Review: On My Own, by Beach Interactive

On My Own is an outdoor survival game featuring exceptional production values, pixel art, and calming music. With little fanfare, you’re thrust into the wildness, tasked with surviving on your own. The ultimate goal is to survive long enough to climb the mountain.

On My Own is dubbed a woodland survival adventure game by Beach Interactive and Close Studios. Released on Steam last month, the game is now making its way to iOS, Android, and soon consoles. Before I start this review, I’ll just mention that I personally know the designer and artist Kyle Weik. I hail from Fargo, North Dakota, where Beach Interactive resides. I’d talked to Kyle about the game for months before it released, so naturally I was a bit disposed toward liking this game.

That said, the subject matter itself was a natural draw. Ever since I was a kid I’ve gone camping with my family. As I got older, we did more extreme camping; I’ve been on about a dozen canoe and backpacking adventures over the years.

At an early age I fell in love with books like My Side of the Mountain and The Hatchet. I was also a Boy Scout, and trained in wilderness survival. Part of me has always longed to strike out on my own, to be alone in the wilderness with nothing but my wits and wisdom. While being marooned in the wilderness would obviously be a terrifying experience—especially for loved ones left behind—I’ve always wondered, Could I survive in the wilderness if I had to?

I’ll likely never know the answer to that. While I’ll always have a love of camping, the modern world is such that it’s nigh-impossible, without immense sacrifice that I’m unwilling to endure, to just drop everything and go into the wilderness. I’d leave too many loved ones behind, for one.

On My Own (OMO), though, afforded me a few hours to think through that possibility. You choose the sex of your character, read a brief letter about why you’re going into the wilderness, and then you’re there. You have a cabin, a hatchet, and a backpack. With little guidance, the game forces you to trap and hunt your own food, sew clothing from hides, construct weapons and tools, and start and maintain fires.

There’s a fair amount of variety to the activities, but time moves quickly through the seasons, which adds a welcome challenge. Berries only grow in the summer. Plants, needed for making bows, are only available in the summer and fall. The winters are cold, limiting how far you can venture from camp before your energy is depleted.

The first couple winters were brutal for me. I didn’t construct a bow that first winter, and berries barely provide any energy. My hunger meter gradually decreased as the winter wore on: I wasn’t prepared, and I thought I might starve at one point.

The second summer I worked hard to gather the materials for a bow so that I could shoot a deer. But the bow broke as I hunted a deer. Then my second bow broke. The rabbits closest to my home were already harvested. I entered another winter unprepared.

As the game progressed through the years (playing a year takes about 40 minutes), I got better at surviving. Soon I had a surplus of food and rabbit skins. The game is a bit unbalanced at times, where you might gather a ton of certain resources and then lack other resources. And time can move a bit fast—both the length of day, and the number of days in a season (ranging from 2-4 days for each season) could be extended.

But for your money, the game is still a great adventure. There isn’t a lot of variety to the music, but the twangy banjo music is uplifting and never gets old.

Conflict is minimal. The need to eat is an ever-present drive, and occasionally you might get mauled by a bear (I learned right away how close I could safely get to the grizzly bear, and where that line was!). The game does not present nature as an enemy, or as something to fear. Nature simply exists, I alongside the myriad animals.

Human contact is minimal, but I never felt alone or lonely. I felt content, satisfied. Often while I played my breath with hitch and I would deeply sigh, relaxed, fulfilled.

The loading screens are peppered with quotes about the natural world. For example,

Seeking means to have a goal; but finding means: to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal.

~Herman Hesse

The game doesn’t hold your hand, and provides very few hints on how to craft new items. I resisted looking up a wiki how to progress. When I finally discovered how to make a longbow, one that wouldn’t break like my bundle bow, I felt so accomplished!

If you are looking for an end-goal, the game provides one in the form of different environments. You can camp in four landscapes, the last being the bleak and lonely mountain. Make it to the mountain and you “beat the game.” This is a game, though, where the destination isn’t as important as the journey. Any woodsman will tell you that being in nature, in and of itself, is enough.

This game released during the Lenten season. As a Methodist participating in Lent, this game had some interesting spiritual parallels for me. Lent is a time of fasting, of journeying, of remembering. The 40 days of Lent mimics Jesus’ own 40 days in the wilderness, on his own.

The drive I feel to set out on my own is more than my ego speaking, more than me thinking about how awesome I would be at surviving in the wilderness. Anybody who’s spent significant time in the wilderness knows that being in Creation is one of the healthiest boosts you can give your spirituality. And you don’t have to be a Christian to recognize this: even non-believers recognize how clarifying the wilderness is to the soul.

For all the challenges those first two years posed to me, eventually I fell into a rut. Harvesting deer and rabbits became easy. I stocked up on berries, fish, hides, feathers, and wood. I accumulated so much that surviving was no longer difficult. As I played the game, I became complacent. I dared walk closer to the grizzly bears, knowing that even if they attacked me, it wouldn’t seriously set back my efforts.

To me, survival games are always most enjoyable in the beginning, when the danger is real. The first time I played Minecraft, back when it was in beta, I had no idea what to do. The first couple nights were actually frightening to me. I had no shelter, and I died over and over again by the slings of arrows from skeletons that I could not see.

But then I learned to build a shelter, mine iron, and craft weapons and armor. I started over many times in Minecraft, and the first few hours are always the most enjoyable. I eventually reach the point where I know how to craft everything, and the challenge is gone.

By the time I got to the third camp of OMO, I had so much stuff that I had nowhere to store it. I just left it on the ground, scattered around my lean-to. I had become rich.

The same thing happened to Sam Gribley in the My Side of the Mountain series, and Brian in The Hatchet series. The first books of those series are the best, when the boys are just learning how to survive. By the later books, they, too, become rich.

And I suppose that’s the natural way of the wilderness. Even alone, you are truly on your own for only a very short time. Then you have your stuff as company.

The third biome didn’t pose much struggle for me, and I was thinking of progressing to the final biome, the snowcapped mountain. With my goal of survival long since achieved, it was time to see the end game.

I loaded up Steam, and as usual, it went through an obnoxiously long update process (why does Steam need to update almost every day?). The OMO title screen loaded, and I went to “Continue.”

Unfortunately, my save was gone. I restarted my computer and Steam, but my adventure was lost to the ether.

It seems my destination is out of my reach for now. Anybody who’s ever lost a saved game before knows that, mentally, it saps your desire to start over again. I probably had six hours into the game: not a whole lot. But still, it seems like, for now, my time in the wilderness is finished.

Many great explorers get close to their destination but never reach it. Twenty-four Americans have visited the Moon, but only 12 have walked on its surface. Of the three people who’ve been to the Moon twice, Jim Lovell never stepped foot on it, orbiting around the Moon on the Apollo 8 and 13 missions.

And I’m sure there are thousands of people who’ve attempted to climb Mount Everest, only to turn back at the last minute, to be delayed by storm, or to die on the way up. Sometimes that’s how survival goes.

One day I’ll return to OMO after the melancholy subsides. Even though my journey ended in a way I didn’t expect, anticipate, or plan, I’m still satisfied with the game, and I’d recommend the game to anybody looking for an adventure.

After all, the destination was never the goal.

Game on,
~Dennis


Check out the On My Own blog for a cool look, with videos, about how the creators made On My Own!