You are a settler wandering the country after a devastating apocalypse, narrowly avoiding further catastrophes and starvation. In front of you is a town with 18 beds and toilets a little too close to the water supply. Their flag is brilliant pink with some kind of irradiated rodent on it. This is the town of Arechester, my town. And this is only part of the creative freedom awarded to your city in Surviving The Aftermath.
Surviving the Aftermath is “all about your village in the middle of the apocalypse”. Whilst this elevator pitch is apt, it doesn’t express what makes it so addictive. It starts with awarding you a great deal of choice in your playthrough. You can toggle the tutorials, change the function of the environment, catastrophes, resources, and more. This will affect the level of difficulty Surviving the Aftermath throws at you, letting you play it in as a relaxing or hardcore way as you want, something Surviving Mars did brutally well. Furthermore, you can customise your motto, ideology, and gatekeeper to change the way your gate acts or the choices your settlers make. These don’t outwardly affect difficulty, opting instead to change the way you play. Some are more pragmatic, focusing on resources, whilst others are more idealistic by focusing on improvements. After naming your town and setting your flag type, you are set free into the world.
The base gameplay loop feels like a mix between old school Warcraft and Civilization. It takes after Warcraft in its resource gathering. You can set an area to be harvested and, if you pick the right people and buildings, you will collect that material. These include things such as wood, plastic, metal, and food. You can use wood to make a building to collect plastic, or utilise plastic and wood to build one for collecting metal, etc. This ensures you are consistently working towards your next upgrade. After sorting your resources and building enough beds for everyone, you should start working towards building a gate.
Your gate has two central roles: to signal to potential survivors and to also open up the world map. Once here, you can use your special survivors to explore the map. Each special unit has differing stats and a unique role that can be used to find resources, attack enemies, or discover tech. This is where the game starts to move from Warcraft to Civilization. You can use your earned technology to upgrade certain tech paths like more efficient tools or better buildings. These choices become incredibly important as could be seen in my playthrough. On day 6, I was informed of impending fallout that carried on a harsh wind… I was not prepared.
This harsh fallout blew in and irradiated multiple settlers, and now there is a nice body pit next to my well and toilets. Luckily, in their explorations, the special units had acquired tech, managing to prep my town for the next major catastrophe. This is where Surviving the Aftermath seemingly works at its best. You regularly start to feel a little anxious of all the success you are having, just before a catastrophe comes in and teaches you why. It enforces the Dunning-Kruger effect – overestimating your own ability – in spectacular ways to make you feel more than a little stupid.
Once you discover the world map, the social aspect of Surviving the Aftermath comes to the fore. The wider world becomes clearer, something quite special given the oddly hopeful nature of the game. It’s dark and brutal, but merely your existence in the world shows some semblance of a will to survive. As you take in more settlers and focus on trade routes, the world becomes less lonely in a rather lovely way. Settlers start to make their way to this glistening beacon in the middle of a wasteland – a place with a pink flag and rodent mascot.
Needless to say, the future of Surviving the Aftermath is bright. One needs only to look at the update list to see the amount of content that has been added since the game arrived in Xbox Game Preview over the last few months. It also has a built-in feature for reporting bugs and giving feedback with a handy star system for its relevancy and importance. Despite this, I felt little need to use it. My time with Surviving the Aftermath has been challenging, dark and delightful, and I can’t wait to see where Paradox Interactive take this in the lead-up to full launch.
Many thanks go out to Paradox Interactive for providing a code for Surviving the Aftermath on Xbox One for preview purposes. If you wish to check the game out, head on over to the Xbox Store.