In space, everyone can hear you bawl like a baby. In fact, it only takes several seconds for the crying to begin in Stranded: Alien Dawn – a strategy-survival game that tasks you with keeping the survivors of an interstellar plane crash alive.
The big baby in question is Daniel – a former space archeologist who’s taken the accident poorly and now sits sobbing, mere steps away from the fiery wreckage. It wouldn’t be a problem, but he’s making a scene: you start Stranded with four survivors, and all of mine are currently crowded around Daniel in an attempt to cheer him up.
It seems like forever – and all four survivors now have mild smoke inhalation to add to their problems, their health sheets read – but eventually, Daniel snaps out of it and the game begins properly. This is an alien planet, and the quartet has their work cut for them if they want to live: former police officer Nova starts salvaging clothing and medical supplies from the wreckage, while fellow survivors Katina and Anette begin chopping down wood to build a shelter. As for Daniel, I banish him to observe some red squash-like plants and hope the downtime does him some good.
The wonderful thing about Stranded: Alien Dawn is that for the most part, your sims can be trusted to act fairly autonomously. If you set down an order for the group – like starting a campfire, or cooking a meal – someone will eventually get around to it, but you can always delegate tasks to specific individuals if you want to make use of their expertise. For anyone who’s never been able to grasp the nitty-gritty of games like RimWorld, Alien Dawn is a delight: all of the really detailed decision-making is buried beneath easy-to-read interfaces, so while you’re welcome to dive in and get the most out of your colony, it’s not mandatory.
As the survivors settle into their new home, hours melt into days and a makeshift base starts to take shape. Nova, armed with a laser pistol salvaged from the ship, manages to hunt some of the local wildlife – scarily aggressive dodos and big rhino-cow things – for food, while Daniel channels his building expertise into making a small wooden lodge for everyone to sleep in. Anette, whose character trait makes her insufferably slow, sticks to nearby tasks like cooking meals and farming the squash that Daniel discovered; while Katina has become the de-facto doctor in charge of researching new technologies and treating any injuries that crop up. Ticking off research breakthroughs and seeing your base flourish is deeply compelling, and fairly brisk pacing means you’re rarely stood waiting for something to happen.
However, progress is rarely a straightforward path. Daniel is a pacifist and won’t use weapons, which means Nova takes some nasty injuries when she’s left defending the base against a horde of oversized carnivorous bugs. Daniel gets his karmic comeuppance several days later, when the idiot’s hit by lightning while foolishly salvaging a metal ship during a thunderstorm. After several days of recovery they both survive, but since Stranded kicks off with only four characters, having to make do with limited resources is a huge part of the challenge and fun.
Despite some bad luck, things are looking good in my humble colony. Daniel partly redeemed himself by making a hot air balloon that can be taken for expeditions – and in its debut voyage, Nova rescued another survivor and bumped their numbers up to five. Elsewhere, more sophisticated defences are in the works to deal with those pesky bugs, and Katina’s nearly cracked the concept of electricity.
There’s so much going on that it’s incredibly difficult to pull yourself away from Stranded, and it’s remarkable how well it serves hardcore micromanagers and casual sim fans alike. Stranded is available in Early Access – and given it’s only been around for a couple of months, Haemimont Games’ latest is looking very promising indeed. But if you do decide to take a shot at Stranded, take my advice: if you see Daniel sitting two seats over, change ship.
Stranded: Alien Dawn is available on PC via Steam Early Access.