AWAY: The Survival Series – Review
Follow Genre: Survival game, Open World
Developer: Breaking Walls
Publisher: Game Seer Ventures, Perpetual Europe, Breaking Walls
Platform: PC, PS4, PS5
Tested on: PC

AWAY: The Survival Series – Review

Site Score
4.5
Good: Great concept with fantastic soundscape and visuals
Bad: Gameplay is riddled with bugs
User Score
4.5
(2 votes)
Click to vote
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Rating: 4.5/10 (2 votes cast)

Despite a successful Kickstarter campaign two years ago, Breaking Walls’ indie game AWAY: The Survival Series flew under our radar until it launched on Steam last month. When we did find out about it, however, we were immediately enamored with the concept. So, when we got the chance to take an in-depth look at this playable nature documentary, we were happy to oblige. Armed with the Wikipedia page about the sugar glider and a healthy dose of enthusiasm, we took a trip to Savior Island.

Story

AWAY is presented as a playable nature documentary, and puts the player in the “lead” role of a young sugar glider, a species of marsupial native to Australia. The game is set two decades after a natural disaster has wiped out a significant part of the Earth’s fauna -including humanity- and now extreme weather conditions, such as freak storms, are extremely common. During one such storm, the family of our sugar glider becomes ripped apart. When the storm calms down, what remains of the sugar glider family must now fend for survival, while being chased by a bearded vulture, a species that has gone from scavenger to hunter, presumably because of the changes to the environment. We have to point out that the game doesn’t explicitly mention why a bird that normally eats carrion would chase after the sugar gliders, so the behavioral change theory is something we deducted, as the game’s plot wouldn’t make any sense at all otherwise.

Graphics

AWAY is a gorgeous-looking game, especially considering that this was developed by a very small team with a limited budget. If we were to really nitpick, we’d say that the game doesn’t push the boundaries when it comes to photorealism, and zooming in on the 3D models a bit too much does ruin the illusion somewhat, but overall, what’s present here looks fantastic. This is in part thanks to the weather effects and dynamic lighting, which really helps in bringing the world to life. The game is filled with jaw-dropping moments, especially when the camera zooms out to give a wide overview of the area, providing beautiful vistas of the island. We should also point out that apart from subtitles and stamina meters that pop up as required, the game has no visible interface elements during gameplay.

Sound

Accompanying you on your journey is a narrator who gives appropriate commentary, in the same vein as what you’d expect to hear when watching a David Attenborough documentary. While the voice isn’t provided by Attenborough himself, it’s remarkably close. Likewise, the game’s orchestral soundtrack was composed by Mike Raznick, who worked on various nature documentaries for the BBC. Combined with the natural sound effects, it all adds up to a soundscape that perfectly encapsulates what you’d expect from a high-quality documentary series, albeit in video game form. Unfortunately, the soundscape does suffer from a minor glitch where multiple narrator lines are triggered together occasionally, resulting in a cacophony of narration.

Gameplay

The open-world survival game offers both a fairly short story mode, which should take roughly five hours to play through, as well as an exploration mode, where you’re able to take control of various species of animals and explore the island from a different perspective. The story mode offers an immersive but linear story that eschews free exploration and instead lets you play through what would be key story scenes in a nature documentary. It makes sense as you’d want the narration to line up with the events that happen in-game. Those that prefer roaming freely can still do so in the aforementioned exploration mode, without interfering with the narrative flow of the story mode.

With a fantastic concept, engaging story, and beautiful presentation, it would seem like AWAY does everything right, but things start to come apart at the seams when looking at the actual gameplay. We really wanted to love this game, but as it stands, it’s a buggy, broken mess, suffering from a plethora of issues that add up to frustration rather than fun. The game crashed several times and our autosave file bugged out so we had to resort to saving manually. To the credit of Breaking Walls, it seems like the developer is working on patching things up. Our first experience with the game was cut short because we weren’t able to change the controller settings, as they were inverted with no way to change this despite the option to do so being available in AWAY’s settings. This was something that was patched the next day, but even though the developer is actively working on resolving issues like the aforementioned example, the truth is that this is a game that really needed some more time in the oven.

Controls are clunky, either with a controller or with a mouse and keyboard. Moving around freely -especially while floating or climbing- feels awkward as a result. Movement often feels inaccurate, not in the least in how the sugar glider is able to jump ridiculously high, without communicating any sense of weight to the player, making jumps not only feel unnatural but also difficult to time and direct. This is made worse by the awkward camera, which more often than not seems to have a mind of its own. Add to this that combat is janky and you’re looking at a game that’s simply not fun to play in its current state. Admittedly, many of the current issues could be resolved with patches down the line, but other problems seem to be fundamentally tied to the core of the game and would require more than just an update.

The game’s over-reliance on the instinct ability is such an example. Instinct is something you’ll fundamentally need to clear certain parts of the game. When you activate it, your vision shifts to something resembling infrared, which allows you to see enemies that are otherwise hidden, similar to Batman’s Detective Mode in the Arkham games. The problem here is that instinct relies on a meter -which was probably done to ensure you’re not constantly using it- but you need to use it so often that you’ll spend a significant amount of time simply waiting for your meter to recharge, slowing down the game’s overall pace. The sugar glider’s need for food provides a similar problem: everything you do in the game depletes your food meter, and you’ll need to stop to eat every two minutes or so, otherwise you’ll simply starve to death. While we aren’t against a food mechanism per se, as it adds a degree of realism, we felt like the amount of food needed to clear story mode was ridiculous.

Exploration mode doesn’t fare much better. Here, you start out as a parasitic spore that allows you to infect and then take control of the various animals that inhabit the island. The trick here is that you’ll need to find them first, and they are far and few between, so you’ll spend a significant time simply floating around as the spore, looking for a “victim” to possess. On several occasions, when we did find a suitable host, the game started glitching out, such as when we started teleporting around the map in the guise of a lizard. Controlling the various critters also turned out to somehow be even more frustrating than controlling the sugar glider in the story mode. What could’ve been an incredibly cool addition to AWAY turned out to be so disappointing that we only spent about fifteen minutes messing around with it before we decided it wasn’t worth our time in its current state and we simply gave up.

Conclusion

As much as it pains us to say this, because we really wanted to like this game: AWAY turned out to be a major disappointment. Although it has a lot going for it in theory, in reality, the bad unfortunately outweighs the good. To Breaking Walls’ credit, they seem to be actively listening to the feedback of the player base, and making changes was necessary, but as it stands, AWAY simply shouldn’t have been released in this state. We’re hoping that in a few months, and with a few patches down the line, things are going to end up better. However, for the time being, we suggest that you stay away from AWAY.

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Rating: 4.5/10 (2 votes cast)
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AWAY: The Survival Series - Review, 4.5 out of 10 based on 2 ratings
SebastiaanRaats


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