Survivor: Castaway Island is a survival game developed by Magic Pockets and published by Microïds. It released on October 3, 2023, for PC, Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo Switch, and is based on one of my favourite TV shows, Survivor. This game puts us in the shoes of a player within a tribe and we must try to outwit, outplay, and outlast the other other competitors. It’s a real shame that the tv show’s iconic music isn’t available in the game and that took the shine off the experience a lot for my wife and I, but there is a decent survivor game to be played despite the not-so-good visuals, especially around the social game and forming relationships.
My wife and I are massive fans of the TV show, though we have fallen away from the US series in recent years. My wife has watched all the Australian Survivor seasons though, so when we saw the trailer for Survivor: Castaway Island, we were both excited to check it out. If you haven’t watched the show (where have you been the last 23 years?), the basic premise is this. Two teams of strangers (tribes) are left on an island to fend for themselves, maintain their own camp and cook their own food (usually provided with rice and beans), and participate in both reward and immunity challenges. Players are voted out and eventually tribes merge into one where it becomes an individual game, and then one-by-one they’re voted out until we’re left with a sole survivor.
While Survivor: Castaway Island isn’t as dynamic as the tv show, it’s still quite intricate with its systems of personal loyalties, most of the challenges are fun, and you must balance your exertion levels otherwise you could pass out or get injured, so it certainly feels like playing survivor. From a visual viewpoint, Survivor: Castaway Island isn’t the most visually appealing game out there today as characters look like those in the Sims. The island to explore is well detailed and the water effects are great. You can see starfish on the sand, as well as fish and octopus swimming around, and can attempt spear them for food.
You start off Season 1 by picking a team between Coco Tribe or Mango Tribe, and each team has six players that you can choose to play as. There’s no player customisation at all but at least some of the names change as you go into Season 2 or a new game. Once you choose your tribe, you find yourself on a beach near your camp. This beach location stays the same whether you choose a different team or start a new season. It would have been great to have at least two locations for the two tribes to change it up a little bit between seasons.
The basics have already been set up for us with wood logs to sit on, a fireplace and a basic bed with palm fronds. It would have been a good opportunity to allow us to collect resources and contribute to building the camp. This could help in seeing who pulls their weight early and get to know them a little more. Opening the game’s map, we see the tribe mates spread out around the island and an exclamation mark somewhere on the map which is a tribe interaction point. We have a set amount of time, usually around 12 in-game minutes, to do what we like from collecting items, making a fire, talking to tribe mates, exploring the island, or we can just sleep the time away to replenish stamina.
Being the helpful sort that I am, I got to work collecting wood. This requires a mini game of hitting A when a slider moves along a piece of wood and doing those 5 times. This will net you one or two sticks. You must remember to pick up the items as they fall to the ground. Moving along, sometimes you’ll see coconuts at the base of a tree, and these can be interacted with. You need to keep hitting A to fill a meter and once full, you may or may not get a coconut. A coconut will give the tribe one food and one water. Collecting water requires you to find a stream or waterfall and hitting A to fill a meter. Each time you attempt these tasks, whether you fail or succeed, it will deplete your stamina by 2. After the timer is up, a tree-mail message will have been retrieved and gives us a cryptic clue about the challenge ahead, whether it be a reward or immunity challenge.
Monitoring stamina pretty much became my primary focus as you could get medical evacuated if you’re injured with zero stamina and that would mean game over. At one point I ended up passing out trying to light the fire. This is all text-based but medics came in and let me continue in the game which gave me some decent stamina back, but it warned me if it happened again I would likely be evacuated. If you go into a challenge with too low stamina, for example if it’s an aiming game like shooting an arrow then you won’t have the strength to aim properly and could get injured/pulled from the game.
The first reward challenge had both teams racing on a raft, and the first team to reach the end point wins. This required me to hit a certain button on the controller when it crossed over a certain point of a bar. I won easily and we were rewarded with some food. You will lose around 7 stamina from each challenge, so you need to be mindful of that going into them. If your tribe loses, it’s as if it was all your fault because everyone shows red smiley faces meaning a loss of relations. There is some decent variety in the game’s challenges. Some require you to balance on a pole, carry mud through rocky terrain to fill a barrel, navigating mazes, creating puzzles, and more. Most are relatively easy, some are challenging like the balance ones, and some were frustrating, like throwing axes as the swing to choose angle was too fast.
Back at camp, and nearing the end of the day, you are given another 12 minutes to do things around camp. Ending the day will give you a summary of resources collected and by who, as well as a rundown of activities completed by everyone. Jethra seriously got pooped on by a bird almost every single day, it was hilarious! Here you also start to see hints of alliances forming, for example Owen and Jethra were collect wood together often, or someone may have been called out for not doing anything, and red faces and green faces light up each time. Sleeping overnight will replenish some of your stamina depending on how well you slept, but you would lose stamina if you ran out of food or water. I had no choice but to do minimal physical work during the day, and this is where the social game came into it.
Talking to each person, you can choose to talk strategy, ask about other tribe mates or just try idle chit chat. A coloured smiley face will give you somewhat of an indication whether they are liking the chat or not. I thought to use chit chat on everyone first, who all seemed friendly enough except for Sherri. She rubbed me the wrong way, so the next three people I spoke to I suggested that we vote for Sherri at the next tribal council. There is a really cool social screen that shows you the relationship strings between everyone, whether they like, neutral or dislike someone depending on the colour and thickness of relationship lines. I used this a lot to tell who was friendly or enemies and with who, so I could try to get others to vote someone or try to form an alliance.
Tribal councils are interesting. After losing a team immunity challenge, I had three people that agree to vote for Sherri, and I was sure she was going home. But when it came to voting, she pulled out an immunity idol! Four of us who voted for Sherri all had those votes not count, and the last two votes? One for David and one for me, which was a tie. We voted again and I of course voted for David, and thankfully David was sent home. But boy did that throw my strategy way off! I can only imagine how that would feel when you’re out there playing the tv show game for real. On my first game I made it through the merge and all the way to the final two, only to have earned only one vote, so Allie won season 1. After completing season 1, season 2 Brains versus Brawns opened up, but essentially the gameplay was the same with slight variance in character traits.
Overall, Survivor: Castaway Island is a fun game if you’re a survivor fan and able to look past some of the game’s shortfalls of lesser graphics and some frustrating puzzle controls. The focus on stamina too took away from playing more of the social game. The social aspect was the most intriguing, trying to talk to people and using the social map to analyse friendships and try sway votes the way you want them to go. If they had the iconic survivor music, I think it would add so much more to the immersion in the game. It’s fun but now that I’ve played a couple of seasons, replay value isn’t really there.