Surviving The Abyss Preview

Surviving The Abyss by developer Rocket Flair Studios and publisher Paradox ArcPC (Steam) preview written by Hayden with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated Ready Time: 7 minutes

It’s time to blast off once again and make a new colony in the harsh vacuum of the alien world known as… *checks notes* …Earth? Yes, that’s right, Surviving The Abyss takes the familiar-looking tropes of domed facilities connected by sealed tunnels and drops it right in our own backyard. Set in an alternate version of the 1960’s, early experiments with cloning humans were (sort of) successful, producing living, breathing humans that had just one tiny little flaw - they died in a matter of weeks. While an outraged public forced a shutdown of cloning research, you’ve been brought in by the military to keep the research going in secret. Their chosen locale? Kilometers beneath the waves, in the crushing depths of the ocean, far from the prying eyes and obnoxious morality of Joe Q. Public!

The game starts you off with the typical colony-builder basics of a central hub and a few machines used to harvest resources and construct buildings. The aesthetics here definitely support the quasi-60’s setting, with the subs using what look like giant mechanical claws to manipulate things rather than something high-tech-looking like a laser beam. Construction, though, is a bit of a break from that look, with the buildings rendered in a wireframe when you place it that slowly fills in during construction. For a 60’s setting, that struck me as very 1980’s Tron-like, and was hard to square with the rest of the setting. Personally I would have expected some kind of dropping girders and frames on the building with those giant submarine claws, but as I’m neither the developer or anything approaching a competent digital artist my opinion holds about as much water as the shipwrecks that are scattered on the seafloor here and there.

Soon enough, your efforts to get established will run into a shortage of resources, especially crew. At this point it’s time to remember your stated mission here and break out the cloning vats and research labs! Scattered across the seafloor are various habitats for undersea life, and these habitats are what your scientists need to try to stabilize the genomes of your clones. The better your samples, the longer your clones will live - initially, you’ll be lucky to have them for a month of useful work before they die of old age. Of course, once humans get involved, habitats quickly get over-harvested, and Surviving The Abyss acknowledges that. Unless you specifically devote extra resources (crew, along with the power, oxygen and food needed to support them) to maintaining these habitats, you’re quickly going to run out of your fresh fish and chips in the mess hall - oh, and in your cloning lab too. Since you need crew to replenish the things that you harvest to make your clones to replenish and expand your crew, well, you can see how this quickly becomes a cycle in which you are trying to extract more genome material out than it takes to keep replacing the fast-aging clone crews that are doing the extraction in the first place!

If I have a beef with the game, that last paragraph really shows where it is. The early game can feel like a Red Queen’s Race where you’re madly rushing forward just to avoid losing ground. From limited resource deposits to early clones that die fairly quickly, to building efficiency being hugely dependent on where your resources spawned on the map in relation to each other, the early stages of Surviving The Abyss are going to be most appealing and rewarding for players who love to micromanage. For those that like a bit more of a relaxed build-up, Surviving The Abyss is going to have some early gameplay that is hard to move past.

As I touched on before, Surviving The Abyss is visually gorgeous, and overall holds to the 1960’s retrofuturism aesthetic fairly well. The environment has just enough shimmer or distortion at the edges of your view to remind you that you’re underwater. The seafloor is done in the slightly wavy sand patterns that any beach-goer will recognize. The way your base’s lighting goes to emergency reds when fuel runs low, and even the way the mysterious leviathans attacking your base loom imposingly out of the darkness, full of shadowed, jellyfish-like tentacles really adds to the atmosphere. Oh, you thought you were alone down here? Silly human, you’re not the apex predator in this environment…. 

Speaking of light and darkness, Surviving The Abyss makes good use of lighting as a substitute for a fog of war effect. Being deep beneath the ocean, no light from the surface reaches you to illuminate the area, so you need to light up the areas that you are going to work and build in. Like everything else, that comes with a power cost, and the 1960’s technology you start with means you’re not using fancy eco-friendly green power sources but rather coal-burning power plants at the outset. If you’re thinking “ew, coal?? Underwater??” you’re absolutely right - not only are you scouring the seafloor for small exposed deposits of coal to keep your base running, but the exhaust from the plants reduces the air quality in your base since it is a closed system. Now you’re trying to research basic air purification systems while keeping your people (I’m assuming 1-month clones still count as ‘people’ here) healthy enough to work through the indoor smog.

In writing about Surviving The Abyss, I keep trying to touch on different topics, and always end back up on the costs that the game imposes. It is both a blessing and a curse, since a colony builder is inherently concerned with resource management, and the harsher the environment it is set in the more of a concern those survival items need to be. On the other hand, it makes me realize as I try to deconstruct the game for this preview just how harsh and punishing those game loops can feel at this early-access stage. At the same time, I struggle with thinking which of these mechanics the game could do to lose or markedly change the balance on, without seriously affecting the overall feel of being in a harsh, isolated environment.


Overall, Surviving The Abyss is a visually beautiful colony builder that is going to appeal to players who enjoy micromanagement in their games. This isn’t a set-it-and-let-it-run type of game where you can go grab dinner while you wait for resources to accumulate, and that’s great if you know that going in. I’m also optimistic at the pace that patches and updates have been flowing out since the Early Access release, as it shows that the developers are focused on keeping the game in a playable state while they go through the EA process. This is a good one to pick up if you like your colony builders challenging, and one to avoid if you like games that just require you to tweak some variables and watch the outcome.

Score: N/A


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