The Other 99 is a Survival-Action hybrid which is currently in Steam’s Early Access program. It is a first-person, stealth-friendly, utterly brutal title that pits the player against the other 99 survivors on a mysterious, desolate island. “The only way off the island is through the other 99,” explains one cryptic note. But can this still-unfolding release from developer Burning Arrow hold its own in a sea of ruthless Survival-genre games featuring just as much mystery, mayhem, and murder?
The Other 99 faces the challenges that all Early Access (EA) titles are subjected: to Scrutiny on the part of the Steam community, the suspicion that the final project might never arrive, and a healthy dose of skepticism no matter how big the updates, bug fixes, and new features might be. Video games that carry the EA label are often seen as a dubious prospect, but Burning Arrow’s frequent updates, discussion board activity, and new trailers go a long way to soothing the community’s concerns.
Still, The Other 99 is a game plagued by repetition, poor optimization, frequent stability issues, and the questionable implementation of permadeath. I had to run the game on as low of settings as possible, and even then combat was often tedious rather than exciting because my performance would suddenly drop-off and leave me vulnerable to my opponent’s attacks. I also had a reoccurring problem in which the tutorial instructions for combat tactics would pop-up even after initially showing me those tips, completely interrupting the moment and jarring me out of my melee flow.
Survival genre titles require a heavy dose of immersion to feel truly satisfying, and The Other 99 both delivers on this requirement while shooting itself in the foot. On the one hand, the atmosphere is ominous, and the island feels as untamed and merciless as one might expect when housing some Battle Royale kind of competition. The storm crashing overhead, the dark caves full of dangers and notes, the dense if unmoving foliage all paint a pretty picture and one that blends well with the dire straits the character faces in this survival-of-the-fittest environment. However, the repetition quickly works against these effects, and I hope the final release features more variety and detail in the enemy characters, their campsites, the ruined buildings, and other locations on the island. Still, for a project that remains under development, The Other 99 is off to a good start, especially if Burning Arrow continues to add more weapons, equipment, and cryptic notes or diagrams to the world.
As I mentioned previously, The Other 99 has a permadeath system, which – as with many other aspects of this title – is both a good thing and a terrible thing. It certainly encourages deeper immersion and more patient, tactical decisions; I found myself approaching enemies and new locations with a heightened sense of urgency and danger after I realized that saving my game only worked if I quit willingly, rather than died (as your Save disappears upon death). Another key aspect of the Other 99 is the natural reward system for a Stealth approach. You have dozens and dozens of opponents out there, waiting for you – or killing each other if you’re lucky. Your weapons are limited, not to mention your health restoration items are a rarity, it’s often wise to be sneaky rather than reckless. If you’re lucky enough to have a sharp weapon, like a bone shiv, you can creep up on unsuspecting opponents and brutally stab them from behind, with a surprising lack of damage to your weapon.
The Other 99 shows a tremendous amount of potential, but the devil is in the details. The rough, unstable nature of the game itself is a huge problem, and even on low settings I consistently had issues with simply functioning, especially during combat. There needs to be a lot more of variety in the stuff players encounter – the people, their homes, weapons, and supplies. Still, Burning Arrow is developing a Survival title that breaks away from the typical formula, and The Other 99 even takes it a step further by upping the ante with permadeath. The storyline is intriguing, and I found myself excited to discover a note or some roughly hewn message left on a stone wall, which makes for a refreshing new layer of interest beyond the usual resource management, senseless murder, and tests of patience.
With all Early Access titles, there’s a measure of caution when it comes to investing in a work-in-progress. I sincerely hope that The Other 99 continues to deliver on its promises because it stands to be a very fun addition to any Survival genre library, especially if we can get more content and more stability. One of the “long-term” goals listed on the Steam page is the addon of multiple endings, in addition to world events, ranged combat, and a larger island location. All of these things would help The Other 99 outshine similar titles, like 7 Days to Die, and Rust, or at the very least share in some of the popularity those Survival video games enjoy.
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