surviving the aftermath title

Surviving the Aftermath Review

A mixed bag

The end of the world is a familiar thing in Surviving the Aftermath. I don’t mean that in a philosophical sense, although the exploitation of resources, warmongering, and frequent disasters have clear parallels with modern society. I mean what Surviving the Aftermath has me doing to contend with these disasters is something I’ve seen before, many times. Paradox’s survival management sim has the potential to be something special, but never builds on that to set itself apart from other, more unique games in the genre.

Your journey into the polluted wilderness starts with a set of choices. Surviving the Aftermath asks you to tailor the difficulty as you see fit, and while the available options are extensive, there’s not much context to help you know what you’re actually doing. Is 75% difficulty with a moderate chance of natural disasters and easy to please civilians a good formula? You probably won’t know in your first game, though admittedly, it’s difficult to figure out even in your second game and beyond. More extensive options or descriptions, or maybe even just preset game modes, would make this step much easier.

Happy survivors happy something that rhymes with survivors

Either way, it turns out my wish for happy survivors was a good thing. They woke up grumpy every day thanks to a lack of hygiene facilities and a dearth of drinkable water, but it had minimal effect on the settlement’s overall satisfaction. A happy side effect of confusing difficulty options or not, I appreciated the flexibility. Surviving the Aftermath adopts a minimalist approach to its tutorials that often meant I was scrambling to figure out what it expected from me

After that, it’s time to meet your specialists. Surviving the Aftermath gives you nearly a dozen unique characters with interesting backstories, and they’re the heroes of your settlement with special abilities to help in certain areas, such as fighting or scouting. I picked a scout and warrior the first time, though not because I was particularly keen on their perks. The specialist selection screen also has little context to help with your first game or two. Their identities and goals are what intrigued me.

One character lost their partner in the great catastrophe and was searching for a new life. Another wanted to help heal the physical and emotional wounds of others and work toward a brighter future.

We can be better

That’s what intrigued me about Surviving the Aftermath. No matter their background, the point was building something better and sustainable — and maybe roughing up a few dozen clans who thought differently, but that’s beside the point. There’s a special feeling of productivity and cleanness from taking raw waste such as plastic and turning it into water storage or watching people band together to create literal and metaphorical light in the dark wilderness.

You’ll have plenty of other resources, of course, and the moment-to-moment loop is familiar for anyone who’s played a management sim before — perhaps a bit too familiar. Once you’ve progressed and built a gate, your settlement can expand across the world map, encountering new dangers, people, and resources. Then it settles into the usual loop of maintaining progress, balancing expansion with conserving resources, and recovering from unexpected calamities.

A little empty

The trouble is that’s all there is. Paradox doesn’t do much else with the setting or themes. It feels as if Surviving the Aftermath is still in early access to an extent, like Paradox wanted to do more and just hasn’t yet. Aside from the specialists’ lack of importance or personality, this sense of something missing is most prominent in the mini-events that pop up occasionally.

These ask you to make a choice of some kind, though the right choice is painfully obvious in almost every case, with no consequences for making it. It’s in everyone’s best interests if you save the citizens who fell into a sinkhole, for example. I’d hoped for more interesting development with the specialists or at least some choices that had a visible effect on how a game unfolded.

Nip to the loo

The same is true for Surviving the Aftermath’s other significant features, such as upgrading facilities. It’s smart, efficient, and expected. You enhance your toilets because you need better hygiene, but upgrades add nothing unique to the experience and don’t change how you approach a round. It’s just checking off another box on the list of things you do in a management sim.

What you’re left with is a decent game, and that’s disappointing because it could have been more. For some reason, Paradox played it safe and didn’t build on its own and the game’s strengths. If you want a different take on the genre, it’s worth picking up on sale, but there are better and more interesting examples to spend your time and money on.