What’s a common problem with a lot of games? Plot. Point. Story. Creating a faleshood and passing it off as a compelling structure for repetitive action. In other words, objectives. One game called, Stranded Deep, not only fought against this popular gimmick, but sought to eliminate it completely.
Here we are in Stranded Deep, and we’ve been dropped onto a network of tiny islands without any hint of what to do. We’ve just been plopped into the water, without so much as a “good luck”. Perhaps from this point, we would just like to swim around in circles in this pretty blue water… maybe we want to swim to the bottom and see how far we can get before we drown… maybe we want to swim to follow the sun and pretend like we could catch it… ALL VALID OPTIONS. If you choose to pursue any of these tasks, the game will not tell you anything otherwise… In fact, it won’t tell you ANYTHING AT ALL. Stranded Deep does not have objectives. It does not have hints. No words popping up on the HUD. No arrow markers. It does not even have a clear point other than this is an island, and you are on it.
But that is the beauty of Stranded Deep. Because as much as we would like to pretend that this game is asking NOTHING from its player, a player craves meaning like a shark craves dangling legs! The player has no choice but to CREATE THE OBJECTIVES FOR THEMSELVES. Therein lies the brilliance of Stranded Deep, and what an honestly fascinating experiment on the gameplay experience it really is.
Here’s an example of an actual thought I have had while playing Stranded Deep:
“I’ll get a good night’s sleep, and first thing in the morning, I’ll eat the left-over crab I have to make sure I have plenty of energy for the day, then I’ll head out for that south-east island on my raft before 10:00. That way I should have enough time to row there, gather whatever resources I can find,cross it off my list, and row back to MY island where I can add them to my stockpile. Probably by that time, it will be almost night, so I will eat again (probably from the potato plant) and gather rain water from my bucket and drink, because I’m sure I’ll be thirsty. I hope there’s something on that island to make my trip worth while… Like another moving part to go along with that engine block I found? Mmmm… that’d be nice.”
Every bit of the preceding are things I came up with on my own during my experience playing this. The routines. The sense of direction. The sense of home. There’s absolutely no hint as to which island means what in this game, but before long I had dubbed one particular island, “home”, and used that as my recuperating place in between my personal missions.
Human beings crave structure. And it’s easily found here if you simply think like a normal human being in search of a direction to head. We’ll find ourselves naturally drifting into a structure and even giving ourselves rules. It’s amazing that in the most free place imaginable – a desert island – we will choose to give up portions of that freedom just to maintain our nature.
Stranded Deep allows complete freedom of interpretation on what to do and how to do it. It doesn’t even say anywhere that escape is the objective. If you want to escape… then you have to figure out how. This is one of the most fascinating and compelling games I’ve ever played.
My rating for 2015’s Stranded Deep for PC…
At times, the game’s functionality does reveal itself to sort of have that game in progress feeling. The animations could be more convincing, and the graphics, while great overall, are lacking in a few key areas that should have definitely been spruced up given how important they are to the experience – like distance rendering and rain storms… The crafting system could use some more dynamicy, the physics sometimes seem a bit wonky, and I’ve noticed glitches in the geometry. But as a work in progress – possibly the precursor to some amazing achievements in video games further down the line based on concept alone – I’d say this is one awesome starting point.