I’m not going to insult your intelligence by actually reviewing this game. It’s not horrible, but not’s not good, either. Or fun. Or even playable, really; there’s a weird, fatal freezing bug that seems to hit at random points with no recourse but to start over from Day 1. Aside from the game-killing but, Survivor DS is plagued by the same idiocy that every other licensed game is plagued by: it was thrown together on a shoestring budget by people who aren’t actually fans of the source material.
If you’ve never actually watched Survivor, you probably think of it in terms of this vague awareness that a bunch of attention whores are dumped off on an island, where they eat bugs and vote each other off. And while you’re not wrong, you’re missing a lot of the depth and nuance that makes the game so addicting to its fans. And that’s really the problem here: the people who made this DS game wanted nothing more than to cash in on an as-yet-untapped fanbase, but in doing so left everything out of the game that might have actually appealed to their target audience.
I bought this game as a lark, because I was in Wal-Mart with a bunch of my friends and felt like doing some abominably stupid to amuse them. Of course I secretly hoped the game would amuse me as well, at least for a little while, which I suppose it did. Mostly, though, it got me thinking whether a decent Survivor video game was something that could, you know, actually happen.
And I think I’ve hit on exactly the problem: Survivor DS tries to create a “Survivor-like” experience by giving you a neutral situation and a few tools to influence the other people on the island. Winning immunity is as easy as mastering a simply stylus game, and making people love you is as simple as noticing the clam icon over their head, then bringing them some clams. There’s no backstabbing, no strategy, no positioning, and no twists.
So of course I tried to imagine a game that incorporated all that stuff — and was unable to. Video games just don’t convey social interaction very well. Most games that try tend to have some invisible parameter attached to each NPC. Earning enough points will cause the NPC’s disposition towards you to change, and each of your actions has the ability to add or remove points. Sometimes, if a game wants to get really jiggy with it, earning points towards one NPC will cause you to lose them from another. Of course, most games with social systems just pool all your points into one giant “good/evil” meter and leave it at that.
In a hypothetically good Survivor game, each NPC would have to have multiple social meters in regards to your every action. And they’d need some mechanic to ignore those meters to make strategic decisions, if it’s advantageous for them to do so. It’d be a house of cards, and I’m not sure it could be done satisfyingly with today’s tech.
But think about it: that’s not how most games are built. Instead of trying to make a “Survivor sim” game, why not cook up a “Survivor story” game? Build a solid Survivor-ish scenario, populate it with well-written characters, and have the player navigate the game as a series of set events and scenarios. More like an RPG, really. You’d still have to allow for deviations from the main storyline, as the player’s actions have some influence on what happens, but writing an interesting branching plotline is easier than trying to cobble together a set of randomly-selected rules.
Crafting a more on-rails experience has a pretty severe drawback of course: no replay value. But brother, if you’re the type of person who could play Survivor DS multiple times, I don’t even know what to tell you. Still, it’s a thought, and it’s a way your Xbox could deliver a pretty decent Survivor experience without having to try and simulate an entire game. The caveat, of course, is that we’d need a team behind it who understands why Survivor is fun, so they don’t run out of ideas after “make the player gather coconuts”.