Review – Survivor: Castaway Island
The first thing that I need to address with Survivor: Castaway Island is that this is just a re-release of the same French version of Survivor called Koh Lanta. I did not not play or review Koh Lanta, but for anyone else that has, I’m just going to let you know right now it’s the same exact game, but for the English version of Survivor. However, the kicker is Castaway Island has even less actual content. So if you’re still even interested in this game after reading the review, I’d maybe suggest just picking up Koh Lanta instead.
Survivor: Castaway Island is based off of the popular competition show Survivor. There has been quite a lot of themes and changes to the formula over its twenty-three years of being on TV, but the general idea is that two teams are stranded on an island and have to survive for themselves. Each day there are challenges to overcome, some in the form of minigames to where you can earn rewards like food, water, rest, and immunity. Others challenges come from survival and social aspects. The two teams will continue to vote out their weakest links until there is a sole survivor.
As you can imagine, this concept should work really well for a video game with tons of minigames and dialogue social games. Unfortunately, it’s the execution of these ideas that falls extremely short. Yes, there are a lot of the challenges from the show in the game, however, all of them boil down to simple QTEs or general movement. Movement is handled with the arrow keys and everything else is D, R, F, and G. The mouse is not used at all, even for the menus.
You start off by picking a team: Coco Tribe or Mango Tribe. Each team has a set of stock characters to choose from with no customization at all and they’re not randomly generated so it’s the same characters no matter how many seasons you play. The strangest thing though is that before picking your character the game asks you which season you’d like to play, yet there is only one option to choose, unlike Koh Lanta that offers multiple seasons that have different themes.
Once you start your season you’re introduced to a very small portion of a beach area, which is where you set up camp and survive. This is the same location no matter if you choose Coco Tribe or Mango Tribe, or even start a new season. Much like the show, you’ll need to search around the area and collect drinkable water, edible food, and burnable wood for the fire. These are your only three activities to do each day, besides interacting with your teammates. This is where the game is extremely annoying.
In order to survive in Survivor: Castaway Island, you clearly need to collect all the resources you can, because each day everyone eats, drinks, and needs a fire. However, the AI absolutely sucks at collecting resources and to collect resources it causes you to lose strength. Shake down a tree for a coconut? -2 Strength. Collect drinking water? -2 Strength. Try and spear fish? -2 Strength. Even if you don’t get a coconut out of the tree or you miss the fish, you get dinged on your Strength. Plus, in order to get your strength back for a challenge, the group needs to have enough resources for everyone or else you get the tiniest bit of strength back.
AI is absolutely no help in this regard, and it basically comes down to you to scavenge enough resources for everyone or your hunger and thirst will put you out. The strength system is completely broken for the player, and I’ve not seen that it is balanced for the AI. They have no urgency even late in the seasons to do their part. The even more frustrating thing is that if you don’t pick up your fair share then everyone starts to hate you and are likely going to vote you out.
The social system is on one hand easily manipulated, but also very annoying when it doesn’t work. No matter the choices you choose you won’t appease everyone, you’ll need to foster your friends and join alliances and hope you can out vote someone. There is a cool graph in the menu that shows everyone’s feelings towards each other so you can tell who are friends and foe. That aspect is nice, unfortunately the execution is wonky because there is never a guarantee you’ll say the right thing to even friendly teammates. All the social aspects and how AI reacts to you feels so haphazardly done it doesn’t make much sense.
How I was able to keep on most people’s good side was essentially needing to do all the work and win all the challenges, but that uses so much of your strength that you end up losing for other reasons. During my first season I got to the halfway point, where there was enough people voted off to now merge the two tribes. However, whoever comes in last in the challenge goes home.
Well, since I was so tired from having to do all the work for resources, I ran out of strength during the archery challenge, because my shots were so unwieldy that I lost. There is an option to just nap during the resource gathering phase, which I did and everyone still got mad at me, in spite of my efforts. But since there were no resources collected by the other teammates, hunger and thirst still hit me and everyone else. Simply put, the balance is just off.
Challenges also are a strange implementation in this game because the idea is socially, if you aren’t pulling your weight winning challenges, people will vote for you. However, during a challenge you control all of your team. So if that one time you miss the objective and it happens to be your characters turn then you’ll get negative points even though you’ve controlled everyone else doing it well. For example, one of the challenges has you needing to tap F at three points and then mash F to run and jump and break a pot. You don’t get to pick the order you go in and there isn’t time in between, so you don’t really know which character is going at the time.
So if you accidentally miss with your character or someone else, then it’s a negative against that character. Essentially you could strategically always miss with one of the characters and try and get them kicked out. I don’t know why the AI on your team doesn’t have their own actions when the other tribe is fully controlled by the AI. It then would make the decisions to vote against someone because of performance actually mean something.
Visually, there is nothing really to write home about; it has a very basic art design with no texture work. That in itself isn’t bad, but it’s the fact that everything is so bland and lacks variety. The only variety is within the challenges since no matter what they use the same beach home base layout. However, even the challenge lack charm in the details like the show has. Character models are okay at best for the art style, but the animations are stiff and janky. The UI looks like it’s something out of a mobile game as well. I’m not one to harp on a UI, but everything is so plain and and large like it’s a touch screen button.
Sound design also doesn’t add much to the experience. It does have the classic Survivor themes to it at times, but overall the the sound effects are low quality. The main song that repeats during the resource gathering phase got quickly on my nerves since it is short and loops constantly. There isn’t any voice acting, which is fine, but there are issues with the dialogue spelling and and sentence compositions.
Survivor: Castaway Island feels like a cash grab title banking on the popular franchise name of Survivor. Considering this is even just a reskin of their previous game, with even less content, it feels even more soulless. The gameplay is dated, the visuals aren’t pleasing, and there just isn’t any fun to be had from any of this game. Much like all the characters on the island, Survivor: Castaway Island lacks any real personality.
Graphics and art design are very bland, animations are stiff, and no variety in islands.
Movement is stiff, all activities are completed with simple QTEs, and the controls for keyboard are terrible.
Sound design features the classic Survivor themes, but the rest of the general sound effects and music are lacking heavily.
There really isn’t anything fun about Survivor: Castaway Island, the trials are there, but the gameplay hinders them. Social aspects are too basic to care to invest in.
Final Verdict: 3.0
Survivor: Castaway Island is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
Reviewed on PC with an i7-9700k, RTX 2070, and 16gb RAM.
A copy of Survivor: Castaway Island was provided by the publisher.