Some genres just make perfect video games. While the occasional spicy mashup of ideas can be revolutionary or at the very least a unique perspective, getting down to some roots that have been laid by the industry keeps players immersed and satisfied release after release. One of those such genres is survival, which sets the player in the classic “alone in the woods” scenario—with nothing but your own sheer will and determination to survive and discover, keeping you afloat.
Taking that idea and mixing it with some strategic city-building, rather than going the Minecraft approach, and you start to see titles like Dwarf Fortress or Rimworld spawn from the ether. Stranded: Alien Dawn is an iteration on those formulas, where after crash landing on an alien planet, the survivors must come together and pool their skills in order to build an encampment, survive the weather and disease, all while holding off hordes of bug-like alien species.
Keeping in touch with those foundations, Stranded: Alien Dawn hits all the points necessary to stay in line with its forefathers, with extensive research, discovery, and exploration for the players, as well as intuitive UI and design features that allow for ease of use and enough tutorials to get started. While Stranded: Alien Dawn might not offer the extensive list of options or events you would find in Rimworld, it offers an experience that’s easier for players who have always wanted to get into Rimworld—but find it too intimidating—all while offering top-notch, realistic graphics.
The story of Stranded: Alien Dawn keeps things simple in order to allow you to create your own along the way. Crash-landed on an alien planet, your group of survivors must make a camp and survive long enough to find a way off the planet. Additional scenarios, such as the attempt to build a military base or a group of outcasts trying to start a trading post, are also available. Outside of those, random events will occur during your time on the planet via the use of hot-air-balloon exploration, which can add supplies or additional survivors to your camp.
“…Stranded: Alien Dawn hits all the points necessary to stay in line with its forefathers…”
Characters are chosen at the beginning of the game, with several options available for players to choose from. Each character has different abilities and traits that make them useful for different aspects of the game. For example, you might find an older woman who won’t be able to help as much with building or hunting, but is a master tailor and great cook. Or maybe an ex-military sergeant who also happens to be interested in learning about observation and research skills?
Regardless of who you choose, a balanced camp with all the bases covered is crucial to survival, which can add to the difficulty manually if you so choose to get one-sided. Even though the randomness of the characters and scenarios isn’t nearly as deep as the experiences you’d find in other titles, Stranded: Alien Dawn keeps things simpler for those looking to succeed more than they fail.
After your characters, scenario, and location are decided, it’s finally time to jump in. Immediately getting into survival mode, it’s up to the player to establish a camp with all the basics. Building basic shelters that allow the characters to sleep, a fire for warmth, as well as food and medicine. Most of this can be scavenged right from the start from your crashed escape pod, which allows you to get started without having to worry about scanning the environment right out the gate. Once those things are taken care of, you can start to get creative with the world around you.
“Balancing workloads between your characters and metering out work, sleep, and playtime accordingly is a big part of Stranded: Alien Dawn.“
Different terrain allows for different strategies, where backing your camp up to a mountain or against a lake can keep enemies coming at you from one direction, or staying closer to resources can make the need for longer trips null and void. Vegetation and species around you can be observed in order to ascertain uses, which is vital to research and crafting a lot of the basic needs your camp will have. All of these decisions add to the excitement of starting a new world.
Balancing workloads between your characters and metering out work, sleep, and playtime accordingly is a big part of Stranded: Alien Dawn. Keeping spirits high is just as important as keeping their bellies full. Dartboards and punching bags are necessary to keep the survivors from having breakdowns, while tons of crafting options are available between food prep, weapon manufacturing, and the like. Again, while the extensiveness of options doesn’t match with other titles, Stranded: Alien Dawn is a less stressful entry point into the genre.
Electrical grids and actual home construction take things to The Sims levels of design and planning, but it adds to the comfort levels of the survivors, while the added tech makes life easier and safer as well. Farming and raching allows for more sustainable food supplies. Basically, you start the process simply scavenging what you can and eventually have your own full setup for survival, which is a super satisfying process.
Weather and temperature levels as the years go by also make for an urgent need for warm clothes and better shelters in the first year of the game, while lightning strikes can damage survivors or buildings, which necessitates lightning rods, for example. Animal attacks start to occur periodically, which increase in intensity as time goes on—keeping the pressure on to continue progressing from day to day. The constant pressure to attain better research, keep up the food supplies, and fend off the attacks is the driving force of the gameplay loop, and although simple, works quite well.
All in all, Stranded: Alien Dawn succeeds at everything it tries to do within the survival genre. Even though hardcore fans won’t like the lack of options in terms of character generation, research options, and crafting, this all feels like something that’ll gain more and more traction with modding, updates, and DLCs. As a first-entry into the genre, Stranded: Alien Dawn keeps things simpler to understand and easier to get started, with additional difficulty options for those wanting a tougher experience, making it more universal for the player base.