Base-building games have been maturing as a genre in recent years. One of the more interesting twists is the growth in underwater base-building games, and Surviving the Abyss is one such game that promises to test your skills -- and your patience.
In Surviving the Abyss, you're dropped into an alternate timeline where scientists have been experimenting with human cloning. After many failures (and a lot of public outcry), the cloning experiments have been officially discontinued. Unofficially, however, these experiments are starting up again in a secret underwater base nearly 8 kilometers below the surface of the ocean -- and you've been put in charge of this mission.
While there are plenty of fairly vanilla base-building games, some of them put some kind of twist on the genre. Ixion, for example, makes your "base" the internal structure of a massive spaceship. Surviving the Abyss' twist on game mechanics is centered on population generation.
You'll get around 20 or so crew after completing some of the early game objectives. After that, your allies on the surface won't send down any more people. Your only solution to get more workers is to clone them -- and cloning ain't easy.
If you run out of building materials without any additional resources to mine, you've effectively lost the ability to expand and continue exploring.
Cloning humans requires a base with all of the amenities, the correct mix of genetic material, and an absence of scientific ethics. Unfortunately, using some of the less-desirable material from the fishes around your starting location results in mutations that reduce the life of a clone down to mere weeks.
Adding to the challenge is a penalty on morale after every crew death. This penalty disincentivizes experimentation and encourages cautious gameplay. I don't think you should get a free pass to play fast and loose with human lives (even cloned ones), but these morale penalties feel a little too unforgiving in the early game. That's not the worst of it -- as far as I can tell, the morale penalty is permanent.
For Want of a Nail
Human resources aren't the only resources you'll have to worry about -- Steel, Coal, Aluminum, and other materials are just as necessary to your base-building efforts. Unfortunately, these supplies are also limited in quantity.
The good news is that power-generating resources such as Coal and Oil have infinite resource veins in some places. Build an extractor on the appropriate vein and you'll have a constant, neverending flow of fuel to keep the lights on.
Paradoxically, your best chance of success in your mission is to delay it for as long as possible.
The bad news, however, is that this same generosity does not apply to the other resources in the game. You can run out of construction materials very easily if you're not careful, and the only way to find more is to scan the surrounding area with sonar and expand your base to these new deposits. There are larger deposits that can be exploited with a special extractor building, but the resources in these deposits are finite and will eventually run out.
If you run out of building materials without any additional resources to mine, you've effectively lost the ability to expand and continue exploring. I would have liked to see some way to get a slow but steady income of building materials from some kind of special resource vein to prevent a soft game over situation. I'm not one to shy away from a challenge, but the current amount of building materials leaves little room for error.
Slow and Steady (But Mostly Slow)
Paradoxically, your best chance of success in your mission is to delay it for as long as possible. The reasons for this come down to an unfortunate mix of game mechanics.
If you produce a clone with any mutations, it will die in thirty to sixty days. That means that you want to make as few clones as possible until you can reliably produce clones free of mutations, and that isn't possible without building expansion bases in other biomes.
However, building expansion bases requires a fair amount of infrastructure, and that means you'll need to have enough crew on hand to keep everything running smoothly. It's a tricky balancing act. It's certainly quite doable, but you're going to have a hard time until you get lucky and find the right genetic material spawns that you need.
These realities (plus the general lack of resources) mean that the best way to play Surviving the Abyss is slowly and carefully. This drags the game's pacing down to a crawl, beyond the threshold of what should be acceptable for a game of this style; I spent more time waiting around to have enough of what I needed before I could actually progress with the game.
Surviving the Abyss Preview - Final Thoughts
The slow pace is a problem, but it's not an unfixable problem. Surviving the Abyss is, in my eyes, Early Access as it should be -- a developer experimenting with the mechanics of a game and seeing what works.
In the short time that I had the game before launch, I saw things a few things get added and a few things get removed. Generally speaking, the game I have today is just a just a little bit better than what I had a few days ago.
I spent more time waiting around to have enough of what I needed before I could actually progress with the game.
The core concept of the game -- building an underwater base and working on a project to clone humans -- is entertaining, all the more so for fans of base-building and exploration games. However, the mechanics that support your mission feel like they could use a fair amount of fine-tuning.
I think this game can evolve into something fun to play once the pacing and balance issues are tweaked. Surviving the Abyss needs to move a little faster and it needs to be a little more forgiving of mistakes. Once these issues are sorted out, I think it will be a solid entry in the genre.
TechRaptor previewed Surviving the Abyss on PC via Steam using a copy provided by the publisher.