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Raft review: An ocean of possibilities

Redbeet Interactive has finally published Raft's 1.0 version, so let's see how the final package stacks up in the survival genre.

Image: Redbeed Interactive

Raft has been a staple in the survival game space since it first entered early access back in 2018. With its 1.0 version finally being released on Steam, it’s time to give Redbeet Interactive’s ocean survival/exploration game a fair examination.

Somewhere beyond the sea

When players first load into Raft, they find themselves on a singular block of wood floating in a seemingly endless body of water. Equipped with only a plastic hook, players will have to gather resources in order to keep themselves alive and build a shelter, a raft.

There’s very little tutorial and onboarding, the game drops you in and asks you to figure the rest out. Naturally, I began tossing my hook into the water, reeling in the wooden planks, plastic containers, and palm leaves that floated past. Soon, I was able to craft myself a Building Hammer and expand my raft, adding foundation and giving myself some more room to place other useful items.

As time goes on, you’ll have to maintain your hunger and thirst meters. If either reaches zero, you’ll slowly start to lose health. While the player is always surrounded by water, quenching your thirst isn’t as simple as scooping up some ocean water and taking a sip. You’ll have to build a purifier to make it suitable for consumption. As for food, the game provides an array of options, from farming, to fishing, and hunting. Early on, the vast majority of your time is spent desperately juggling to maintain your hunger and thirst, as they deplete rather quickly. That said, you eventually settle into a comfortable rhythm, and that’s when the fun begins.

As you gather more resources in Raft, you’ll soon gain access to much more advanced versions of the rudimentary tools and items you previously used. Scrap hooks let you mindlessly extract more items from the ocean, and metal spears help you better defend yourself against various threats. You can also construct walls, stairs, roofs, as well as furniture in order to make your Raft uniquely yours.

What Raft nails so well is a sense of natural progression. Again, there is essentially no tutorial, but the game still very clearly lays out the steps that I need to take to improve my character and my raft. Playing with friends, we soon realized that a couple grills and water purifiers weren’t enough, so we constructed Advanced Grills and Purifiers. As sharks would frequently bite chunks out of our raft, I began to use stronger solid wood for foundation, reinforcing it with an iron frame.

When we got tired of moving through the ocean at a snail’s pace, we crafted sails to push us along faster. Eventually, we had the materials to create a steering wheel, and even an engine. Before we knew it, the raft that started off as a glorified piece of driftwood was a bustling community with multiple floors and sections.

The lost world

While the Raft is incredibly open-ended, there actually is a narrative slowly unraveling as players explore. The ocean is dotted with islands to discover, both large and small. Some of these feature notes about the world and the events leading up to the start of your game. There are even NPC characters to meet that you can unlock as playable characters.

My friends and I had a really good time exploring some of the story-focused islands, solving environmental puzzles and putting together the pieces of the story. There are also some non-island points of interest to be discovered, which I won’t detail here because they’re really cool when you discover them on your own for the first time.

Islands also serve as another place to stop and gather resources. Once you’ve dropped your anchor, you’re free to see what islands have to offer. There are trees to chop down, trading posts where you can acquire new items, and the surrounding waters usually include clay, metal, and copper ore, which are key crafting components. Of course, it isn’t all sunshines and rainbows, and there are almost always looming threats in Raft.

Deep blue sea

Sharks are the primary antagonist of Raft. The game spawns them around your raft, and you can almost always count on one being no more than a few seconds away whenever you jump into the water. You can usually take them out after repeated stabs with a spear, or shots with an arrow. After a while, I simply found sharks to be more annoying than anything else.

Even when you kill a shark, that only grants you 1-2 minutes of peace before another one spawns nearby. While I understand this is done to keep players on their toes, it feels like overkill. Once I had a more advanced setup, it wasn’t very hard to kill sharks, and it felt like a chore whenever I wanted to explore the water. Besides, Sharks should feel like a big bad, a decreased spawn rate but perhaps increased strength would make shark encounters feel less cheap and more worthwhile.

Sharks are just one of the dangerous creatures that will attempt to thwart you on your Raft adventure. There are hogs, bears, and even a massive bird that serves no purpose in life other than dropping heavy rocks on your head.

Going with the flow

Raft is simply one of the most charming survival games I’ve played. Simply standing on my raft as it floats over the waves through an endless body of water is truly relaxing. There’s also a great sense of pride and achievement that comes with seeing what I’ve built every time I load into the game. It’s an easy recommendation for survival fans that may have been holding off on jumping into early access, as well as those just learning about the game for the first time.

This review is based on a copy of Raft purchased from Steam. Raft is available now on Steam for $19.99 USD.

News Editor

Donovan is a young journalist from Maryland, who likes to game. His oldest gaming memory is playing Pajama Sam on his mom's desktop during weekends. Pokémon Emerald, Halo 2, and the original Star Wars Battlefront 2 were some of the most influential titles in awakening his love for video games. After interning for Shacknews throughout college, Donovan graduated from Bowie State University in 2020 with a major in broadcast journalism and joined the team full-time. He is a huge Scream nerd and film fanatic that will talk with you about movies and games all day. You can follow him on twitter @Donimals_

Review for
  • Great sense of progression
  • Satisfying loop of resource gathering/management
  • Freedom to uniquely customize raft
  • Interesting lore to uncover
  • Sharks are more of an annoyance than anything
  • Hunger and Thirst meters can be pretty aggressive early on
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