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Review

AWAY: The Survival Series Review

Life finds a way

Animals and video games have long been intertwined, with some of gaming’s most iconic characters being literal animals, such as Sonic the HedgehogDonkey Kong, Crash of Crash Bandicoot fame and lifetime pals Banjo & Kazooie. There have been video games made about bees, a weaponised snail and even a jerk goose, but throughout the annals of video game history, never has a game focused on a sugar glider. However, there’s a first time for everything, and Canadian developer Breaking Walls’ debut title AWAY: The Survival Series is the first game to feature these cute and adorable marsupials. But is our sugar glider’s debut on the digital stage one of sweet satisfaction or does it fail to stick the landing? 

First impressions are everything, and with an incredibly lush and vibrant world complemented by David Attenborough-like narration, it would be easy to mistake AWAY for an actual nature documentary rather than a video game, which is exactly what Breaking Walls wants you to think. The Canadian studio has lovingly crafted a survival adventure experience that aims to educate as well as entertain.  

It’s a big world out there

Our sugar glider’s journey begins as it would in real life – as a young joey learning how to survive in the wild. Keeping close to its mother and young sister, the tutorial introduces us to the game’s narrator, gameplay mechanics and controls. This is when our young glider learns how to scavenge for food, defend themselves against predators, and how to jump and glide between areas. During this sequence the narrator teaches you about these tiny and captivating creatures, and also what has happened to the state of the world these creatures are currently living in. Without giving too much away, the narrator lets the player know that humankind did not survive the evolution of the world, and it’s something that is further explored in the games’ Holograms, which are hidden all over the map. 

The opening sequences, which had me foraging for food under the watchful eye of mum create a relaxing and heart-warming vibe. As an inquisitive youngster, a spider (poisonous, of course) caught my eye and I was unable to resist the temptation to take a bite when I knew I shouldn’t, and when I (unsurprisingly) became sick, the narrator let me know that what I did was dangerous, saying that I would be clever enough not to do that again.  

After learning the basics of survival, my joey is pulled from the comfort and safety of its family as its mother and sister are snatched in front of me by the powerful claws of an eagle. This creates a sudden shift in tone and it emphasises the cutthroat nature of being a wild animal. Now on your own, you must do your best to survive in the wild and find the family so cruelly taken away. 

You’re doing amazing, sweetie

One of the game’s primary mechanics is the ability to scale trees throughout the environment and glide around different areas. If you’re playing with a controller, gliding is done by simply double tapping your jump button and using your thumbsticks to direct your joey. At first it was incredibly fun to watch my glider soar through the air, but it didn’t take long for that feeling to be tinged with frustration, with the lack of control I had over the sugar glider being the biggest culprit. Several times I would lock onto a tree branch or platform, and when I attempted to jump the character wouldn’t always land correctly, sometimes even throwing itself in a direction I wasn’t aiming at. This meant I either had to backtrack to resume the small course of obstacles I was on, or worse ended up drowning in a body of water which was impossible to get out of (sugar gliders don’t swim!). 

As a vulnerable sugar glider, staying on the move is important to survival. But staying alive requires more than gliding around, and it’s hard work too, so you’ll need to search for food as well as keep an eye out for those higher up the food chain. The survival aspect of the game is rather simple, with our glider having an ‘instinct’ ability that highlights crucial aspects of the environment, such as food, enemies and tall grass to hide in if you run into danger. You’ll only be able to use it for a brief period at a time, so you’ll need to use it tactfully, but as you progress in the game it will upgrade and increase, as well your stamina for sprinting. 

You’ll also have access to a map that will highlight where objectives and side-quests can be found, as well as items of interest such as man-made structures that contain collectables, namely Holograms. Holograms reveal more about the events that led to the extinction of human life and help players engage in the narrative a little more. Even after I completed the story I wanted to explore and find more Holograms, but the awkward controls I had to battle with when climbing and leaping between different areas made exploring less appealing. 

There is a skill tree of sorts in the menu too, but it’s somewhat pointless as your skills upgrade automatically over the course of your adventure. The menu also keeps a statistics page tracking what creatures you have hunted, the food you’ve eaten and the collectables you have found, which provides a bit of an incentive to keep exploring. 

Throughout the story (which takes up to 5-10 hours to complete) you’ll have small boss-style battles with particular creatures like snakes which promise to shake up the formula, but they only require a couple of dodge rolls and button mashing to conquer. There wasn’t much variety in these scenarios and the final battle doesn’t differ in that style at all which was a bit of a letdown. 

A race against time to find your family

The world of AWAY feels alive thanks to the detail and the scale of the open areas, as well its incredible visuals, and it’s accompanied by an incredible orchestral score written by award-winning composer and audio director Mike Raznick. The music and soundscape really elevated the story and experience, successfully pulling on the heartstrings at times. I often forgot that AWAY was made by a small indie team, which is a testament to the level of work that’s gone into the beautiful world and soundscape. Adding to this is the game’s exploration mode, which lets you play as other creatures such as insects and lizards. It’s certainly worth taking for a spin if you just want to soak up all the beauty of this world. 

While AWAY is stunning to look at and listen to, there were several technical glitches that I came across, with one in particular that was consistent throughout the story that hampered the gameplay. Whenever I started snacking on a group of mushrooms, the surrounding food would spin out and away from me (perhaps they were magic mushrooms), or even sometimes float into the air out of reach. Later in the game when I was suffering from hunger and I needed to eat food located in high, isolated areas of the map, some of those valuable resources would propel themselves to areas I could no longer reach.  

Aside from noticing a few animals moving in their default animation pose, most of the technical issues I had coincided with the movement mechanics of the game which I’m hoping will be ironed out in future patches of the game.  

Final Thoughts 

Backed by gorgeous visuals and an excellent score, AWAY provides a compelling world for players to explore that’s both entertaining and educational, and its narrative about a small creature saving its family truly tugs at the heartstrings. However, AWAY’s primary movement mechanics are awkward and rough, which can put players off from wanting to delve into what the world wants to offer them. 

 Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher 

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AWAY: The Survival Series Review
A Rocky Glide Through Nature
AWAY is a beautiful and educational adventure like no other, but major gameplay mechanics are poorly executed and take away from it being a standout title in the survival genre.
The Good
Stunning, detailed graphics
Sound and score is beautifully composed
The Bad
Awkward movement mechanics that hinder overall gameplay
Glitches that affect important survival aspects
Repetitive combat sequences with no variety
6
Has A Crack
  • Breaking Walls
  • Breaking Walls / Game Seer Ventures
  • PS5 / PS4 / PC
  • September 28, 2021

AWAY: The Survival Series Review
A Rocky Glide Through Nature
AWAY is a beautiful and educational adventure like no other, but major gameplay mechanics are poorly executed and take away from it being a standout title in the survival genre.
The Good
Stunning, detailed graphics
Sound and score is beautifully composed
The Bad
Awkward movement mechanics that hinder overall gameplay
Glitches that affect important survival aspects
Repetitive combat sequences with no variety
6
Has A Crack
Written By

When Bianca isn’t rewatching the MCU films for the billionth time, she’s usually grinding out some competitive multiplayer games or sharing her backlog of single-player titles with her online audience. You can find her on Twitch as StormieStreams

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