In a sea of survival games featuring zombies, dinosaurs, and naked barbarians, Raft feels truly different. Rather than add new levels of danger and complexity, it strips the genre down to the studs and in doing so creates something rather special.
Just Me, Jaws, and a Raft
Raft gets going quickly. You start on a 2×2 raft with a makeshift hook you can throw into the water to drag floating debris back to your craft. You have no food or water. But more frightening than that, just below the water’s surface, a great white shark circles your craft, waiting for you to make the mistake of entering the water. In other words, you’re screwed.
If your basic needs don’t take you out, the shark sure will. You see, every so often, the shark will latch onto one of the sections of your raft and destroy it unless you can drive it away. Priority number one in these early minutes is constructing a mallet. This will be used to expand your raft allowing you a little breathing room around your sharp-toothed nemesis.
To Build a Raft
While most survival games make finding a location for your base a huge part of gameplay, Raft is squarely the opposite. You spawn on your raft and that’s where you’ll stay 99% of the time. I sometimes dislike survival games because I get lost or resources are too spaced out (and I’m lazy). It’s so much better when it all floats to you. And the raft is safe so rather than focusing on building weaponry, the primary point of crafting is to streamline the process of your survival.
As you reel in resources, you’ll be able to make more complex tools and stations. Once you get a spear, you can deter the shark from destroying your raft and eventually kill it (though it does respawn.) You’ll also be able to charge at any seagulls that make the mistake of landing on your raft and kill them, giving you meat far more filling than any other food source.
One of my first early victories was finally crafting a grill that alleviated most of my hunger problems by allowing me to make more filling meals. So it made it really awful when the shark broke the plank it sat on, causing it to sink.
At the core of raft building is the question of positioning. The edge of the raft is sometimes the logical location for something, however, obviously it isn’t safe from the shark. Building a base is constant maintenance, positioning structures, etc. But with each plank placed you can see your home expanding, becoming better. It feels good.
A Passive Enviroment
Raft has a lot of pretty environmental effects. Fog, torrential storms, etc. During these phenomena, the sea gets super choppy. The waves rock your raft making it feel like you could fall or it could come apart at any moment. It’s a cool addition to the game but has functionally no impact on gameplay. You won’t lose your footing, your raft won’t come apart, it’s just a visual effect. It felt like a massive missed opportunity to do something to make gameplay a little bit more perilous.
Water Water Everywhere…
Like in any survival game, after building a couple of tools, you’ll need to pivot your focus to your hunger and thirst levels. The thing about being stranded in the ocean is that there are only a few ways you can get food and water.
For water, you’ll need to build a purifier and a cup to transfer water. Raft is a pretty “play it your way” game but the water purifier is not optional. There are only two sources of water in Raft and those are fruit which is not available in large quantities until far later in the game and the purifier.
Luckily, collecting food is a far more diverse process. The obvious solution to finding food in the ocean is to build a fishing pole. This is the most reliable way of finding food in the beginning hours of the game but juggling fishing with collecting material, fighting the shark, and keeping on the lookout for resources is a pain and there’s a better way to generate food – farming.
One of the strange “video game logic” things in Raft is the number of barrels floating in the endless sea. There are a lot of barrels and they are extremely valuable finds, being filled with rare crafting components, and root vegetables. You read that right, vegetables.
In addition to being a decent way to stave off hunger in a pinch, you can actually build farm plots on your raft and plant the vegetables you find in barrels or even fruit trees (more on that soon.) Aside from the minor inconvenience of the occasional hungry seagull, farming is a top notch, no fuss way of keeping a steady supply of food on hand. Once you free yourself from the cycle of collecting food and water the real fun begins.
The Islands and Facing the Shark
Occasionally as you float along you’ll see tall islands off in the distance. In the beginning of the game there is no way to explore these. You drift by too quickly and they are huge. Even if you wanted to explore them, you need a huge amount of wood in order to build a way up to even the lowest of the island platforms.
On each island and there is a chest you can platform your way up to which contains resources difficult to find elsewhere such as ore which can make stronger and more efficient spears, hooks, and even a better water purifier.
More importantly, when you start to explore islands, you can dive underwater and find reliable resources of the difficult to find scrap, sand, and clay. Yeah, the game makes you go underwater and, yes, the shark does try and murder you. Luckily, surprisingly enough, he doesn’t do much damage. Even better, if you stab him with your spear when he charges you, hill swim away. Underwater exploration feels frantic and awesome. The risk and reward balance is spot on. I, personally, am prone to anxiety in gameplay like this but I never felt that way here. My raft was always close by and I could reach it before Jaws got me.
Raft is a good, straight forward survival game. Rather than throw a bunch of features into it, Raft gives you a few versatile ones. This decision makes it an easy game to pick up and play but as you put some hours into it, you begin to truly unlock the secrets of the game. How deep you can dive, high you can climb, and the gospel of tree fruit. It’s refined, relaxing for the most part but also exhilarating. I have no qualms about recommending this one. I am excited to see how this game will change upon it’s full release.