by Joel France
reviewed on PC
Braced for Adventure
Now seeing full release after 3 years in Early Access, The Wild Eight puts you in control of a motley group of survivors in the bitter Alaskan winter. Revolving around a core survival loop, you’ll be managing health, hunger & warmth that utilises established conventions within the survival genre, featuring a punishing day/night cycle and adverse weather conditions that’ll give players extra wrinkles. It’s a familiar setup but The Wild Eight aims to set itself apart with its story focus, keeping the experience relatively on-rails when compared to many of its ilk.
Mine, Craft, Survive
Whilst exploring the frozen landscape, you’ll gather materials and resources to aid yourself in surviving the cold. You can set up shelter at a moment’s notice, alongside a workshop for crafting equipment to help with the tasks at hand. Both facilities can be upgraded to provide additional options, with the shelter being the only way to cash in skill points that generate passively when performing various actions. There’s a certain amount of flexibility afforded by this system, but the limitations of each upgrade level mean that until you’ve spent some time developing those paths, your choices are limited. The act of harvesting materials is rather laborious, as you’ll be stuck punching the ore out of a rocky deposit before you’re able to craft tools to speed the job up, a sight that loses its absurd charm far quicker than it takes to harvest what’s needed.
A Lack of Variety
The Wild Eight is named after the eight playable characters, each coming with unique stat adjustments and abilities. For example, Cole has extra melee damage and stamina, whilst Oliver cuts crafting and construction costs by 10%. Though this gives the option to pursue a specialised character, the tweaks are minor so you’re unlikely to notice the difference, save for direct comparison. A much touted feature of the title is its procedurally-generated world map, though this only tempers itself around story and key quest locations. This means that what randomisation exists is relegated to the landscape you’re trudging through whilst travelling to the next map marker.
Another area needing improvement is the camera. With a top-down perspective that’s closely fixed to the character, you’re never in the best position to see important structures without help from the mini-map and running into a hungry wolf to no warning is often inevitable. Matched with your character’s fragility, which is a bigger problem earlier on, you’ll find yourself left with many trudges across well-worn terrain to collect your belongings after being mauled once again.
Something Strange in the Neighbourhood
What starts as a by-the-numbers exploration mission, tracking down the remains of a plane crash and exploring bunkers scattered across the snow, quickly turns weird. As you delve deeper into the mysterious happenings, brushes with the supernatural become more frequent. Wolves start walking on their hind legs, zombified people begin attacking you from the shadows in the basements you pilfer. At one point, an otherworldly ghoul brings a cinematic chase sequence, or rather tries to be cinematic if not for the clunky camera issues and forced top-down perspective.
The more subtle environmental storytelling has greater impact here, such as the first man-wolf you come across stumbling around nuclear waste, or one of its brethren guarding a key within the tundra. These moments do carry a strong narrative weight but the illusion is easily shattered and this causes more frustration than anything else, examples including the key-guarding man-wolf mauling you as your character muses, “He certainly seems harmless”.
For all its shortcomings, The Wild Eight gets you invested in the story it wants to tell, but you can’t help feeling that its difficulty spikes and constant micromanagement of survival meters act as an entry barrier, for what could otherwise be a solid supernatural tale. For every moment of intrigue, there were more than a few points of irritation, souring the overall experience that might otherwise have been avoided. Granted, the survival mechanics make more sense from a multiplayer perspective where everyone can help each other but this playstyle seems at odds with the isolation and intrigue its narrative depends on. There’s little doubt that seasoned foragers will find the survival aspects easier to manage but for those people, there are more satisfying experiences on offer elsewhere with survival components as the main selling point. Despite a story that was beginning to heat up, The Wild Eight ultimately leaves you feeling cold.
Lovely piano-base soundtrack, Intriguing story
Survival micromanagement, Difficulty spikes, Punch rocks for ore