Survival colony sim Stranded: Alien Dawn has all the personal drama of The Sims, plus robots, mechs, and giant bug invasions

You know when you’re playing The Sims and you’re directing your little person to make improvements to their house or cook a meal or try on some new clothes? Then a neighbor abruptly appears at the front door and suddenly your Sim has a tantrum because they’re a little hungry or sleepy? It’s cute stuff.

Survival colony sim Stranded: Alien Dawn is a lot like that, only your house is a little sheet metal shack on a hostile alien planet and if you don’t get the roof fixed in time your survivors will get drenched in a rainstorm. Their new clothes are made from alien tree bark, and they desperately need more of them because everyone is slowly freezing to death since your generator ran out of juice. The neighbor at the door isn’t someone dropping by to say hi, it’s a massive swarm of giant alien bugs driven berserk by the noise coming from the radio dish you’ve set up to contact passing starships in hope of getting rescued.

Oh, and that tantrum your survivor is having? It could be because they’re hungry or sleepy, just like in The Sims, but in Stranded: Alien Dawn they’re not just gonna wave their arms and stamp their feet. 

Instead they’ll go utterly ballistic on the nearest wall or door or important piece of equipment, punching and kicking it until it’s destroyed. They may sit there sobbing for hours, neglecting their duties (like fabricating those clothes you so desperately need). Or they may just wander off in a daze, out the front door, onto the alien planet, and who knows what will happen next? They may get struck by lightning and collapse in a heap, sustaining permanent brain damage as a result. These things happen.

Watching your little survivors struggle, deal with stress, and get frustrated with each other’s personality quirks is a big part of the fun in Stranded: Alien Dawn. More than just character traits, sometimes they have physical issues as well. One of my survivors had a cybernetic eye implant installed by a company that had since gone bankrupt, meaning his slowly malfunctioning eye gave him terrible migraines. Another survivor developed cirrhosis of the liver, which got steadily worse during the game. Zooming in, I could actually see him hobbling around holding his side in pain. What could just be a few stats on a character sheet instead add a ton of personality and drama to your struggling colonists’ lives.

(Image credit: Haemimont Games)

I’ve become pretty accustomed to my survival games and colony builders having one of two types of endings. In the first and most common ending, I screw everything up and my colonists die horrible deaths. In the second, I don’t screw everything up but instead reach a sort of shaky balance between doom and success… and then eventually just stop playing. Except that’s not a satisfying end either, since I’m really just abandoning a game that can pretty much go on forever.

That’s why it’s so refreshing that Stranded: Alien Dawn has a clear-cut finish line. After guiding my survivors through the early days of building a base, protecting from frequent bug swarms with automated defenses, and climbing the tech tree to craft a communication device that can contact ships in orbit, I was able to slowly bring them, one by one, home safely. 

As I wrote about earlier this year, the ending became a tense and bittersweet affair as I had to choose which survivors to send up to orbit first and who would have to hold down the fort among increasingly dangerous alien attacks and less help to overcome them. 

(Image credit: Haemimont Games)

Stranded: Alien Dawn hits all the right notes. There’s depth and complexity in the tech trees, resources, and survival systems, plus a great variety of personalities and skillsets in the colonists you’re trying to keep alive. There are several scenarios besides the standard crash landing story, including one where you can earn enough money through orbital trading to buy the entire alien planet you’re stuck on. Best of all, amidst the base building and outpost defense, the game gives rise to memorable stories of survival, tragedy, and triumph, which is all I really want from a colony sim.

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