Can you survive this VR game?


Survivorman VR review: Can you survive this VR game?

Image: MeKiwi Oy

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Survivorman VR is supposed to teach you real survival techniques, but it really taught me something else. Here’s my own personal survival story.

Survivorman VR is based on the eponymous television series by Canadian survival expert Les Stroud, which ran for eight seasons.

After strapping on my Playstation VR 2 and launching the VR game, Les Stroud greets me with a friendly video message and prepares me for the battle ahead.

The scenario is as follows: I experience a helicopter crash in an Arctic mountain range and have to fight my way back to civilization alone. Well, not quite alone: Stroud assures me that he will be with me every step of the way. Good, then nothing can go wrong.

Survivorman VR: Review in a nutshell

Survivorman VR is short, teaches surprisingly little about survival, and suffers from some clunky interaction design. If you can overlook these flaws and don’t take the game too seriously, you can still enjoy an entertaining trip to the Canadian Arctic.

Tested on: Playstation VR 2

Survivorman VR is suitable for you if …

  • you are a fan of Les Stroud,
  • love wild landscapes and
  • are looking for a slightly different survival simulation.

Survivorman VR is less suitable for you if …

  • you want to prepare for survival in the wilderness,
  • have little resistance to frustration and
  • are looking for a game that will keep you busy for more than two hours.

The arctic adventure begins

After jumping out of a crashing helicopter, I find myself surrounded by high mountains and a snowstorm. Luckily, a yellow marker shows me where to go. Les Stroud appears out of nowhere and gives me my first instructions: He shows me a sheltered spot between rocks and tells me to gather wood and build a fire, so I don’t freeze to death. A smartwatch shows me my body temperature, remaining stamina and calorie reserves.

There are no trees in sight, but some wood and tinder fell from the helicopter. What a lucky coincidence. Now it’s time to make a fire. How convenient that I have a knife with me that can make sparks. I warm myself by the fire and my body temperature rises again.

After the storm calmed down, I make my way to the crash site. And sink into the deep snow. Drenched in sweat and exhausted, I turn back halfway.

Later, I find a box and boots among the rocks, which I use to make snowshoes, and trudge happily up the mountain. At the crash site I find some food, a backpack and other items that will help me in my fight for survival. Unfortunately, the pilot did not survive the crash. I return to my little camp where I spend the night before heading down the mountain the next day.

A somewhat constructed survival simulation

I enjoyed the first level for the most part, although there are flaws in the experience that will be repeated throughout the whole game: The “fight for survival” is linear, requires little creativity, and mostly consists of working through a list of predetermined tasks.

What’s more, many of the situations seem sought-after and characterized by lucky coincidences: You always find exactly the items you need to survive and progress, just like in a point-and-click adventure game. In real life, you rarely have that much luck.

Another weakness are the game’s hand interactions. Making the snowshoes, for example, was difficult because I didn’t know what hand movements the game was expecting me to make. After a while, I found myself waving my hands wildly in the air and pressing all the buttons at once, hoping to trigger the animation I was looking for. When that didn’t work either, I turned to YouTube and realized that I hadn’t placed the box on the rock as intended. Survivorman VR has a few showstoppers like this.

(Unintentional) comedy

Fortunately, Survivorman VR has a nice pace and some hilariously funny passages. The first level is followed by a scene where I use a suitcase as a sled and race down the mountain using a pole as a brake and rudder. A fun, action-packed interlude, even though I broke my virtual neck several times and had to start the ride all over again.

In the next four levels, I crossed a glacier, rappelled down a mountain, hunted rabbits and fled from a polar bear. There are always some unintentionally funny scenes along the way.

For example, I’m supposed to build a rabbit trap out of wire and rocks. In reality, I just collect the materials, put them in the right place, and the game uses them to build a trap: a hanging snare with a few loose stones around it. I hide and watch as the rabbit approaches the trap and drops dead from one second to the next without anything happening.

Did I learn anything? No, because the game did all the work for me. And this happens a lot. Another example: Les Stroud ties two prusik knots for me as I’m rappelling down the mountain. I do not learn how to tie this important knot, nor how to use it to descend safely.

It all ends with plastic waste

When I finally reach the tundra, I come across a dilapidated shed and have to start another fire. For some unknown reason, the fire won’t burn, and in frustration I throw myself into the nearby river and freeze to death.

The next time, the fire works, but how do I roast the rabbit? No problem: there’s a ready-made grill in the shed. Luckily, the rabbit doesn’t need to be skinned or gutted; it turns into a crispy piece of meat all by itself over the fire. After the feast, I look at my smartwatch and see that it shows 6,000 calories. That’s 2,000 calories more than I had on the mountain! Obviously, I have to be careful not to get fat in the Arctic.

Finally, I canoe down a river to the sea. Here I get closer to civilization, because there is plastic waste floating on the shore. I sit on the sand and contemplate if I really want to be rescued or if I should go back to the wilderness.

This brings me to the end of my survival story. Survivorman VR has awkward interactions and can be frustrating, but it also has memorable scenes (sledding! whitewater paddling!) and is full of situational comedy. After 139 minutes and 14 deaths, I definitely accomplished something, experienced something, and have an unusual story to tell. And isn’t that what life is all about?

Survivorman VR: The Descent is available for $20 from the Playstation Store, Quest Store and on Steam.

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