Can Androids Survive did something to us that we’ve not quite experienced before. We managed to complete it, but we’re not sure how. We have emerged from the end of its campaign with 1000G in Gamerscore, yet we’re none-the-wiser about how we got there or how it happened.
There’s a few reasons for this. First of all, Can Androids Survive isn’t particularly interested in tutorialising itself. Oh, it’s got some scrawled text prompts, but they cover the controls rather than what you can actually do with them. We knew that we were a battlefield courier, delivering supplies and messages to something called the Starbound Alliance, but we didn’t know what those packages looked like, where they went, or how we’d go about it.
The second reason is that Can Androids Survive’s fiction is almost impenetrable. There’s a little written prologue that you can read that gives a synopsis, that the Mercury Protectorate and Starbound Alliance have been warring for some time now, and the path of that war has taken them to the Moon, where you are now. But that’s it really, and the journals that you find are scraps of worldbuilding. They add a bit of flavour, but they don’t build anything meaningful that you can hang some understanding on. It’s all a bit fragmented, and the world is mostly a sea of icons, rather than characters to interact with, or meaningful enemies to avoid.
The third reason is that we haven’t played anything much like Can Androids Survive, so we didn’t really have much context. Having played everything that it has to offer, we’d hazard a guess that it’s somewhere between Mirror’s Edge and Subnautica, if you can possibly imagine their love-child. Like Mirror’s Edge, you are a non-combat entity in a world that’s full of violence. You’re just trying to get from A to B and back again, delivering a glorified postcard while everyone is shooting at you. But like Subnautica, it’s an open-ish world, where you’re ranging further and further out, finding resources that you can bring back to your base, so that you’re better equipped for the next run.
That’s our pitch for what we think you have to do in Can Androids Survive. You emerge from what we assume to be a dropship (turn around, and there’s no evidence of it, so we might just be a mirage). In front of you is a large yellow portal with a tally of all the deliveries you’ve made so far. It took us a few minutes to realise that this is your endzone, your dumping point for every delivery that you find in Can Androids Survive’s world. Grab the parcels and bring them back here.
So, you range outwards. An unhelpful radar gives an indication of coloured dots that might interest you. Here’s our helpful guide of what we think they are: there is fuel, which – and again, this took us some time to realise – is not something that you deliver into your Royal Mail sorting office. It’s just a power-up, there to give you a fuel boost to keep your robot-delivery-drone-thing trundling. There is ammo, which is not a power-up, and is, indeed, something you need to return to base. Pick it up and hoick it back. There are journals which are not like journals in other games. They are not optional little items to pick up if you fancy a loredump. They are vital to completion of the game, and you must pick them up and take them back, so that you can pull closer to the forty-five items you need.
Other collectibles include orange question marks (honestly, we can’t help you here. They seem to be glorified ammo drops) and green question marks. These are the MacDaddies. These exclamation marks not only subvert the story you are being given, revealing the truth behind the lies (great, so the story I thought I was constructing was false?), but on occasion they give you a handy permanent power-up. Suddenly, it’s possible to trigger a period of invulnerability, EMP the surrounding area, perform a flying dash-punch, or – and we haven’t really worked out a use for this one – drop to the floor at speed.
These upgrades are essential, because the fringes of the game area are something of a bullet-hell. It’s hard to survive long enough to pick up courier items, let alone travel back to the dumping pod to add them to your tally. And if you die, everything you collected is returned to the point from whence you found them.
The fourth and final reason why Can Androids Survive is such a conundrum to us is its brevity. This is, all in, about forty-five minutes of gaming. Just as we were getting a handle on its patchy, epic storyline, and figuring out the controls enough to jump, Hulk-like across the battlefield while triggering one of our various power-ups, it all ended. We had collected and returned the forty-five missives that were required of us, ended the war, pulled off a ridiculous Dragonball-like maneuver, and the credits started rolling. We scanned the menus for clues about what just happened, how we did it, and what it all really meant, but there were none. Weirder still, to trigger the ending, we had to choose a menu option that itself was confusing, and we thought we were doing something wrong by pressing it. We won by accident.
Compounding all this confusion is a feeling that, while we only have 50% of the picture, we rather enjoyed the experience. This is not a refined game by any stretch of the imagination, and it could do with about ten-times the amount of content, but there’s something of a simple joy to be had. Pressing RT once to trigger a jump, then RT again to determine the length of the jump, makes the experience a bit like Prototype: The PGA Tour. You’re manipulating a golf-like power bar and then jumping in superhuman bounds around the arena, and that’s a bit tasty. The same goes for the power-ups. Landing, meteor-like, in the middle of enemies, triggering invincibilities and EMPs, and then yeeting out of there with the goods is a rather wonderful sensation. Can Androids Survive has managed to capture a couple of fantastic moments, although it doesn’t quite know what to do with them.
To recommend Can Androids Survive would mean understanding it, and we don’t. Not fully, anyway. It’s poorly described, abstract in its delivery, and so short that we couldn’t finish the process of comprehending it. But in the messy maelstrom we found some strong moments. If you fancy a game that can be best described as Hulk: The Post Office Years, then there is roughly fifteen minutes of utter confusion and thirty minutes of reasonably intense fun in Can Androids Survive, and then everything is over. Hulk smash?
You can buy Can Androids Survive from the Xbox Store