AWAY: The Survival Series
It seems like a story pops up on social media every few days that details another person expressing their love of videogames who doesn’t fit the tired stereotype of “basement-dwelling teenager who rarely sees the outside world”. And with game design tools being more accessible than ever before, developers are finding ever more interesting ways to cater to the growing collection of niche audiences and expand the scope of what can be considered a videogame. Breaking Walls playable wildlife documentary, AWAY: The Survival Series, is just another example of the ingenuity of game design teams, and brings all of the drama of Blue Planet and Planet Earth straight to your gaming machine!
At A Glance
|Positives||+ Original ‘play your own documentary’ premise |
+ Great atmospheric soundtrack
+ Interesting mix of locations to explore
|Negatives||– Camera and controlling the sugar glider can be a struggle|
– A lot of repeated narration
– Number of noticeable bugs (and not the kind you eat!)
|Price (When Reviewed)||£24.99|
|Our Playtime||6 hours|
|Available On||PS4, PS5, PC|
AWAY first caught my eye at the Gamescom event earlier in the year and I was immediately drawn to the idea of playing through a documentary. The game sees you play as a plucky sugar glider joey who’s been separated from his family, and must find a way to survive the many dangers of the forest for long enough to finally be reunited. With a cute protagonist looking to overcome the odds in a world where everything is out to get you, I could immediately draw the parallels between videogames and wildlife documentaries and couldn’t help but wonder why two genres haven’t been merged before!
The opening of AWAY shows great promise, with both the animals and environments being nicely depicted; we’re introduced to our joey and his family, and given a brief overview of the world and its inhabitants. We learn that the game takes place after a huge environmental event known as ‘The Shift’, which has led to huge changes in the ecosystem and the dominant species of the planet, giving Breaking Walls some latitude in putting beasties together that might not be entirely accurate in the real world. Much of the story takes place among the leafy floor and canopy of the forest, but there’s a mix of other interesting locations that are nicely introduced that offer a nice variety in scenery as you continue to explore. Players taking a particular interest in the fate of the world can scour the world for lost podcast entries that shed more light on The Shift and the part mankind has to play in the event, but this is a purely optional plot line for those who wish to do some extra snooping around.
The gameplay has you platforming your way through the forest; over rocks and along branches, and gliding from tree to tree as you try to reunite with your mother and sister. You have to eat mushrooms and insects for nourishment and battle spiders, lizards and other beasties to move forwards on your journey. There are moments in the story where the predators are too big and tough for the sugar glider to take down, opening up the opportunity for some stealth and chase sections that add some variety to proceedings too. Breaking Walls have done a really good job of emulating common scenes from documentaries and allowing you to play them out, and their appreciation and respect for the source material is clear to see.
A nature documentary can’t exist without two things – interesting animals and a knowledgeable narrator to guide you through the action, and AWAY does a great job of voicing the plight of the sugar glider on his journey through the forest. The majority of the game is narrated with a calm and familiar tone but adds the odd spike of excitement when something unexpected happens that fits the premise almost perfectly. And bolstering the voice-work is a stellar orchestral soundtrack that really shines, adding untold drama to a scuffle with a scorpion or a battle with a black mamba. But as much as I enjoyed the voice acting, I did feel like the script began to slip from the premise a little as the game went on, with the matter-of-fact “way of the jungle” tone giving way to much more emotive language, anthropomorphising our sugar glider pretty heavy handedly considering the game is being pitched as a playable documentary.
While our trusty narrator describes the sugar glider as a nimble and agile little creature, the game’s design has other ideas, and controlling the marsupial can be a pretty clunky affair. The joey has the strangest jumping arc I’ve experienced in any game and would prove a complete nightmare if you weren’t able to lock-on and jump to your destination. Clambering up the trunks of trees and scurrying around in the branches is a really fun idea but is made a massive pain by the camera and controls, with your direction of travel changing every time you reach a different surface, leading to you constantly going back and forth or around in circles. The gliding controls are particularly annoying though, with the game pretty much ensuring that you have no chance of accurately correcting your flight path if you weren’t pointing in the right direction when you jump, and you’ll find yourself plunging into the deadly waters repeatedly as a result. The camera too has a lot to answer for, with helpful perspectives hard to come by when you’re locked onto an enemy, moving through a tight space or clambering through the trees.
I might have been able to overcome the difficult controls and camera issues if the rest of the game had a gleaming polish, but there’s a number of bugs and annoyances that definitely takes some of the fun out of the experience. In my play through I found noticeable inconsistency in the hit detection that led to me being killed by enemies striking a few feet from where I was standing, as well as enemies not reacting to my attacks despite us standing nose-to-nose and fighting one another. Button presses in the menus seemed to be very unresponsive and there were times when the narration would either cut off mid-sentence as a new section loaded or overrun, meaning that you didn’t get the introduction to the new scenario and were left in the dark. The final straw was during one particularly tense scene where I had quicktime events that I failed because the camera looked into the sky and I couldn’t see the prompts on screen. Another sizeable annoyance was the amount of repeated narration that would play every time that you strayed into some thorns or ate something unpleasant – it was characterful the first, or maybe second time, but I had grown very tired of the snippet after hearing it 5-10 times in a short period. The gripes are a real shame because with an enjoyable (if far-fetched) story there’s clearly a foundation for something great.
Post-game I tried out the exploration mode that adds a bunch of new animals for you to try out and offers the opportunity to explore the forest untethered by the plot line. While still in its Beta stage, this mode shows promise and might offer a peek into what’s to come from Breaking Walls in the future. There’s great potential for this mode to be expanded into something more open-ended than this first foray, and the thought of exploring multiple non-linear plotlines would definitely entice me back for more animal adventures in the future.
As a lover of both wildlife documentaries and videogames I absolutely wanted to fall in love with AWAY, but the rough edges of the gameplay and some bugginess proved just too much of a burr under the saddle to be entirely enjoyable. The frustrating gliding controls, a rogue camera, and a smattering of weird and wonderful bugs throws salt on the rich earth of a great idea. The premise is a marvellous one and I applaud the team at Breaking Walls for doing just that – smashing down another wall of what can be made into a videogame. I hope that the team continues with their ‘Survival Series’ and works to bring more playable nature stories to life in the future – I have every faith that this could be a wonderful franchise with only some refinement.
In the interest of full disclosure, the publisher provided VGamingNews with a copy of the game in order to conduct this review.