Stranded: Alien Dawn holds promise but is held back by unfriendly survival systems
We've been hands-on with the new survival colony sim game Stranded: Alien Dawn, and for fans of the genre it looks set to be a visually gorgeous move forward.
As with most colony sim games, Stranded: Alien Dawn places the player in control of the survival, management, and expansion of a group of people. In Stranded, the survivors have crashed onto an unfamiliar planet and are seeking to establish a home base. They face numerous challenges from harsh seasons, unfamiliar diseases, and even attacks from hostile wildlife.
We'll start with the positives. This game is breath-taking. The randomly generated world looks great, and the models for base structures, flora and fauna are fantastic. Seasonal and day to night changes are visually striking, and noticeably change the atmosphere of the landscape. On this note, you could compare Stranded to titles such as Rimworld, and it feels somewhat akin to a 3D successor for these beloved games.
Base building in Stranded is a joy, and players will be rewarded for good planning and location choices due to factors such as resource availability and elevation. When the player unlocks the ability to create farms and defences, bases truly come alive as sprawling safe havens from the alien world beyond the walls.
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For fans of the survival and colony sim genres, this game is appropriately challenging and dense, and although research trees could be expanded further, they certainly aren't lacking. There's a meaningful amount of depth to survivor traits, and the social and downtime happiness mechanics for survivors in the game mean the optimal colony members aren't always the most skilled. For players new to games like Stranded, the tutorials are quite good at teaching the game's core mechanics, and certainly worthwhile even if not all-encompassing.
Now onto the not so good. Whilst the game's direct orders and advanced priority mechanics for delegating tasks to survivors are serviceable, they're not very efficient and frequently cease working, leading to endless cycles of re-delegating that quickly grow frustrating. This exacerbates other, smaller issues with mechanics such as construction, crafting, healing, and research and turns them from minor annoyances with timing to draining and seemingly pointless tasks. This is especially true for crafting, with the time needed to create items feeling extremely long and the durability of said items unbearably short; it gets sisyphean.
The most frustrating thing about this, however, is simply that it could leave even the most diligent players ill-equipped for the constant threats and changes that should feel like a fun and engaging challenge. On a similar note, combat with attacking wildlife in the later stages of the game can feel repetitive and unrewarding.
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Looming large over these issues is the game's survivor AI. It's just not good, and as survivors are key to any colony sim, it's unavoidable. The AI seem to be fickle at best and dangerously idiotic at worst, refusing to heal themselves or seek help, and letting food go to waste on a frequent basis. This makes both time and resource management more difficult than it should be. Additionally, the downtime system and relationship mechanic that Stranded tries to implement, to its credit, is let down by this AI. Survivors' motivations are nonsensical, and attempts to create positive relationships between survivors or to increase their individual happiness often prove fruitless.
All in all, for a game currently in Early Access, Stranded: Alien Dawn does hold a lot of promise. A true visual treat for fans of the genre but maybe a little too unfriendly and clunky for new players in its current state, the game could be great if the team at Haemimont can redesign the AI and streamline some of the more time-consuming and non-functional delegation systems.