Stranded: Alien Dawn is a PC real-time strategy game from Haemimont Games, the developer of Surviving Mars. The game was launched as an early access title on Steam in October last year. The game has just left early access and is now formally released. The main premise is simple: a spaceship crashes on an alien planet, and the surviving crew must scavenge, build shelter and tame this strange world before it kills them.
The game features a large number of tutorials that’ll take a couple of hours to wade through. They start out explaining the staples of any resource-based RTS moving, slowly, through the game’s intricate game dynamics. I played about a quarter of the tutorial before I declared that I’d got the gist, which, of course, I hadn’t.
There are a few scenarios and options that you can tweak before you start your campaign. The environments are generated from a random seed or you can type in your own. You also get to choose the characters that you will start with, picking the attribute that you think will be most suited to the campaign.
The main scenario, Crash Landing, starts with a spacecraft clearly in trouble, hurtling towards your randomly generated alien planet. It then cuts to the burning ship impacted into the ground with four survivors standing nearby.
Then it’s over to you.
Shelter, heat, and storage are the main priorities. Resources can then be gathered, unlocking workbenches, tailoring stations, and research desks. Wood from trees, sticks from bushes berries from bushes, and meat from wildlife, is enough to get you going. In time shacks made from salvage are replaced by log cabins, then brick. Torches and firepits are replaced by electric lights, ovens, and heaters.
It’s a slow trudge, even with the time multiplier set to maximum. But you need things to be slow, or else you will not have the time to manage your survivors, who would otherwise starve to death or get killed by the local fauna.
Researching the technology tree unlocks new equipment and processes that will help your survivors, well, survive. The game is, however, a bit tough on players in not being clear exactly how some items are procured or processed.
The survivors’ day can be scheduled to ensure they fit sleep and relaxation into their day. Different types of tasks can be assigned to each survivor, so you can fine-tune their roles in the group to their particular skillset. Particular tasks can be highlighted, i.e. cutting down 20 trees, with the next available survivor carrying out that task. You can also request that a survivor performs a task immediately. If you want to break them out of their routine or assigned tasks and control them directly, particularly useful when the settlement is under attack.
It is a hugely sophisticated and complex game that invites a level of micromanagement that can easily get overwhelming. The individual survivors will get on with their tasks, but if neglected will suffer sometimes violent breakdowns, destroying equipment.
Not only do players need to ensure that the survivors get the basics, but they also need to be kept happy. This is difficult on a planet prone to creature attacks, meteor storms, and extreme weather.
The game is so unforgiving, even with the built-in help, that it takes a few unsuccessful goes before you understand what’s important and what can wait. At first, I didn’t grasp how important sourcing cloth material was to make bandages and clothe the survivors. Before I knew it, I had survivors bleeding to death and walking around barefoot in the snow.
The game starts with a certain amount of ship wreckage that can be salvaged for essential items such as metal and even armour, clothing, and weapons. More wreckage regularly falls around the settlement adding much-needed essentials that may take a while to manufacture. It’s just such a slow burn, with impatience punished by resources running out, maintenance overlooked, or worse, the failing health of your survivors. It is so rewarding to see your settlement take shape and life for the survivors improve, but the micro-management also borders on being a bit of a chore, sometime.
It’s like a cross between The Sims and Age of Empires in a sci-fi setting. The game gives players intimate control over just a handful of survivors in an unrelenting scenario. The game at once requires careful scrutiny but at the same time needs hurrying along else the campaign takes you a lifetime to play.
For a game with a multitude of menus and tasks, the user interface is kept simple and clean. Overall, the game’s visuals are crisp, looking equally as good zoomed out as it does up close. Navigating is easy, with the player able to rotate, pan, and zoom around the map with ease. Stranded: Alien Dawn comes across as a very polished labour of love.
If the main campaign isn’t enough the second scenario, Trading Outpost, has three outcasts landing on a planet via a one-way ticket having pooled all their money in the hope of one day trading enough goods to buy the planet. This campaign features the same survival mechanics but gives the play a link off-world to sell goods and hire additional workers.
The final campaign, Military Outpost, charges the player to construct and defend a communications relay in a hostile world. Most of the technology required is already unlocked, but resources will still need to be gathered. This time my characters seemed a lot more prepared to thrive on the planet. But you still need to feed them and keep them happy. This scenario just allows you to start the game with a fair few more tools in your kit. Items in the electricity and defence categories are available straight away, as are proper buildings and furniture.
Several times during my playthrough I found myself asking, “Is this fun?”. The game walks a fine line, to be honest. But it is engrossing in that allows you to create amazing settlements from nothing. I think this is why I preferred the Crash Landing campaign the most, as you really are starting from scratch.
The good thing about the game is if you are finding things a bit of a chore, for instance desperately trying to fend off attacking creatures whilst your survivors are already exhausted and on the verge of losing it, you can customise your experience towards that of a more creative mode. This allows you to leisurely build your settlements with just the survivors to worry about. You can even boost their stats and increase the likelihood of finding more survivors- there’s safety in numbers.
Stranded: Alien Dawn is a heady affair that’s not for the faint-hearted. It’s a game that once you are hooked is difficult to put down. If you are after a deep, complex, and involving space survival/building game, you will love this game.