Sunkenland: A survival adventure in a waterlogged world
Exploring the open ocean in video games has always been a combination of delightfully relaxing and absolutely terrifying. Sunkenland is a new survival adventure game developed by Vector3. Self-titled as a Waterworld-themed survival game, fans of the survival genre and the cult-classic film (like us) are curious to see what this game has in store.
Does this title live up to the impressive atmosphere and worldbuilding of its inspiration? Is it a shameless clone of more recent aquatic adventures? Can it capture the beauty and mystery of the world’s mighty oceans? We’ll cover this and much more in this early access review.
Story and concept
At present, we know next to nothing about the story of Sunkenland. All we have to go off of is a single note our character carries saying that they remember being tortured in a dark room and then waking up on a small island. Everything else is left to conjecture. That said, there are certainly some things we can imply based on the world and the theming of the game.
Firstly, we can assume the world (or at least the part of it we inhabit) is flooded. The number of sunken houses, factories, and other structures lends to this theme. Additionally, due to the high level of rust and decay on the structures we find underwater, we can assume that the world has been flooded for some time now.
Secondly, the presence of mutant enemies leads us to believe that either variant humans exist or some byproduct of the ecological disaster has caused horrific mutations. Unfortunately, that’s all we can really draw from the world for now. The developers have stated that lore and quests are planned for future updates, but at the moment, Sunkenland has no story to explore.
On maximum settings, the graphics of Sunkenland are actually pretty solid overall. Item textures are detailed, structural elements are visibly distinct, and lighting effects are relatively dynamic. The day and night cycle of the game drastically changes the world and skybox visually, and players can enjoy the beautiful colors and visual aberrations produced by the sun setting over the sea, just like real life!
Most items in the game have a scrappy, rusty appearance that makes them look like something you crafted out of scrap metal, and this fits the theme of the game perfectly. However, many other items lack this level of personality, especially advanced melee weapons, clothing, and guns. We’d recommend the developers add some specks of rust to firearms or change the skins of iron weapons to be jagged and more like something out of an apocalyptic world.
Additionally, character models still have a long way to go in terms of visuals. The faces of both players and NPCs are blank and unmoving and suffer from lots of very stiff animations. Animations regarding firearms such as reloading and aiming are surprisingly smooth, however, and it looks like the devs are already moving in the right direction.
The only major graphical issues we noticed came from clipping. Certain clothing items will phase halfway into the player’s model, weapons held by some NPCs will clip through their hands, and occasionally containers and dropped items will sit halfway through walls when they spawn into the world. Also, the sea turtles swim upside down, but these are all quirks that are expected and quite forgivable inside of an early access game.
On the other hand, the graphics of underwater landscapes are absolutely stunning. Visual effects of light and shadow dance across the seafloor, giving everything an ethereal and mysterious air. Lots of assets and textures are reused throughout the game, however, and the devs will want to add more variety before the game is finished to make exploring more rewarding overall.
Sound and atmosphere
The soundscape of Sunkenland is a complex concept because its many good qualities are balanced by a few pretty hefty drawbacks.
Starting with the music: the tracks chosen for Sunkenland are fitting, atmospheric, and relaxing.
The only problem is that there is exactly one track for combat and one for everything else. While we loved listening to the relaxing, mysterious music for the first few hours, it very quickly became clear the track was looping and wasn’t going to stop. Without any option to add space between tracks, it got kind of old pretty quickly. Don’t get us wrong, the music is great; we just either need a break from it every once and a while or need more variety. Preferably both.
Most of the sound effects are fitting and suitable for their respective actions. Guns especially sound loud, explosive, and distinct. Clanking and clunking sounds from stacking wood and scrap metal are satisfying, and sounds made from scavenging are acceptable, for the most part.
Impact sounds are where the most work is left to be done. Though the splintering sounds from chopping wood are fine, some of them have a noticeable and abrupt cutoff. The sound of a pickaxe striking and hitting things with the repair hammer should also be adjusted. Though serviceable as-is, mining and repairing would be much more satisfying with crunchier sounds that make the player feel like they’re really breaking rocks or hammering in nails.
What most drew our attention, however, was the lack of any outcry from damaged enemies. Though striking enemies with melee weapons felt a bit wispy, it’s much more important for enemies to react audibly to getting shot with a half-inch lead ball. This not only helps confirm to players that they landed a hit, but also makes combat feel much more immersive.
For an early-access title, Sunkenland is surprisingly well put together in terms of gameplay. The goal of the game is pretty straightforward: survive and advance. To do this, players will need to brave the depths, scavenge sunken ruins, keep themselves fed and hydrated, and defend themselves from marauding pirates. Along the way, you’ll be building a base, crafting equipment, researching new blueprints, driving boats, and occasionally trading.
The core gameplay loop is solid and quite addicting. Bringing back loads of materials to build up your base slowly is fun and satisfying, and the creativity with which you can go about building your base is already pretty impressive. Want to take over that mutant settlement you just wiped out? You can! Would you rather take up residence on an island? That works, too! Is the open ocean more your style? You got it!
We’re incredibly excited to see what kinds of clever traps and defenses the devs will add in the future to really make this aspect of the game shine.
There are a few very obvious downsides to base building at the moment, however. The first is that objects don’t always snap into place the way they should, and there is nothing preventing players from building multiple overlapping structures inside the exact same space.
Additionally and more importantly, if you build a base of any real size, the game begins to slow down considerably. Our base wasn’t huge, but by the time we were building advanced machines, the game had begun to lag so badly that it was drastically affecting our gameplay. To put it bluntly, the game is in desperate need of optimization.
In addition to defending their base, players can also seek out and raid opposing faction bases for resources. Ranged combat is based mostly on cover, and functions heavily in the player’s favor since the enemy AI doesn’t really know how cover works. Melee combat is pretty simple, with the player able to attack and block. As long as you continue to stagger the enemy and don’t run out of stamina, you’re set.
In addition to ramping up combat complexity, we’d suggest the developers overhaul the way the game displays weapon and armor stats. Currently, equipment only displays an armor or damage value depending on what it is. Sure, the percussion pistol does more damage than the triple-barrel pistol, but the latter reloads and fires so much quicker that there is no contest. Without testing the weapons themselves, players would have no indication that this is the case and can’t adapt their gear to their playstyle.
There is already a surprisingly robust research system in Sunkenland with lots of different buildings, weapons, armor, and other equipment for the player to use. Each item is unlocked by spending specific resources at the research bench or by locating and reading that item’s specific blueprint. Finding these blueprints and unique items in hidden safes and chests is an exciting and effective incentive to explore.
Unfortunately, we have to admit that’s where the incentive mostly ends. Exploring is rewarding in terms of materials, but most interiors of sunken ships or flooded mansions are just blank walls and empty rooms separated by doorways and windows. The heavy reuse of assets and lack of individuality between locations makes each one feel distinct only due to the type of loot found there. Since most locations carry largely similar materials, it all boils down to the few high-value containers.
Regarding actual bugs, we encountered surprisingly few, and most aspects of the game functioned exactly as expected. Of course, this is (or at least it should be) the standard for finished games, but for an early-access title, we must admit we’re pretty impressed with how clean the game runs.
Overall, the gameplay is addicting, enjoyable, and satisfying for the most part. There is still a lot to be done to improve the longevity and smoothness of gameplay, but it seems the devs already have a solid foundation to build on.
In its current state, the replay value of Sunkenland will depend largely on how much you like building, defending, and expanding your base. Even with a limited map and lack of rewarding exploration, this game can probably keep the industrious type of survival gamer busy for a good 20-30 hours.
We’d say, however, that players with a group to play with will probably find the game much more replayable than those who play solo, as the interactions with other players will definitely be the highlight.
Final thoughts on Sunkenland
If we had to put a fine point on it, we’d say Sunkenland is a fluid pairing of aspects from Raft and RUST. At the moment, this title is pretty bare-bones, even if those bones are pretty meaty for what they are. Early-access hiccups aside, the concept the developers have here is definitely viable.
Sunkenland has a long way to go still, but the devs seem to be already planning most of what the game needs to improve, including additional content, optimization, and much more. We’d recommend implementing some strong server and multiplayer improvements to allow players more interested in a PvP setting to battle it out on the open seas.
With a bit of personality and a lot of polish, Sunkenland has the potential to grow into an incredible open-world survival game.