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Oh my goodness, I completely love Raft

Game of pontoon?

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Browsing Itch.io the other day, as is my wont, I couldn’t help but be reminded about Raft [Itch.io site]. Brendan previously spotted it, and I forgot to grab it then. Proving rather popular on the platform since its launch in December, the shots immediately reminded me of my old love, Salt. But this is even more specific than that stripped down of survival sims. This is stripped to a single raft, endlessly bobbing through the sea. And I’ve loved it!Premise: You’re on a raft.

What a pitch.

Beginning with four panels of wooden slats in a square, and a hook on a line, it seems completely impossible that in an hour or two you could be on a multi-platform floating home with tables, chairs, a garden for growing vegetables, even one-tree arboretums for cultivating palms, along with their supplies of wood, leaves and coconuts. And, frankly, it would be impossible were you not in the most flotsam-strewn seas imaginable. Somewhere up tide of you must have been one hell of a multi-boat pile up, because floating toward your raft are astonishing volumes of planks, leaves and scraps of metal, along with the occasional barrels packed with more of the same amongst potatoes, beetroot and seeds. So yeah, this isn’t exactly a game focused on realism.

That’s something rather driven home by the incredible growing speeds of your plants – you can pretty much see the trees growing, and vegetables will go from sprouts to harvestable before the sun sets on the same day. Which is silly, but more importantly, fun.

However, none of that matters if you can’t get water sorted. You’re clearly a handy sort, since you can quickly sling together a sea-water purification system with just a few planks and some string woven from leaves. You’ll also need to figure out a way to get sea water you can then pop onto your fire-based still. And you might want to try stringing together some wood to expand your raft a little, and you’ll need a hammer to do that. Oh, and maybe a chest to store things in. And all the while you’ll be getting awfully hungry, and might want to see if you can put together a rudimentary fishing rod (complete with float, somehow). You’ll then want a fire to cook your catch on, and perhaps any potatoes that might have washed past, unless your stomach is content enough that you could consider popping one into a planter to grow three more. Oh, and watch out for sharks.

This took me a good few goes to get right. Shark attacks are not easy to deal with, and you’ll need a spear to have any chance of not just watching the beasts eating a square off your raft along with any items you may have placed on that spot. The bastards. Figuring out the right order to craft in, which items to make first, what your priorities are, is a huge element of the game. (I’ve been a sneaky sort in the paragraph above.) At first I worried it might all be too frantic, since hunger and thirst are certainly gained at a daft speed. (It’s that perennial issue of survival games: time goes by very fast as shown by a rapid day/night cycle, but you and your character move at regular real-world speed.) But once I got the hang of it, I found a rhythm, where I was ensuring water and food were being processed with a set regularity, the gaps between used to catch the passing debris with my hook to build up my supplies, or to craft with what I’d already found.

Once I was settled into this groove, things really came together, and I’ve now reached the point where I’m pretty much sorted. After multiple deaths and abandoned attempts, this time I’ve got stocks of baked potatoes, baked mackerel to feed an army, and am focused more on improving the aesthetics of my multi-tiered raft than I am worrying about whether I’ll make it through the well-lit nights. Sharks are still a bloody pain in the arse, but I’m keeping everything important on the inside of my wooden complex, or upstairs alongside my palm tree collection.

This is, I dearly hope, early days for Raft. Looking at the updates since its launch, developers Raft Developer (enigmatic) have been cramming in lots of new content, two monthly updates each pretty much doubling the number of items, crafting options, and variables. Again, it reminds me of the early days of Salt where there was pretty much a boat and some identical islands to wander, as it’s possible to reach the end of Raft’s offerings within two or three hours of a successful attempt, but with new updates there will be more to do and more reasons to return.

What it needs more than anything else – and what I imagine will still be a good few updates away – is goals. I think, beyond seeing how ridiculously large and intricate a raft I can build for no reason, I’ve essentially “finished” it. But if there were far more complex crafting opportunities to reach for (currently everything is available to you pretty much straight away), perhaps leading to ways to find opportunities for rescue, or other stranded NPCs to welcome on board, or destinations to sail for (maps, compass, etc), or… well, I’m sure the developers are thinking exactly the same things, and seeing what they can figure out as they go.

I get the impression from comments on their site, and the very peculiar copyright message in place of a Twitter description, that they’re suffering from copycats attempting to pass themselves off as this game on platforms other than Itch. That suggests a) that people care about this game, and there’s money to be made, and b) they should hurry the heck up and get their game on other platforms to make that sweet, sweet cash before the rip-offs steal it. I love the idea of supporting Itch, but when a Steam community could do so much good for this, it seems like madness to avoid it. I hate the ubiquity of crappy Steam as much as anyone – but gosh, it’d do the game some favours, and possibly bring in a ton of money.

Which would be well deserved! This is lovely and simple and fun. It’s not going to interest the masochistic survivalist loonies, until there’s some extreme difficulty options added at least, but for those who love getting in at the start of a potentially burgeoning game, this is prime stuff. And since you could get it for free right now, or pay what you think it’s worth, what better time to get on board. ON BOARD, GET IT?! Sorry.

Raft is available now for as much as you want to pay, for Windows, Mac and Linux, via Itch.io.

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John Walker

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One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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