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Stranded Deep - title

In a Nutshell


  • Entirely "man vs nature" conflict
  • Believable depiction of island survival
  • Shallow water ecosystems
  • Variety of options for food
  • Short, medium, and long-term rewards encourage continued play


  • No in-game description of how anything works
  • Time passes in crafting menus
  • Babysitting my camp
  • Constantly re-crafting basic necessities
  • Liferaft flips over too easily
  • Animals are way too aggressive and hard to attack
  • Can't check watch, binoculars, or compass while operating raft rudder
  • Exploration lacks variety

Overall Impression : D
Asinine, obtuse grind reminds me why
survival sims fell out of favor

Stranded Deep - cover

Beam Team Games

PC (Steam or Epic Store),
PlayStation 4 < (PSN digital download),
XBox One (XBox Live digital download).
(< indicates platform I played for review)

MSRP: $20 USD (consoles) | $15 USD (PC)

Original release date:
21 April 2020 (consoles)


single player

Play time:
20+ hours

ESRB Rating: T (for Teen) for:
Blood, Mild Violence, Crude Humor.

Official site:

I've been diving into my Steam wishlist and backlog while waiting for this fall's suite of football video games. Stranded Deep is a game that I had on my Steam wishlist for years -- when it first became available through "early access" -- along with games like The Long Dark and The Forest. I don't typically invest in early access games because I don't want the incompleteness of the game to combine with my overly-critical eye and completely sour me to an experience that would likely be positive when the game is finished. This is also the reason that I rarely go back to games that received major overhauls post-release, like No Man's Sky or SimCity (2013) -- I'm already soured on the game, and it's unlikely to win me back.

I never got around to buying Stranded Deep on Steam, even after it left early access which is apparently still in early access on Steam, because the "survival sim" fad had petered out and my own interest in that particular game fizzled out as well.

Survival sims were a huge fad on Steam, but the fad started to fizzle out
long before indie titles like Stranded Deep or The Forest ever saw full releases.

But Stranded Deep showed up as another free game for PSPlus subscribers (along with Control), and I went ahead and downloaded it. Gotta get that $60 per year of value from the subscription somehow. Honestly, I use my PSPlus subscription mostly for the cloud storage. I consider it "game progress insurance" in case my console fails on me. So I rarely play the free games. But I mostly liked Control, so went ahead and gave Stranded Deep a shot too.

Stranded Deep is definitely not as good as Control.

Survival of the wiki-est

I kinda knew I was in for a disappointing experience when I had to pause the game during the tutorial in order to look up how to proceed. My girlfriend also said as much and wondered out loud why I would even continue playing a game that couldn't even do an adequate job of communicating its fundamental mechanics. She said I have much more patience than her, because she would have given up right then and there.

I had troubles right from the start with simple things like operating the inventory and performing some of the early tutorial crafting. The thing that dead-ended my progress and forced me to look online was trying to figure out where to get the leaves to make rope to craft the knife. I thought I would use leaves from trees, but I wasn't sure which trees, nor was I sure how to pull leaves from trees. The game lets me pluck coconuts off of trees, so I thought it would allow the same for plucking leaves off of trees. Nope. So I tried using my stone tool to cut leaves off of palm trees, only to get palm fronds, which cannot be made into rope. Then I started doing laps around the island looking for seaweed or hemp or something. So 2 minutes into the game, and there I was stuck on the tutorial.

I had to go online to find where to get fibrous leaves.

It turns out, the necessary fibrous leaves are harvested from the exactly 2 yucca plants on my starting island, both of which are kind of hidden next to large boulders. Or I could cut the baby palms growing all over the island for small amounts of fibrous leaves. But I didn't think to try this because I didn't have any reason to think that the baby palm fronds would be any different from the adult palm fronds.

This specific tutorial problem could have been fixed by modifying the tutorial objectives to specifically tell the player to harvest fibrous leaves from a yucca or baby palm. More generally though, it would have been helpful if the game could provide a tooltip when the player hovers over certain resources that explains what that resource might be used for. Or have the character speak to himself out loud that "I could probably use the leaves of that yucca to make rope.". The character comments out loud how "disgusting" it is to skin an animal every time I do it (even though the character has been living off of skinned animals for weeks and should be used to it), so the developers were definitely able to implement contextual dialogue. And even if that kind of dialogue is too difficult to implement, an "examine" button (like in old-school survival horror games) could have worked to tell the player in plain text what can be done with any given resource on the island.

Feedback is poor in general. For example, I wasn't sure if my knife could cut down trees. Slashing at the tree would make it wobble a bit, and my knife durability would go down, but it takes quite a few slashes to cut down a tree. There are cutting marks at the base of the tree, but when I was doing my chopping, I was looking at eye level (or higher because I was trying to get the leaves), so I wasn't looking at the base of the tree and wasn't sure if I was making progress.

Everything is real-time. Hunger, thirst, and sun exposure all drain while staring at crafting menus.

Everything is real-time too, so all the time I spent staring at the inventory and crafting menus, the character's hunger and thirst meters were depleting, and he was getting sunburned. Also, the stupid little crabs kept pinching me and leeching little bits of health as I wandered aimlessly around the tiny island. It was one of the worst first-impressions that I've had with a video game in a very long while.

I always want to give indie games a bit of leeway when it comes to polish like this. This game is made by a small team with very limited budget and resources. I don't expect it to have the visual polish of Red Dead Redemption 2 or The Witcher 3. But that being said, the tutorial prompts and objectives should definitely be much more clear to the player. If you can't explain the fundamental concepts of the game in a way that the player can immediately grasp, that is a problem.

Adrift at sea

Problems persisted when I made it out of the tutorial. There's no in-game descriptions (that I could find) for what anything does or how anything works -- not even an encyclopedia of game concepts and items in the pause menu. So after I had my knife, a campfire, my little lean-to shelter, and a water still, and the tutorial formally ended, I kind of just sat there with option paralysis: "what now?". I stared at the crafting screen, but with no clue what anything does or how important it might be to my survival, nothing really stood out to me as a "must-craft".

Menus do not include descriptions of how anything works.
Is there a difference between these raft bases? If so, what?

A really good example is with the various craftable items in which you have a choice of what to craft, like weapons, shelters, and raft parts. Does each alternative have different properties that make it better or worse in some ways? Is a spear more damaging to animals than an axe or a bow and arrow? Will crafting a shelter or raft out of scrap metal be more durable, but at the cost of becoming a heat box that will rapidly drain my SPF meter? Or are these different materials and options just here to provide an illusion of variety, and which you use is entirely up to what is available and your own personal aesthetic preferences?

So without much reliable guidance on what to do next, I wandered the island, picking up pretty much everything that the game would let me pick up, only to quickly run out of inventory space. Then I struggled with trying to figure out how to drop stuff or store things in the bag on the raft. I figure out how to navigate between my inventory and the container, but the button prompt says "use", so I wasn't sure if pressing it would move the item from my inventory to the container, or if it would immediately consume the item in question. Considering the strict resource limitations of the game, I didn't really feel willing to test and see. Keep a wiki handy while playing this one!

And this brings me to my biggest hang-up with Stranded Deep: resources are strictly limited, and are not fully-refunded if you take the crafted object apart, which is not conducive to experimental play; yet the lack of in-game documentation for anything means that I, as the player, am stuck trying to figure things out through experimental trial-and-error. Craft this thing and see what it does, then craft that thing and see what it does. Stranded Deep is a procedurally-generated, but it isn't a full-fledged rogue-like. Yes, you should expect to die, but you can reload from the last time you slept and try again.

But Stranded Deep is also a much slower and longer game than most other rogue-likes, which means that early mistakes can compound, and a series of small mistakes can cascade, resulting in failure much later on down the road, at which point you've already overwritten your save game and are stuck in a border-line unwinnable situation that necessitates a restart. While other rogue-likes like F.T.L. have scenarios that take anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple hours to complete, Stranded Deep might take a dozen or more hours over several play sessions to complete a given map scenario.

I have a little camp set up. OK, now what?

With so little guidance and direction, Stranded Deep really left me feeling adrift and alone, but not in the way that the theme intends. Inefficient planning in my first game led me to have to spend all my time grinding just to just to keep my hunger and thirst meters from bottoming-out, without being able to do any real exploring or advancement -- just a constant consumption of depleting resources, and a sense of absolute futility. It quickly became a frustrating, tedious grind of trial-and-error and looking to wikis, online forums, and reddit for help understanding almost every new thing or scenario I encountered.

Does placing the water still in different locations change how much water it produces? Is it practical to fight these giant crabs or wild boars with just a knife? Is a wooden raft any better than the inflatable raft? Will I burn down the entire island if I place this campfire too close to trees, or in a pile of dried grass and twigs? I don't know, because the game doesn't give me any indication how any of these things behave, except through trial-and-error.

Mixed signals

Stranded Deep also sends mixed signals. The amount of base camp crafting items and the ability to literally craft a house, implies that I should stay put on my central base of an island and make that island sustainable. However, the game seems to want me to be spending my resources to construct a large raft for exploring the ocean and other islands. I'm guessing that the ease with which the inflatable raft capsizes is supposed to cue the player to build a bigger, better raft, but the crafting menus give no indication that raft parts can be combined to create larger rafts, or that said rafts would be any more stable or resilient.

Should I be building a sea-worthy raft to escape? Or try to make a sustainable living on the island?

The presence of a flare gun as a piece of loot early in my first attempted playthrough also made me think that surviving long enough to signal a passing plane or ship might be a win condition. Apparently, that might be the plan for future updates, but it isn't implement in the game as of the time of this writing.

There is also some kind of story that can be pieced together by finding clues scattered about the islands, but none of this is shown to the player until much later in the game when you find the first relevant clue. There's no early-game hook to get the player curious and invested. Compare this to Miasmata, which isn't procedurally-generated, focuses much more on its exploration element, and starts giving the player little bits of story and intrigue right from the start. Yeah sure, the amnesia setup is cliche, and the game is very clumsy to actually play, but at least it provides that hook and sense of forward progress towards a singular goal. I was much more engaged with Miasmata because it offered a much more clear direction and structure to its play. It stimulated my curiosity, while always maintaining the fear of getting lost or being hunted by the game's mysterious monster. In contrast, Stranded Deep basically just dumps you on a tropical island and says "try not to die."

Miasmata provides better direction, as well as an early-game narrative hook.

Come back when you're a survival expert

Since Stranded Deep doesn't bother to communicate any of the character's apparent survival knowledge to the player, it kind of expects the player to just know how to survive. If you can get past the lackluster tutorial and actually figure out what the heck you're supposed to be doing, Stranded Deep does offer a fairly authentic and challenging gamified simulation of surviving on a tropical island. Balance issues with the game's economy aside, it does allow the player a fairly robust set of realistic survival options.

If you like exploration and sandbox games, then Stranded Deep might be fun. Resource and time constraints are also strict enough to make simple survival challenging. The resources of an entire island can easily be exhausted within a few days if the player is careless. The procedural generation ensures that no two games are exactly the same, but the lack of variety in map generation means they're still pretty similar. There are als a few fun and interesting surprises hidden out in the waters, but these will also be repeated in every playthrough.

The reefs are vibrant and alive.

The game includes a map editor and island creator, as well as functionality for sharing your creations with other players. This can extend replayability and potentially provide some interesting, custom-tailored experiences. Of course, if custom content is your thing, you're probably much better off with the PC version, so that you can also enjoy mods and other more comprehensive customizations which aren't available on consoles.

The visuals aren't really anything to write home about, but the shallow waters do look particularly nice. There's a wide variety of colorful corals and ocean plants, as well as plenty of fish, rays, eels, turtles, and (of course) sharks swimming around. The skies are also populated with birds and bats. If nothing else, the map really does feel alive, even if it's not necessarily believable. It's a shame that the tight resource and time restrictions don't allow the player to sit and enjoy the setting and scenery more.

Gather, don't hunt!

Trying to deal with some of the wildlife comes with its own myriad frustrations. The wildlife is absurdly aggressive! There is a setting to make the wildlife "passive", but that just makes them stand there and let you kill them, which isn't good either. There needs to be a setting in between "normal" and "passive", in which the animals won't charge at you on-sight from halfway across the island, but will still attack if you get too close or provoke them.

Hitboxes for animals seem ridiculously strict, and the range of melee weapons were so short that I have trouble hitting an animal that is directly beneath my character's feet and barely moving. Trying to fight off a shark underwater, or avoid the charges of the ridiculously-aggressive wild boars and giant crabs while also getting a stab or two in, came off as being borderline impossible, requiring near pixel-perfect accuracy and timing. But even if I was hitting on my attacks, I couldn't avoid the animal's hit-tracking, and I would take so much damage from these encounters that it would take multiple in-game days to fully recover -- if I ever recovered at all! Taking damage in these sorts of encounters lead me to frequent save-scumming, and I tried to avoid them whenever possible.

Narrow hitboxes and limited weapon range require near pixel-perfect accuracy and timing.

It's also annoying that there aren't better indicators of where a threat might be coming from. Sometimes I could hear a rattlesnake while exploring, but there's no on-screen indication of where the sound is coming from. All I can do is tip-toe around playing "hot-and-cold" with the sound of the rattle and hoping I don't get bit and poisoned.

Similarly, there's not much in the way of warning that a shark will try to tip my raft. I can maybe catch a glimpse of a shark swimming under the water, but I never once saw the telltale dorsal fin sticking out of the water and circling my raft. I'll just be paddling along, minding my own business, when suddenly my raft flips over and I'm dunked in the ocean, with no button for flipping the raft rightside up. Seriously, how did these sharks learn to capsize rafts so efficiently?

But if you do manage to hunt and kill these animals, they'll provide you with a source of food that will last for days, especially if you have a meat smoker available to dry and preserve the meat. They also provide valuable skins that can be tanned into leather, which is required for many advanced craftables.

Water is a bit trickier to maintain than food. Coconuts and the occasional fruit can provide small amounts of water, but the only viable source of sustainable water comes from the water still object. The water still ended up being one of my biggest sources of frustration. It honestly felt like I didn't have time to do anything else except maintain the water still. Every day, the water still needs to be re-filled with fresh leaves, and the process of harvesting the necessary leaves every day often left me without enough time to safely set out to explore other islands and make it back before nightfall. To make matters worse, my water still wouldn't even re-fill during rainfalls, nor is there apparently any way to capture rain water in flasks or to just drink the water straight from the sky. Food was relatively easy to come by, but water was a miserable nightmare to maintain.

Maintaining the water still felt like a full-time job.

And since the game is so bad at explaining how things work, I wasn't sure if I was using the still wrong. Did I not place it in the correct position? Does it need to be out of direct sunlight so the water doesn't evaporate before it can be collected? Or should it be out in an open clearing where it can capture free-falling rain water? Or should I put it under a tree so that dripping rainwater or morning dew will fall into the still? Does any of that make a difference?

I'm a survivor

Despite all the frustrations and the awful first impression that Stranded Deep made, I eventually started to warm up to it. After restarting a couple times to try out different playstyles, spending time on the wiki planning what to prioritize crafting, and focusing on building a medium-sized custom raft with storage early on, I started to get into the game a bit more. It probably also helped that I rolled a much easier island configuration in the replay that gave me early access to important supplies and a very distinct landmark to help me navigate and keep myself oriented.

It's still hard to recommend Stranded Deep. It requires far too much time investment for far too little reward. With some additional polish and quality-of-life improvements to mitigate the tedium, it could probably be a pretty good game at some point. As it stands now, it's too finicky to work well as a serious survival sim, too monotonous to work well as a procedural exploration game, and too frustrating to work well as a lighter zen experience. There are plenty of better games to play as virtual vacations.

If it didn't require so much busy-work, Stranded Deep could have been a nice virtual vacation.

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