Stranded Deep: An Underdog Story
In January 2015, Beam Team Games' survival game Stranded Deep reached early access on Steam. Five years later, to no fault of the developers due to the closing of their original publisher, Telltale, it finally saw a release on consoles in 2020. Like similar titles including Subnautica, Stranded Deep places you in the middle of nowhere with limited tools available. There is no hand-holding and barring some starting items, players are expected to make do with what they have. The issue I had with Stranded Deep was its presentation although I will begin with a preface of praise.
I love a success story and an indie developer getting their game on a console from the depths is no easy feat. What happened with the publisher was out of Beam Team Games' control. To publish their own title and find a workaround to ensure a wider audience could be reached is great for fans and devs alike. This game joins the ranks of digital-only games that have physical releases, much like Skul The Hero Slayer, another recent title. The difference between the two is what ultimately makes one a better example than the other.
The story behind Death Stranded is one of the most riveting tales I've ever experienced in a video game. Top-notch storytelling awaits the player as they embark on a---Wait, what do you mean "What story?" Oh, I see. Yeah, so, you're on a plane I guess on a business trip and the plane crashes in the ocean.
Now you have to survive the Pacific Islands while trying to find a way back to civilization. I'll give Beam Team Games another positive as games like these don't require "story." Players who purchased this title already know what to expect and it's best to cut to the chase. Rather, cut to the survival.
Upon rising to the surface you find a conveniently placed inflatable raft with an emergency kit. Inside there are food rations, a compass, and other necessities to start the player with. There is also a paddle that the player can use to row to shore. This is where Stranded Deep begins to fall apart, especially on the Switch console. The controls for Stranded Deep were made with a keyboard and mouse in mind. You move the mouse to a point of interest, click or press a button on the keyboard to obtain the item, and commit to an action.
The game asks the player to grab the paddle from the latch, observe the raft, press a button to mount with the paddle in hand, and row. The problem here is that camera movement sucks in an "I can't highlight my intended target" way. Every time I would go for the raft, it would target something else. The game says if the raft gets stuck, you could physically carry it to fix it. The problem is that the physics for grabbing things is weird. Sometimes I ended up making things worse.
The "Tutorial" Is Better Off Not Existing
You're then asked to "find two stones and two sticks," as well as open up your inventory. While players will no doubt have already opened their inventories, it was far more challenging to find sticks and stones. "But Nay," you'd ask, "isn't the island full of stones?" and to that I say yes. Writing this now, I did find a hammer and I'm thinking that maybe I was supposed to hit a boulder with a hammer to produce stones. If that was the case instead of finding "loose" stones, then the game should have mentioned it.
I understand the intent of Stranded Deep is the "lack of hand-holding" and "survival," but I've covered many Story of Seasons titles. If the game wanted me to hit a rock with a hammer to break it down into stones, it should have told me. There are many materials on this small island that are inaccessible without the right materials to harvest. Don't know which tool to harvest? Don't have the tools needed to harvest? Trial and error is the answer. At least I know I can climb up trees to grab coconuts. The same coconuts that give the player diarrhea if one too many are eaten. Oops.
Once Again, Fun For Some But Not All
As I admitted in the Subnautica first impressions, I'm a "noob" when it comes to survival games. I appreciate the extent the devs bring their product, but I also know that it's not for me. With that said, I rowed my raft to the farthest island and immediately got greeted by a boar that almost mauled my idiot self.
If I were to recommend this title, it'd be on the PC. Players can switch camera perspectives from "first-person" to "third-person" to see how hilarious the animations are. It screams "PC title meant to be played in first-person" and Stranded Deep very much fits the criteria. In the end, it was a test of survival for my patience rather than wanting to explore the world before me.
Stranded Deep is available on the PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.