By this point I was bored of retrying, and decided that whatever the game wanted from me it could not have it. This wasn’t a game I quit because I was angry because those draw me back, it wasn’t even a game that I just lost interest in. It was a game that seemed to be relishing in watching me fail because it had decided that it would not let me craft the tools necessary to survive on the island. It was tying my hands and then chastising me for not being able to juggle. I get that the average Joe might not know how to craft themselves a radio or colour television but I think most, even a human, would have the knowhow required to allow a tropical rainstorm to fill their life raft with fresh rainwater, and survive off that for a while. I think most would know how to cut the head off the top of a coconut scoop out the coconut to live on that for a bit even if it will make you shit. Plus the empty shell could then be used as a container for rainwater. But the game doesn’t allow you to do that. It funnels you down a very strict path and delights when you do something wrong. It smacks of video-game logic and you can only do what the makers decided that you could do not what you would actually do in that situation.
I did consider a 4th Attempt in which I set the wildlife to passive but what would be the point in that. A challenge is a very interesting thing because enough of a challenge keeps you motivated to keep going, but something that seems insurmountable just becomes uninteresting.
It is a shame because I think that the elements were there for a decent survival game but it needed a more gradual difficulty curve, not a difficulty wall. Subnautica gave you a pod with a few supplies to keep you going, and a little safe haven from which to begin your quest to explore the world around you. You find blueprints which show you the items you need to craft a certain tool or piece of equipment that is fine with me, but why Stranded Deep’s protagonist just suddenly knows how to craft more stuff because he (or she) has turned a stick into a sharper stick I have no idea.
This wasn’t going to be a full review, and as I repeatedly failed to get further into the game then maybe it shouldn’t be. However, I downloaded Stranded Deep because I wanted a fun survival game to play before my copy of Subnautica: Below Zero arrived (which it now has) and I was left wanting. I can say that it was a free 1.1GB download so what did I expect but that is no excuse. It costs £15.99 to buy it and if I had paid money I would be very angry as it is too difficult to play when you are getting started. There is no room for error and will slowly kill you if you make a mistake. The game had potential to be something really cool, and that is exactly what the trailer looked like it was going to be. But the finished game could not meet those expectations. Perhaps if you are the kind of weirdo who loves going over a Wiki searching for all the tips and tricks to succeed before jumping into the game itself then Stranded Deep is the game for you. Personally I abandoned the game to play Mad Max instead and after this review I will devote no more thought to Stranded Deep except perhaps to compare it to better survival games.
All in all the game was nothing but a waste of time. I could have changed the settings to make it easier, but that defied the point of playing at all. It is like playing with the cheats on, if a game unlocks things like invincibility or unlimited ammo then I have no problem using them because they are rewards for doing challenges. Stranded Deep just locks out the tools you need and laughs when you fail. I can’t muster the emotions to do anything more than just say that the game is Meh and leave my Thumb Horizontal.
4/10 – It would take someone with a greater level of patience than me to master this game, I was ultimately uninterested maybe because I’d got it for free. If I had paid for the game then I think it very steep difficulty curve I would be very annoyed by now.