I’ve recently hit a survival game phase and have been trying out numerous titles within this genre such as Green Hell, Stranded Deep and Retreat to Enen. Survival: Fountain of Youth is due to release at the beginning of 2023, so I decided to try out the demo.
Surprisingly, Survival starts with an intro equipped with a fully-fledged narration and backstory, which is unexpected from a survival game as they usually begin with you just washing up somewhere remote with the objective being to escape. You play as part of the Juan Ponce de Leon expedition crew who have embarked on a journey to find the Fountain of Youth, which is based on an actual historic event. Survival opens with you actually walking around and interacting with the ship on a normal night, I found this to be pretty pointless; the night the ship sinks didn’t really need to be played out as the event is pretty self-explanatory. At the end of the intro, the ship starts to sink and you’re given a last-minute choice to take two items (this number depends on the difficulty, I was playing on normal) with you from the Captain’s quarters. I liked this addition, as it plays with the common question of “if you were marooned on a desert island, what items would you want to have with you?”. Initially, I started Survival with food provisions and a firestarter, though quickly realised my mistake while exploring the tutorial, and ended up starting again with food provisions and a rucksack for more inventory space.
Survival is made up of several islands which feature different biomes. You start off on the Island of Hope, a standard tropical island with hot weather and plenty of vegetation. It’s also inhabited by some of the most irritating game enemies that I’ve ever encountered. But I’ll come back to that later. While exploring the island, you soon discover that you weren’t the only crewman to have been washed up on its shores, and you’re tasked with finding other survivors.
Survival’s gameplay is one of the best I’ve seen in a survival game just because of how organised and uncomplicated the menu and crafting system are. Everything is easy to find and when you add a material to your inventory, you can go straight to whatever recipes it can be used for. Crafting costs time, and the amount of time lost to building varies depending on how complicated the item is. Considering how challenging it is to traverse the wilderness at night, daylight is a valuable resource, so I found it better to do any crafting at night and not waste those essential hours.
One improvement I would suggest to the crafting system would be the function to pin a recipe to the HUD once you come out of the crafting menu, so that you can easily see what else you need while gathering materials. Another (though I’ve seen this a few times in survival games, so it’s pretty standard) is the idea that if you demolish something that you’ve just built, you don’t get all of the materials used to build it back. This has never made physical sense to me and is a personal dislike of mine as I don’t see a reason for it other than to make the player way more cautious about what they choose to build, which in itself is pointless.
What I loved most about Survival are its exploration aspects. In a lot of survival games, you will come across old ruins or traces of others who have been through the same situation as you. Survival takes this a step further by creating a story around a lost civilization which once inhabited the island, and you can explore the vast ruins left behind, solve puzzles, and collect artefacts. This really pushed me to go further and further around the island each day, encouraging me to go out to discover new ruins and stray from the safety of my camp. On my first day, I climbed a mountain and found a temple at the top along with traces of a previous expedition that also set foot on the island. My only improvement suggestion to this would be to make these treks more worth it. It’s great to open up some backstory to the island’s history, but it would be even better for there to be some valuable loot at the top too. On this journey, I found flint and clay which are useful for crafting, but maybe a weapon or a rarer resource would have made the two-day (in-game time) journey more worth it. I also loved how Survival has a mapping tool. You must craft a piece of charcoal on the fire and then climb to a high vantage point where you can then mark resources, enemies and other points of interest down on your map to give you leverage in your exploration. This helps you think ahead when planning your journey.
The survival aspects of Survival are what you’d usually expect from a game within this genre; you must look after your hunger, thirst, tiredness, and general health. You’re also at risk of weather effects such as sunburn and the cold, as well as diseases and complications from poisoning. If you’re injured, poisoned or catch a disease, you must treat it quickly before it potentially gets worse. You also have skills that you can upgrade by performing certain tasks, or reading books that you find in ruins.
The island’s resources will refresh after a few in-game weeks, though trees and bushes that you have cut down will not grow back, so you have to reconsider whether permanently destroying the plant is worth those few extra materials at the time. The food that you have gathered will also expire, and you can see how long it has left before it’s inedible, though its expiry date is usually fair and easy to meet as long as you don’t gather too much food at once and then store it incorrectly. The weather on the island will often shift and also affect your playthrough. On the Island of Hope, it switches between scorchingly hot to torrential rain. On a sunny day, you must keep to the shade or wear protective clothing to avoid sunburn. On a rainy day, you can get too cold and will be unable to sleep without shelter.
The other downside to Survival which I experienced in the demo was the enemies, which I really hope are improved upon the game’s release. I encountered three types of enemies during the few hours that I played, and none of them were particularly fun to go up against. There were snakes, which can bite you if you’re not looking where you’re going, but are usually harmless if you avoid them as they won’t move from where they’ve spawned. There are also boars and wolves, though these are really strong and thankfully not frequently seen across the island – you’re alerted to where the wolf packs are on the island when you discover your Captain’s camp and map during the intro, so I managed to plan my navigation to miss these entirely.
What is a frequent occurrence are these squirrel/skunk monsters which will spot you from three miles away and dart around the screen as you try to stab them. These creatures are everywhere and I found them pretty hard to kill, especially when you top them off with the hawks which will continuously screech as they dive bomb you from the sky, also being able to hone in on you from halfway across the map. To be honest, these wouldn’t be so annoying if they were a bit more evenly spread out like the boars and wolves. However, they are your main species of foe on the Island of Hope and they’ll leave you with little hope when you come across them without a weapon, or when you can see several groups of them in an area that you need to access. I think maybe the numbers of these creatures should be reduced and another enemy species be added to fill in the missing numbers because it got to the point where every time I heard a squawk or a growl coming from the distance, I felt an urge to just turn off the game due to how annoying these enemies were. The only saving grace is that once these creatures are dead, they won’t respawn again for another in-game month. Though it was funny to picture a crew travelling the world for the Fountain of Youth, only to die by being mauled to death by squirrels and birds.
Survival: Fountain of Youth has so far set itself apart from usual survival games by introducing a compelling story and an environment with plenty of ruins to explore. It has a neat crafting system, though could do with the addition of being able to pin a recipe to the HUD. The environment offers plenty of reasons to venture away from your camp as well as being well-balanced in terms of resources, which are placed in a way that encourages you to go out and look for them on your map rather than just being able to gather what’s closest to you. Despite this, I found the local fauna to be a consistent nuisance which kind of spoiled the fun, and some added variety in the enemies available to you would drastically improve this. Despite this, I am looking forward to what the full game entails and will play the finished product.
Jess previewed Survival: Fountain of Youth on PC with a demo key. Survival: Fountain of Youth is due to release in 2023 and will also be available on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S.