Note: Raft is still an Early Access game, which means it is not a finished product. This review pertains only to the game that was available in July 2018.
The ocean, a four by four raft, and a plastic hook. That’s the introduction to Raft, a game developed by Redbeet Interactive and published by Axolot Games that recently hit Steam’s Early Access Program. The premise is simple: use your hook to gather resources to improve your raft and survive. Oh, and don’t get eaten by the circling shark.
You start with a very simple raft and a plastic hook that you can throw into the ocean to reel in adrift resources. From the planks, plastic, palm leafs, and barrels that you acquire you can build new items such as a fishing rod, water purifier, or a wooden spear to defend yourself from the shark. The aquatic annoyance will periodically bite off parts of your raft unless you stop him. As you progress through the game, new craftable items become available that will make your life easier. You also have to keep an eye on your water and food levels or else you’ll be left dazed and slowed down.
Raft can be played solo or with friends, and offers hours upon hours of peace and tranquility that is sometimes interrupted by Bruce from Jaws trying to break your raft apart. As a co-op game, the experience is excellent. Tasks such as cooking, fishing, or resource gathering can be divvied up between friends. If one of you bites the (very) metaphorical dust, a friend can fish you out of the sea and revive you. Finally, when you go to an island for resources or dive the reefs, someone can stay behind on the raft to look out for the Great White. However, when I was playing by myself, I hopped on an island and while exploring, the shark decided to bite off my anchor, making my raft slowly drift away from me.
The problem with Raft is that there is no real incentive to play single-player except, perhaps, a slight adjustment to difficulty. Having no lookouts will make it harder to explore the reefs, but it’s still possible to do so while keeping an eye on the shark. I played single-player on Hard, and the game was never really a challenge. In fact, some aspects of the game such as food and water management were easier. This makes it so that the game is particularly boring when playing by yourself. I’m dependent on my friends wanting to play. Perhaps some adjustments to the solo difficulty could help the game.
In my hours of playing, we didn’t run into too many bugs. Every now and then our hooks would get stuck in the raft, but other than that the game ran smoothly. We never experienced any framerate drops and even my friends with lower-end computers could play just fine. Overall, the experience was very pleasant from a technical standpoint. If anything, I’d have to say that the main reason for the smooth performance is the art style. It is very similar to Fortnite’s, cartoonish but not to the point of silliness. The choice of style makes it so that even a low-end computer can run the game, which is always good for accessibility.
Ultimately, the game gets too repetitive once you establish a foothold and stabilize your resources. At the beginning of the game there’s a challenge: you have to rush to make a water purifier and a grill before you starve to death. But once you have them (which happens pretty shortly into a game) there is no more challenge. The game becomes a wax and wane of resource gathering and island hopping. Sure, the seas might get rough suddenly and nearly throw you off your raft, but that’s about it. The shark is killable and gets beefier and bitier every time you do so, but even then he isn’t much of an issue once you learn how to play around him. Admittedly, the challenge then comes in gathering some harder-to-acquire resources such as Copper Ingots, but these aren’t exactly hard to get, just time-consuming.
Now, I want to note that the game is not fully finished. What excites me the most about Raft is the potential it has. Perhaps in the future you could get attacked by multiple sharks. Or by other sea species (ominous Kraken music, anyone?). Perhaps there could be more random events – other than inclement weather – that affect your odds of survival. I’m excited to see what this game has to offer when the full release is out.