Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X
October 3, 2023
Survivor is one of my favourite shows on all of television. The reality competition, where castaways are put onto an island and have to form alliances to outwit, outplay and outlast each other, has made some incredibly captivating viewing over the last twenty-ish years, with season 45 (!) showing no signs of slowing down. Survivor, with so much of it reliant on its cast of contestants and how they interact with one another, should not work as a video game. Survivor: Castaway Island, does not work as a video game.
While it vaguely resembles the show it’s based off of, Survivor: Castaway Island takes a thrilling social experiment and makes it into a boring pack of mini-games and relationship-building components that feel like they were written by Chat GPT. It’s boring, stupid, repetitive and doesn’t even make that much sense, even if hardcore Survivor fans might at least get a kick out of it.
I knew it was going to be a rough start when Survivor: Castaway Island didn’t even have the iconic Survivor theme song to start things off. Host Jeff Probst doesn’t even make an appearance, because Jeff is wise and wouldn’t attach himself to such an inferior product. Despite this, I jumped into “season one” of the game, chose my generic pre-set character and began my journey to be the sole Survivor.
The whole experience feels low-budget, but not ugly necessarily; playing on Switch, you can expect some appalling loading times as you load from beach to challenge and back again. The day-to-day rhythm is that you’ll spend time on the beach, gathering resources like wood to make fire, fish and coconuts for food, while also spending time with your tribe, getting to know them and forming strategies. It has a handy social link map you can pull up to see which tribe members are friendly to you and which ones are not, which at least is a nice touch.
“…one-liners they spew about their life back home are pointless at best, and repetitive at worst.”
This is where Survivor: Castaway Island starts to struggle with being a video game and not being real life. Talking with other tribe members gives you very basic actions; just chatting with them, in theory, should increase your bond, but you can also “talk strategy”, which will either have the tribe member tell you they’re keen to work with you, or not. You can influence who they vote for, but straight away I found tribe members unwilling to interact with me. Was it something I said? At least on the show, players are open to the idea of alliances and votes, even if they don’t go with that alliance in the end. It feels weird to have these two-dimensional responses, with no obvious way to get them back on your side if they don’t like you for some reason.
The tribe members themselves? Severely lacking in personality. They have very basic archetypes and don’t stray from them at all. An influencer? She’s going to talk about how she misses her phone and her social media. A mother? You’re damn right, she’s going to talk about her kids all the time. These one-liners they spew about their life back home are pointless at best, and repetitive at worst. Occasionally a tribe meeting will have them discussing strategy, like “Do you think long-term alliances are better than voting blocks?”, which caught me off guard, as that gave me the impression that perhaps these developers have watched the show before. Apart from that, strategy is limited, and voting at tribal feels random.
Challenges are mini-games that, again, vaguely resemble the show, or take one challenge component from the show and then make that component the entire challenge. For example, on Survivor, challenges usually have multiple stages, puzzles, races, and all kinds of elements that test your mental and physical strength. On Survivor: Castaway Island, it’s just tapping a sequence of buttons while your character “builds a raft” or “smashes a pot”. Everything you do, whether it’s challenges or collecting resources on the beach, is just a QTE, so nothing you do feels different or unique, just “press this faster than the AI”.
On top of that, everything you do in Survivor costs stamina. Incorporating a legitimate survival element into a Survivor game was a bad idea; you lose stamina from collecting resources, from challenges, from anything at all. And if you run out of stamina? You’ll get medically evacuated. Seriously. Unfortunately, if you just sit around camp and don’t do any work, your tribe instantly calls you out for dropping the ball and not doing enough. It’s not even consistent; I would sometimes grab just a couple of resources to not tire myself out too much, and tribe members who collected less than me still called me out for being lazy. Look in the mirror, Tina! How many fish did you catch today, huh!?
Perhaps the most egregious thing I encountered when playing was that before the merge, a key milestone in any Survivor season, you take part in a challenge. If you lose the challenge? You’re instantly eliminated. No merge for you, no tribal council, just… gone. That’s not how Survivor works! That’s never how it has worked! Why would you add this in as an instant knock-out scenario? Plus, by the time you get to this challenge, you have such little stamina from your chores and previous tribe challenges that you’re likely exhausted and going to lose anyway. Awful stuff.
Even with all of its issues and questionable quality throughout, Survivor: Castaway Island is technically the best officially licensed Survivor game available. Yes, it’s an incredibly low bar, but it’s true. I can see fans of the show (like me) getting some sort of sick satisfaction from mucking around with alliances, trying to vote people off from tribal council, and seeing if they can make it all the way to the end across multiple seasons.
At one tribal council, an immunity idol being played genuinely surprised me and blindsided my alliance, so it has fleeting moments that are reminiscent of the show it’s trying to emulate. To be fair, the game is never terrible or unplayable or technically broken; it’s just ridiculously boring and doesn’t manage to capture what makes Survivor special in the first place. When thinking about it, I don’t think any video game really can.
- Kind of amusing if you're a fan of Survivor
- Forming alliances and strategy is very one-note
- Stamina is a terrible inclusion that only hampers your experience
- Challenges are just boring mini-games
- Visually feels low budget, and doesn't even have the theme song
- Has stupid differences from the show that don't make sense
Survivor: Castaway Island takes one of the most popular TV shows in history and turns it into a boring, repetitive video game with very little in the way of redeeming qualities. Trying to strategise with tribe members sucks, challenges are lame, the production values are subpar and the game even goes as far as to make changes from the TV show that make the experience even worse. I’ve kept hoping and praying that one day somebody would capture the feeling of Survivor in a video game. Today is not that day.