If you chucked space colony sim RimWorld into a blender with Maxis’ The Sims 4, the resultant smoothie would taste something very much like Stranded: Alien Dawn. And would probably give you a funny tummy, regardless of the actual quality. I previewed Stranded when it first went into early access last year, and my first impression was that it wasn’t much more than a 3D RimWorld, and while that’s still broadly true, there is a little more to it.
The concept is certainly similar. In the main scenario (for there are now three to choose from) your colony ship, the titular Alien Dawn, crash lands on a distant world and there are, initially, only four survivors. Whereas RimWorld let’s you choose from a selection of individuals with randomised personality traits, skills, and attitudes, Stranded lets you select from a remade roster of well over 20, with a huge spread of stats. Picking survivors with skills like Cooking, Construction, Intellect, and Combat make your life easier, but you’ll never cover all the bases.
For example, if you leave the difficulty settings alone and plumb for a random seed (the cipher by which your randomised starting location is chosen), not having a qualified healer is going to really hurt you. Likewise, come winter you’ll need a tailor to make better clothes for everyone. You might also need a competent farmer to grow crops, a crafter to make weapons and armour, etc. Everything matters, even down to picking someone with a musical talent who can keep everyone’s hopes up. No survivor is useless, but some are much more essential to a mission than others.
You can set different parameters, of course. You can opt to crash on a desert planet that suffers extremes of temperature, or switch on game rules which make everyone happier, remove the threat of alien attacks, or increase the number of survivors you can add to your group. Periodically while scavenging the spaceship debris or heading out on expedition you might happen upon a randomised Survivor who you can welcome into your camp. They’ll come with their own benefits and issues, but ultimately will always be another mouth to feed.
Of course, that’s not always an issue for long. There’s a lot of ways to die in Stranded: Alien Dawn. On default mode you’ll be attacked now and then by hordes of giant beetles and, later, huge scorpions. Building defences like walls, watchtowers, and turrets will hold them back, and later you can craft actual mechs and robots. But even if you disable these attacks, you can have people killed by disease, animals that attack in self defence, freak weather conditions, and so on. And you can’t replace people. It’s possible to eventually have just one survivor left to do everything, at which point you’re pretty much doomed.
Keeping people alive is, unsurprisingly, about developing routines. Someone needs to plant seeds and harvest crops, someone needs to cook, and repair damage caused by thunderstorms, animal attacks, and falling space debris. Someone else needs to be responsible for crafting, hunting, defending the colony. You can micromanage these activities, directing each survivor individually, or assign specific tasks to the survivor most suited to them. Likewise, you can set working, sleeping, relaxing, and hobby times for each person.
Certain personalities will clash, others will flourish. Some of the survivors have pre-determined relationships. There’s a trio of sisters for example, a few married couples, parents and their grown-up children. These relationships determine how the characters care for one another, how quickly they comfort a survivor on the verge of a meltdown. And you’ll need to move quickly yourself if this happens. Each survivor has a task they are interested in, which improves their happiness more quickly and allows them to level faster, and some have things they will flat out refuse to do even if their life depends on it.
They can venture as far as you’re prepared to send them for the sake of exploration and resource gathering, but living off the land won’t last long. You’ll need to establish a camp, farm land, perhaps tame and raise animals. The amount of crafting options is fairly staggering, as you research and unlock more and more workstations and methods of producing food and supplies. Eventually it’s absolutely possible to build everyone their own house with working electricity, and establish a little village protected by turrets and mechs, but that will take some considerable time and investment.
Should you desire a different challenge, you can select one of the other scenarios. One requires you to create a trading outpost lucrative enough to buy the planet you’re on; the military scenario allows you to take up to 6 survivors on a mission to establish a new relay on a distant world. The base gameplay is always roughly the same, but the end goal changes the way you approach the challenge before you.
Hopefully there will be new biomes introduced later. At the moment it’s limited to a fairly clement valley that will only really change in winter, or a desert world. It would also be nice to see a different type of enemy as opposed to giant bug swarms, but this is a survival sim with a thoroughly addictive gameplay loop. It borrows heavily from RimWorld and, indeed, The Sims, but Stranded: Alien Dawn meshes the borrowed elements together into something that feels both unique and immensely rewarding to play.
Great interplay between survivors
Needs more biome and creature variety
Combat isn't great