Developed by Haemimont Games and published by Frontier Foundry, Stranded: Alien Dawn is a brand-new survival sim set on an alien planet. I first saw Stranded: Alien Dawn during the Gamescom 2022 Opening Night Live and it was on my radar since then. Having played a lot of space sims previously, I really wanted to see what sets Stranded: Alien Dawn apart from the rest of the pack and I was happy to see that this brand-new entry in the space survival sim brings its own unique flavor to the mix. This is our early access review of Stranded: Alien Dawn in which we study some alien plants and butcher some alien insects for a tasty stew.
One thing about Stranded: Alien Dawn that you should keep in mind right from the start is that this is not an easy game, and you cannot expect the game to spoon-feed you everything at every step. After its initial set of tutorials, you are thrown into the game on your own, with your custom selection of initial resources, and a group of four survivors and after crash landing on the planet, your journey is yours and yours alone. Every decision that you make will make or break your settlement and it literally shows as you progress in the game. Sticking true to the formula of survival sims, you will need to survive in a harsh environment on an alien planet after your spaceship crashes down after an internal failure. Left with nothing, you must adapt to the new planet and make yourself comfortable until some sort of help arrives.
There are little to no survivors to look for on the planet, and the whole map is empty, giving you the true feeling of being alone. In rare conditions, you might stumble upon some other survivors, and they will come to your settlement with their own unique skills and weaknesses. Spending more and more time in Stranded: Alien Dawn gives you a good understanding of how your people react to different situations and what needs to be done overall in order to make them happier. For me, the beginning of the game felt more about initial survival rather than going for individual needs and happiness. You cannot be happy or sad if you are not alive. This is important because the planet is filled with different hostile alien species who will try their best to wipe you off the planet. Apart from creatures, the harsh winters of the planet are brutal as well, so you need to prepare for them as well.
Building various things in Stranded: Alien Dawn is not just simply choosing from a menu and placing it down on the map. Since you have just arrived on an alien planet, you begin by researching more and more about the planet. The local flora and fauna require studying and understanding before you can start using them as resources. Research plays a vital role in the game, and you will be spending a lot of time researching the local plants, mushrooms, and resources. Apart from manually researching them, you can also construct a Research Station and assign a survivor to it who will keep researching additional ways of maximizing efficiency, understanding more of the planet, and finding ways for automating everything. One of the key features of Stranded: Alien Dawn is how it allows you to automate different small processes as well, for example, if you have multiple supply collection spots, you can designate what sort of items can be stored in each of them and the survivors will follow your decisions.
You can also make the choices of what sort of food is cooked regularly, which lights must be fed regularly with fuel and what sort of electricity a certain room uses during the day and during the night. The options to micromanage everything in the game are immense and it is here where it really shines as it gives you tons of options to play around with while you are trying to survive. For creating your settlement, you have a wide variety of different items and structures to create and place around your camp. Naturally, you will first need to collect resources and make sure your survivors have shelter and things to eat as well. You start off slow in the game as you start researching the plants, gathering basic materials, and building a few vital structures for resource collection and survival. After the basics, you move on to security and defense of your survivors because the alien planet is hostile and the attacks on your survivors start fairly early.
For securing your base, you have a lot of options to choose from manual traps to electric machine guns that work with motion sensors. You can build walls and defense structures including flamethrowers to annihilate everything that comes your way. However, everything requires maintenance, and the more defenses you create, the more resources you will need just for their maintenance. In dire situations, you can also draft all of your survivors which gives you direct control over them and you can move them around and shoot at desired enemies with their equipped weapons. You can draft and undraft your survivors at any time and when they are not drafted, they will perform various tasks around the settlement on their own such as refueling, restocking or any other tasks that you might have assigned such as construction or resource collection. Depending on the character, they will have their own unique interests, strengths, and weaknesses.
You can easily counter this by assigning tasks that suit them. Stranded: Alien Dawn comes with a nifty scheduling system that allows you to set the schedule for every survivor in your camp which allows you to assign certain tasks to them at specific times and also add breaks for them in the mix to keep them calm and rested. At night, all of your survivors will sleep and each one will behave in their own unique manner. Some wake up during the night for a quick snack, some wake up and complete tasks even at night if someone did not complete them before going to bed, some require longer sleep times, and so on. It is important that you assign tasks that one has a higher skill level in, for example, giving weapons to someone who has experience in combat will make them more effective in fighting with enemies, and making someone cook food who knows how to cook will ensure that the food cooked in your settlement is always available and stored.
There are tons of options for nearly every structure in the game. For example, for storing food, you can either go for wooden shelves, scrap shelves, or iron shelves. If you are really ahead in your game, you can also opt for a freezer and store food inside it to keep it edible for longer. Everything, however, has a price in the game. While the freezer will keep your food edible for longer, it requires a constant power source. Depending on what sort of aesthetics you want for your settlement, you can build using scraps, wood, or metal. Cheaper materials are easier to obtain, and they also cost less but they are less durable. On the other hand, metal gives the longest life, but it is also the hardest resource to acquire in the game. You have enough options to turn your simple, wooden shelter into a fully automated camp if you are willing to put that much effort and time into the game. Stranded: Alien Dawn is a little high on the grinding side when it comes to acquiring resources. That makes sense as well because if getting resources would have been easy in the game, it would not be a survival game.
Apart from resource collection, expanding your settlement, and fending off alien critters, another important aspect is looking after your survivors and one that is directly related to your settlement and its future. Each survivor in your settlement is a unique person and they have their own emotional baggage and set of skills. They also have their own personalities, likes, and dislikes. It is important that you try your best to make each of them comfortable in their own way. Some of the basic needs are the same for all of the survivors such as eating healthily, sleeping in good beds, and having a roof over the head for the night and special weather such as rain. Providing basic needs will only make them happy to a certain extent so you will need to improve your settlement over time to provide more and more comfort to the survivors. You can also check the needs of every survivor and then work towards them in order to make them happy. The NPCs interact with each other as well and you have no control over it. However, if most of the needs are met, their interactions will be most pleasant and under control. There are different activities and things that you can build in your settlement in order to provide entertainment to your survivors and it is really good to see them actively use these facilities in order to relieve their stress.
The little details in Stranded: Alien Dawn are just amazing to see. For example, if you have to construct something and you select it from the menu and place it down on the ground. You will notice that everyone will start working instantly with some bringing in resources to the construction site and others building the structure. No matter how many resources are required for the construction, your survivors will actually pick them from the stockpile and bring them all in a sequence to the construction site. The same goes for the collection of resources. You will see them chopping down trees, mining minerals, or salvaging materials and then picking them up and bringing them to the stockpile in their hands. It takes a little more time than what we are used to normally, but you can always speed up the time in-game to speed up such tasks if you do not want to spend too much time seeing your survivors chop away at trees and then walking up and down collecting all of the wood.
Stranded: Alien Dawn features a dynamic time and weather system, and they directly affect the lives of your survivors. You have different seasons in the game and the harshest one is winter, and you will need to do extra efforts such as heating, storing food, and other tasks to ensure that you are able to pass the winters without your survivors getting ill every single day. Even when it is not winter, harsh environments such as rain will be enough to ruin the mood of your survivors, so you always have to think ahead and get ready for any sort of upcoming challenge. Each weather will bring its own set of challenges and you have to work around it in order to survive in the game. During special needs, the survivors leave everything else and just go and perform their own tasks such as eating, sleeping, or playing around. Every survivor will have their own set of activities.
With the scenarios approach, Stranded: Alien Dawn is giving itself endless opportunities for its future content as Haemimont Games can add various scenarios to the game later for its full release. At this point, there is only the default scenario where you crash land and start building your settlement. However, in the future, you can expect specific scenarios to arrive in the game which could focus on one particular aspect of the game. It could be a defense against alien creatures, reaching a certain level of food production, or expanding your settlement to a certain limit before the winter arrives. As a matter of fact, I would love to see more, and varied scenarios arrive in the game because Stranded: Alien Dawn has tons of potential for custom scenarios and even community mods. Another potential addition to the game could be additional planets with more diverse flora and fauna to further increase the life of the game. There are tons of possibilities to make this game even grander and I am hoping that the developers actually look into this in the future.
Stranded: Alien Dawn is a complicated game and one that allows you to micro-manage a lot of things. Your decisions forge your survivors’ path and everything you do in the game will have a strong effect in the long run of your settlement. The game provides all of the tools, and it boils down to your skill to manage everything effectively in order to make your survivors happy, content, and alive. While it may be off-putting for some players, I like the level of depth that Haemimont Games is aiming for. It makes you feel like you are actually present there yourself and you are making those tiny decisions for people around you. In its current early access form, Stranded: Alien Dawn feels like a complete game and there are no technical issues as well. Still, I am curious to see what the developers have in mind for the full release of the game, and we will be jumping into Stranded: Alien Dawn again to see what new features and content finds their way into the title.
Stranded: Alien Dawn is a complex survival settlement builder that is brilliant in concept and execution alike. It allows you to connect more with your survivors and see them as actual survivors rather than some mindless NPCs in traditional survivor games. It might be a little too complex for players who do not want to invest so much into its people rather than the actual settlement however it brings out an interesting challenge factor since each member of your group brings their own uniqueness to your survival experience. I am really looking forward to the full release of Stranded: Alien Dawn to see how the developers further enhance the gameplay and overall content available in the game. If you love complex city builders and survival sims, with a bit of The Sims thrown in the mix, I am sure that you will have a great time in Stranded: Alien Dawn.