After falling through one of my nets and being unable to jump back up, only to be dragged under the boat by a shark and losing the last hour of progress I spent on my ocean fortress, I am finally able to review Raft, a game whose premise is fundamentally flawed. Not to be outdone, the many little things are also flawed. To continue my theory that art is meant to service the viewer, and games to entertain them, this one doesn’t. It could be good, but it isn’t.
I held off on a review yesterday because I had downloaded either garbage, short demos, or unclassifiable games such as a block – pushing puzzler based on quantum physics. If it sounds interesting, don’t worry, it isn’t. In the dead of night, I then played Raft, and was pleasantly surprised. A half – hour later, I felt numb. The morning after, I still felt numb. I could play something like Karate Basketball and not get bored, but this game isn’t Karate Basketball. It could take notes.
Before we go on, read the following words: “Early Access First – Person Hardcore Base – Building Survival – Crafting Simulator.” I know. I only installed this to make fun of it. I thought in the first place I wouldn’t have to, but I now realise what I must I do. I originally harboured some goodwill towards the developers for sticking to Itch and not putting it up on the flaming garbage dump that is Steam, but yesterday they abandoned Itch and will now be working on the world’s most – popular and worst – quality video game leaser.
Who is the raft?
In the first second of gameplay, you get a hook. Before figuring out what to do with it, you learn your cursor is going to stay in the center of the screen and vibrate around a lot as you move your viewport. You’ll have to learn a lot more, too. Tutorial? Nope. Learn by doing. In the classics like DOOM and Quake, this is a respectable mode of doing things, because the game is simple enough where it’s even an option to have no tutorial, unlike in Minecraft which absolutely requires one. I would praise the game for the same philosophy, if not for the feeling the developers were too lazy to put one in.
From what I know, the one unique thing Raft has is a hook where you draw in debris from the ocean. It’s simple and gratifying and it works well in the early game, but it’s not something you can base an entire concept around. The other idea is being in a raft on the ocean, which has a lot of opportunity for unique sights and enemies and lots of water – based fun and building, like Minecraft, but it’s just a platform you stay on with no use of the water whatsoever. It is a missed opportunity to set your game on water and not allow us to go into deep into it, nor let us travel to new and exciting lands. In essence, there is a distinct lack of stuff in this game.
I’ve read that the developers are implementing underwater exploration… four months after the soft launch. It would be nice if Itch got those updates. Traitors? Your thoughts? Oh, their blog also says they’re no longer working on Linux ports, citing problems with the platform. This would not be a problem if you would switch from Windows to Linux on a permanent basis, but I suppose three billion flies feasting on a cow’s rotting carcass can’t be wrong. I can’t even convince you to switch. There are so many good things about it that to even compile a list would take a day’s effort and the help of two friends. I guess I wouldn’t expect good taste from the team who chose to make an “Early Access First – Person Hardcore Base – Building Survival – Crafting Simulator” gragh ragh gragh.
Where is the game?
I’m reminded of the No Man’s Sky problem, also known as No Man’s Buy, No Man Tried, and Sean Murray Cries, of there being too much stuff and absolutely nothing to do, which will be familiar to Bethesda fans. This game is unique in there being no stuff in it and still nothing to do. You view your obligatory three meters — water bottle, chicken leg, and heart symbol — and are forced to tend to them like a little lost lamb. They no longer matter after ten minutes once you craft four things and have an unlimited supply of food and water, just being chores that distract from the moderately entertaining base – building.
You see, as pedestrian as these games are, there’s a reason why they’re so popular. They promise the thrill of accomplishment, where if you survive, bide your time waiting for supplies, and manage to build something grand while beating the odds, you can feel proud of yourself. They follow the same basic formula, and they’re successful among those who haven’t the taste to see past it. Unfortunately the only game that has ever done this right, Minecraft, did so for three key reasons. One, you can walk for a half – hour in a random direction and see beautiful voxel worlds that don’t get old. Two, there is a ludicrous amount of freedom in the engine from a few basic rules, where most games arbitrarily restrict you to pre – built blueprints and places to set up. Three, the survival elements pose a legitimate challenge by making you work for your food, instead of just being a thing that exists.
In order to make a game like this, and make it good, you must demand variety and originality in every aspect of its design. There needs to be more worlds to see, more enemies to fight, more items to have fun with, all topped off with an atmosphere that makes the player want to keep playing. This game doesn’t even have music! Even stock pirate shanties are better than having no music, because a game like this depends on how long it can keep the player engaged, where silence makes you realise just how dull and boring this game is. It doesn’t have variety. It is barely original. It has an interesting concept but does nothing with it. I understand these games are more popular than Sikhism, but the reason they are popular is the reason why The Simpsons is still on the air. It’s familiar and is barely – functional enough to be entertaining. In short, this game is for those who have not played better.
My opinion of this game dwindled the more I played it. I was impressed with the first bits where I had to scavenge debris with a hook and force – of – will, before realising that would be all I was doing. The gameplay can be summed up as “is that it?”, because that’s all I was asking myself. Are those really all the items I can craft? Are these all the building components? Is this the only thing I’ll be seeing for the next hour? Did I really just die and lose my progress? To what purpose? To get me to play again? This isn’t worth playing!
The experience you’ll get is bog – standard with only the barebones of building a decent raft to entertain you. It really is pedestrian. I feel bad for those who enjoy this game. I understand that people have different tastes, but some people are coprophiles, and their tastes show a lack of understanding for all the good that games can do. This isn’t a great work of art that will be seen as a milestone in gaming history and therefore has some credit to being discussed and debated on its merits. This doesn’t push the envelope, isn’t innovative, isn’t something somebody will have fond memories playing, and moreover, isn’t that fun at all. It’s just uninteresting, to its head, to its heel, to its core.
It dwindled from four stars when first playing it, down to three when I started this review, two stars when I finished the intro, and now here we are at the bottom. A bit of ludonarrarative synchronisity, where the bottom of the review symbolises the bottom of the barrel. I wanted to be generous. I like being generous. But I can’t. The star system starts at bad, and this is bad. The more I thought of this game, the more I hated about it. That is, by my definition, the exact opposite of what a game should strive to be.