Stranded: Alien Dawn is a survival sim rooted in spectacular storytelling

Stranded: Alien Dawn
(Image credit: Frontier)

It was all going so well until the giant flesh-eating bugs showed up. Well, actually, that might be a bit of an exaggeration. My time in Stranded: Alien Dawn to that point was a bit of a rollercoaster ride for the group of poor blighters whose fate was in my hands. Notice all of this is written in the past tense. Because they're all dead now. Every bloody one of them. Even poor Sora, and as the toughest, bravest, and most resourceful of the lot – she really deserved better. Daniel seemed like a bit of a dick, granted, but no one deserves to die. Not like this. 

Especially after crash-landing on an alien desert planet. That can't have been easy. Sleeping on pithy sleeping bags on the dusty ground too, sewn together with foraged fabrics, housed in makeshift tin shelters that doubled as storage lockups. Feasting on scraps of food after long days of chopping down trees under the baking sun, researching native species, and placing traps that the latter would invariably ignore. Huddling together in squalor during freezing, sleepless nights. Burying the dead in shallow graves less than five meters away from the camp. Floating in and out of consciousness amid mental and physical breakdowns, catching infections, and bleeding out. Crying. Losing your grip on reality. Praying for the sweet release of death. 

Standed: Alien Dawn is a fantastic storytelling survival sim that'll grab you by the scruff of the neck and make you work every step of the way. Needless to say, I am not good at playing God.

Fight to survive

Stranded: Alien Dawn

(Image credit: Frontier)

It's little surprise that rich storytelling comes so naturally in Stranded: Alien Dawn, given the experience of developer Haemimont Games – the studio has worked across the Tropico series, and has crafted the 2018 colony sim, Surviving Mars. With an array of key survival mechanics at play here – there are myriad features pertaining to building your camp, growing food, scientific research, manufacturing weapons, developing technologies such as electricity, and so on – fans of the genre have loads to sink their teeth into here. And for those with an inkling for improvisation, how your technical decisions impact the characters you control on an emotional level is quite fascinating. 

I think the point of no return during my hour or so hands-on with the game came when I realized my crew possessed a firearm. Ironic that something that has scope to aid survival ended up hindering it, sure, but after six in-game days of watching my characters grow steadily frustrated with both a lack of food and variety in cuisine, discovering Sora could equip a Laser Pistol – a tool capable of hunting real food – was exciting. I sent her into the wilderness immediately, hot on the heels of some unidentified dino-looking creatures that I presumed would taste lovely on the barbecue. And that's when the bugs descended.

Stranded: Alien Dawn

(Image credit: Frontier)

"We'd planned to bury our fallen comrade, for what it's worth, but that would've involved manual labor".

With our primary defense specialist at large, our camp was ravaged. Within minutes, Naras was dead. Daniel had fled several kilometers from home with a small horde of deadly insects on his tail. Edmund stayed, but was overwhelmed on his lonesome, ultimately bleeding out in "excruciating pain". By the time I cottoned on to what was happening, only two remained, and so I sent Sora to save Daniel before escorting the poor peacemaker to his shitty homemade bed, to rest and heal his wounds. Days passed, and with morale at an all-time low, not to mention food and resources, the inevitable seemed clear. 

The bugs did not return, but the dino-looking creatures did. On Day Eight, with Sora and Daniel asleep, they first sniffed around the campfire, the storage tents, then Edmund's corpse. We'd planned to bury our fallen comrade, for what it's worth, but that would've involved manual labor that neither of his surviving crew members were able to even consider at this stage. Later that day, the beasts reappeared, this time with a taste for blood. Armed with just a combat knife, Sora fought and killed them both. Daniel did what he could to nurse her back to health, often roving far and wide gathering food and fetching water, but it was all in vain. Because when a second wave of bugs hit, Sora suffered a mental breakdown and collapsed. Daniel fled, but was quickly hunted down and killed. Sora passed away in her sleep, and for that I am grateful.     

From their crash landing to their untimely deaths, my crew of four lasted a collective total of 10 days. I was far from the best overseer throughout their misadventures, but I've learned some valuable lessons – not least: don't go walkabout when your pals are being devoured by giant insects. Who'd have thought, eh? If you fancy testing your survival skills in Stranded: Alien Dawn – growing your bespoke camp, building a civilization from scratch, and generally not killing everyone as quickly as I did – you can do so via Steam's Early Access initiative. The game's latest update rolls out new biomes, and the aforementioned badass character of Sora Satoh. More information regarding Stranded Alien Dawn's roadmap can also be found on the game's official website

Put yourself to the test with the best survival games around 

Joe Donnelly
Features Editor, GamesRadar+

Joe is a Features Editor at GamesRadar+. With over seven years of experience working in specialist print and online journalism, Joe has written for a number of gaming, sport and entertainment publications including PC Gamer, Edge, Play and FourFourTwo. He is well-versed in all things Grand Theft Auto and spends much of his spare time swapping real-world Glasgow for GTA Online’s Los Santos. Joe is also a mental health advocate and has written a book about video games, mental health and their complex intersections. He is a regular expert contributor on both subjects for BBC radio. Many moons ago, he was a fully-qualified plumber which basically makes him Super Mario.