‘Can Androids Survive’ review: slow, but worth the time

Kill The Moon

Death surrounds you. Can Androids Survive puts you in the big stompy shoes of a battlefield courier. Your job is to search through the wreckage gathering intel and ammo to deliver and help the war effort. You are disposable, and not privy to the deeper details of the war. You’re expected to die. Over and over again.

Can Androids Survive doesn’t tell it’s story like most games you’ve played before. You’re launched onto the burning surface with minimal preamble, and from there must begin your journey of discovery. Tidbits of information are revealed about world events as you deliver them, as wireless communication is impossible in the current destroyed and ruined climate.

So, how does it actually feel to play? When it comes to trudging around the ruined landscape, Can Androids Survive does an excellent job of making you feel like a clunky android with giant metal appendages. Unlike what you see in most first-person games, this one has no free camera control. Instead, everything is bound to the left stick/WASD by default. These tank-style controls go a long way to making everything feel weighty and hefty, whilst also being actually usable. You can turn at the same time as you move, but everything is bound to a single input. This makes traversal a much more interesting task, and really puts you in the shoes (boots? Mech suits?) of the character you’re embodying.

I actually found the game really hard at first. The land mines are easy enough to avoid when you’re paying attention, even the ones that creep towards you menacingly, but the sentry turrets dotted around the place can and will absolutely shred you to pieces immediately. This can get pretty frustrating early on, but that is kind of the point. You’re an expendable cog in a great war machine. You will get ripped to shreds.

Can Androids Survive
Can Androids Survive. Credit: Xalavier Nelson Jr.

To be fair, there’s a solid chance I found the game harder than I should’ve due to being pretty slow on the uptake, but upon learning the intricacies and getting to grips with what to avoid and what to seek, things became a lot more manageable. I was getting better at my job, but the prescribed actions are futile regardless.

You’re also presented with ‘Restricted Material’, which tells you a different side of the situation in which you find yourself. I’ll avoid spoiling it, of course. You’ll need to defy your superiors on your own time.

You end up unlocking new pieces of gear too. Your shield systems can be restored temporarily, and you quickly gain access to an EMP, which disables nearby weaponry. All this makes the world start to feel far more accessible. Whilst you’ll always return to the same locations, the initially-impenetrable surface starts to shrink. You can bypass weapons, destroy roadblocks, even take giant leaps across great mounds. It’s a tangible sense of progress, and one that kept me invested and exploring when I might have begun losing momentum.

I’m extremely impressed with another thing about Can Androids Survive: the game’s music and sound design. On startup there’s some cool, intense bops, and the rest of the score captures exactly what the game is about – my favourite was the credits tune. It just goes so hard. Finish the game just for that if you have to.

Can Androids Survive
Can Androids Survive. Credit: Xalavier Nelson Jr.

It’s not just the tracks, either. The way your footsteps crunch as you heave your way around the wasteland beneath you, and the sounds as you turn your giant head around goes a long way to make your mission feel more like the doomed, endless task it seems to be. Coupled with the control system being slower and clunkier than I’m used to, the sound design does such a fantastic job of putting you in the aftermath of the conflict. Struggling through a wasteland with nought but a broken, rusty body and orders from above.

It’s not without a few teething difficulties, of course. It did sometimes feel like turrets shot me from a location where I couldn’t possibly have seen them, and before unlocking extra transport methods, movement was often frustratingly slow to the point that I struggled to invest myself as deeply as I would’ve liked until later on. There’s also a ‘self destruct’ button which really could’ve done with an “are you sure?” option, but maybe this is just a symptom of me feeling a bit miffed as my character closed their eyes and I helplessly watched the world fade away due to a single button press.

The struggle quickly dissipates though, and what remains is a quiet but tense search for supplies and information (and fuel to stay alive).

It’s the kind of game I don’t feel right putting a numbered score on. Can Androids Survive does what it’s trying to do, and fans of Xalavier Nelson Jr‘s previous work will recognise his flair for blunt absurdity. It’s a story presented in a way that couldn’t be replicated in any other medium. You have to embody the android and force yourself on the perilous-yet-hollow journey, fighting for no higher purpose unless you choose to break out from that role.

Can Androids Survive
Can Androids Survive. Credit: Xalavier Nelson Jr.

Far from being the easiest game to follow, Can Androids Survive builds on the universe introduced with the short choice-based narrative of Can Androids Pray, and does so by bringing a completely different style of presentation and gameplay. There’s a solid chance some people will find themselves uninterested in the story being told in such a slow, bit-by-bit way, but equally, it’s really rewarding to piece together bits of text to create a more cohesive whole. It’s more of an atmospheric experience, pulled together by innovative controls, a truly convincing hellscape, and a great deal of heart.

Can Androids Survive is available on Itch.io. This review is for the Windows version.

The Verdict

Can Androids Survive is an enthralling, fascinating experience that tells its story in a way that forces a high level of involvement from the player. I could never recommend a game like this to absolutely everyone, but for those of you who enjoy the idea of piecing together a fragmented story through the medium of courier services, Can Androids Survive is a real treat. Most of all, I’m impressed with myself that I managed to review a game about making deliveries without referencing Death Stranding a single time.

Pros

  • Builds on a fascinating universe started in Can Androids Pray
  • Tells its story in a really cool way, impossible to divorce from the gameplay
  • Gorgeous sound design
  • Unique control scheme makes your character feel so weighty

Cons

  • Impossible to recommend to everyone – some will find it boring at first
  • Explanation of controls is something of a spoiler for unlocked abilities
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