Captain’s log: Yarr. It’s been some time since the great wave came and washed us away from our island home. The three of us that survived have abandoned the land. We set out to make our own home from the flotsam polluting the seven seas, cobbling together plastic and debris into houses and workshops. It hasn’t been easy, but now, after so long, we made — wait, has it only been three hours?
Flotsam, as the name would suggest, is all about reclaiming the garbage of the sea to build out your traveling, floating town. The survivors of a natural disaster need to scramble to make this lifestyle sustainable, lest they run out of food and drinkable water. Living while stranded on the open sea is a strong premise for a survival city builder. But unfortunately, it’s as hollow as the plastic your city is built on, and it won’t be long until you’re idly floating on the waves with nothing left to do.
Just keep swimming
On the surface, Flotsam has all of the basics. You send members of your ever-growing population out to collect resources like plastic, wood, metal, and food. You start with only a floating town center, so the early collection is done by swimming out and grabbing the items by hand. Soon after, you can build boats for both resource collection and fishing. Why one boat couldn’t be used for both is beyond me, but whatever. Most materials are then used to build new facilities that allow for further survival.
You need places for people to sleep, stills to make water, workshops to process material and food, and docks for your boats. Plastic can float, and it’s the base for everything you can build. Wood, by nature of being reclaimed from the ocean, is wet and needs to be dried in a workshop before it becomes useable. From there, you can use it to build or process it into firewood to power your water stills.
Much like another city-based survival game, RimWorld, you don’t directly control your citizens. Instead, Flotsam has you set tasks as well as each individual’s priorities. Not having direct control could be frustrating, but after a certain point, you won’t have enough plates spinning that require direct attention for it to really matter.
There is a trait system in place here as well. Each survivor has a quirk that can positively or negatively affect their ability to work. Some need to drink or eat more often, while some can move quicker than average. That should make certain people better suited to particular tasks. However, in my experience, it doesn’t make any difference and can be ignored.
Traveling the Seven Seas
Once outfitted with a sail, you can move your floating home to a new map with fresh resources. You can reach the end of the travel screen in a little over an hour. Doing so simply dumps you back on the first map again, letting you choose a new path to explore. None of the maps are interesting or distinct enough for this to be worth it, however. Every map is a small circle with more or less the same look. You’ll discover mostly empty ocean with about three islands — if you’re lucky. Patches of plastic, wood, and schools of fish are randomly distributed each time you move to a new map.
Each small map you travel between in Flotsam has one or more points of interest to explore as well. Simply assigning someone the task of scavenging an abandoned town or factory can lead to finding more survivors, rare resources, and research points. You can’t actually explore any of the islands other than hitting a scavenge prompt, so you have little incentive to look at anything for very long. After your second or third map, they’ll all start to blend together.
Research points are used to unlock new buildings like water storage, metal workshops, and larger housing. Honestly, though, at this stage of the development, the vast majority of what you can unlock is largely unneeded to survive. As long as you can finish the two forges and the large desalinator, pretty much every other need can be covered just by scavenging. That said, getting everything researched takes little effort and can be done in about three hours.
Flotsam has, at most, about three hours worth of content right now. Realistically, you’ll be done getting to a self-sufficient town after about two. Even with this courtesy glance at its foundation, it’s likely the game could rise to the top. There just isn’t nearly enough to do here to justify buying it at the moment. I’d be very interested to see where they take it in a year or two.
Flotsam is currently in early access.