Survival games are all about extremes -- they tend to either focus on a single survivor or a massive city with dozens of people. Stranded: Alien Dawn falls somewhere in the strange middle: it's a colony sim of sorts where you start your adventure with no more than 4 people.
In Stranded: Alien Dawn, you command an initial party of 1-4 survivors who find themselves hastily fleeing a spaceship disaster in an escape pod. Your people emerge from the pod with enough supplies for a few days (and maybe a laser pistol if you're lucky). They're on an alien world filled with unknown mysteries. It's time to get to work.
A Colony Sim with a Really Small Colony
Colony sims occupy a special place in my heart -- they feel a little more personal than city sims with thousands of people. You can painstakingly organize your people to tackle different roles, and Stranded: Alien Dawn is no different in that respect. Where it changes things, however, is the scale.
The maximum of four characters in your starting party presents some unique challenges that you typically don't see in games of this style. Simply put, you will often have too much to do and too few people to do it. Prioritizing your work is essential if you want to survive, at least until you're fortunate enough to rescue some more survivors and grow your community.
Battling hunger, bad weather, and planetwide disasters, you might be able to scratch out a living with a simple shack and a tiny farm filled with strange, glowing mushrooms. It won't be long before you discover the horrible truth: this place crawls.
The world you've landed on doesn't just have strange plants and adorable alien critters -- it also has deadly bugs, and they are hungry. Fortunately, you can construct the means to defend yourself.
Haemimont has managed to distill colony sim and base-building gameplay into a slightly simpler formula while still maintaining a healthy challenge for gamers.
Bugs will attack every few in-game days, adding that additional element of pressure that makes colony sims so gosh darn compelling. You have to juggle the needs of your survivors and progressing through the tech tree with building and defending your base. You have to plan things out carefully, too, lest a massive bug smashes your newfound home to bits.
You may eventually have enough farms and power generators to keep everyone fed and happy, but the threat of the bugs is ever-present and continually escalating. You'll be wishing for the return of the adorable little beetles when you see the first giant mantis attack or a wave of flying insects sailing over your wall.
Compromises and Challenges
Games of this style can get pretty fiddly, and Stranded: Alien Dawn is no different. You have to manage the health, happiness, hunger, rest, and relaxation of your people. If happiness falls too low, they may break into a Meltdown akin to the tantrums of Dwarf Fortress. A survivor may simply burst into tears -- or they might instead decide to start kicking all of your furniture to pieces.
It's not too difficult to keep everyone happy once you have a better understanding of what you're doing, at least on the default Medium difficulty. Part of this balance is without a doubt due to the lack of some survival mechanics. Water, for example, is not something you ever have to worry about, nor do you need to concern yourself with your colonists going to the bathroom or bathing. (You will, however, have to replace their clothes regularly.)
Haemimont has managed to distill colony sim and base-building gameplay into a slightly simpler formula while still maintaining a healthy challenge for gamers, building on the excellent game design it showcased with 2018's Surviving Mars. I tend to scoff at games that reduce complexity, but everything I've played thus far feels like it's in the sweet spot.
A Bit of Jank
Stranded: Alien Dawn has launched in Early Access in order to get community feedback while the devs add a touch more polish and further flesh out the content. I encountered only one or two crashes in 60 hours of play and I can recall no major bugs. That's not to say that this game is in perfect shape just yet, though.
One example that stands out in my mind is my survivors attempting to collect objects scattered on two sides of a wall. One would think that a survivor would grab everything on one side, go through the gate, and then grab everything on the other side. Instead. they would bounce back and forth between two sides of a wall., walking unnecessarily long distances instead of picking up the stuff right next to them.
You may eventually have enough farms and power generators to keep everyone fed and happy, but the threat of the bugs is ever-present and continually escalating.
You're sure to encounter the occasional bout of A.I. stupidity. I can't count the number of times my survivors have ignored a critical need in favor of doing just one more task. Part of the problem is that the game's scheduling system does not allow you to designate times for eating. This is something that needs to change, especially when carefully managing your resources is so important to survival -- otherwise, Stranded: Alien Dawn could turn into a mess of micromanaging your survivors.
I was also somewhat disappointed to see that there does not appear to be a way to build a second floor for buildings, either. You can build stairs and you can have rooms on different vertical levels, but you cannot stack them on top of one another for some reason. Building vertically is key to maintaining a small footprint and making the most of your base; I earnestly hope that this feature gets added in a future build.
Stranded: Alien Dawn Preview | Final Thoughts
Although Stranded: Alien Dawn has its rough edges, it has virtually no serious issues. My biggest bugbears come down to a small wishlist of missing features and the A.I. occasionally going off a bit off the rails. In the end, these tiny issues are an occasional distraction from an otherwise excellent game, albeit one that's a little light on content variety.
Haemimont's latest release is laying a solid foundation for what will surely be an excellent game in the base building and colony sim genres, both for longtime fans and gamers new to the experience. I'm eagerly looking forward to seeing how this game develops over the next several months.
TechRaptor previewed Stranded: Alien Dawn on PC via Steam using a copy provided by the publisher