Early Access: UNDER the SAND

After a year's hiatus, UNDER the SAND suddenly reappears, completely rebuilt. Is it still the same, beautiful apocalyptic road trip?

Least year, I wrote a review of UNDER the SAND, an early access game on Steam. I don’t usually purchase early access games, because they tend to change considerably during early access, and a number of them are even abandoned by their developers. But UNDER the SAND spoke to me in a way few other games did.

While still in very early stages of development, it was clear that UNDER the SAND was a child of the road trip genre, popularized by the 2016 title Jalopy. In Jalopy, the two main characters go on a road trip from East Berlin to Istanbul. During the trip, they have to keep maintaining their car, a Laika, which is heavily based on the classic Trabant 601.

UNDER the SAND took all the gameplay mechanics from Jalopy, and put them in a beautiful, low-poly, 1980’s post-apocalyptic desert. Even though a lot of content and features were still missing, UNDER the SAND was very much playable, and what a beautiful experience it was. Behind every turn was a screenshot-worthy moment, and the game felt like it had loads of potential under the hood. I enjoyed UNDER the SAND so much, I even got involved in its development by translating the game into Norwegian.

But in July 2019, the game’s development came to a screeching halt when the sole developer stopped posting updates to UNDER the SAND’s main Steam page. You might even say that he

*puts on sunglasses*

went under the sand.

Same But Different?

In May this year, a teaser video for a “full rebuild” of UNDER the SAND appeared on the game’s Steam page. It turned out the game was not completely abandoned after all, which certainly came as a nice surprise. On June 25, the rebuild was made available for download on Steam, and I took a quick drive to see if anything significant had changed from the old build.

Right off the bat, it’s obvious that the new UNDER the SAND build is a lot more detailed visually. One of the main strength of the previous version of the game was that it managed to depict beauty with a ridiculously low poly count, but thankfully, the increased detail graphics details haven’t ruined the esthetics.

Screenshot from UNDER the SAND showing a house and a church in the desert.

UNDER the SAND previously used a credits system, where you would purchase the items you needed from vendors scattered around the game world. In the rebuild you are scavenging instead, and hunger, thirst and sleep has been added to the game. These are mechanics you’ll find in every typical survival game, and feels like a clever change by UNDER the SAND’s developer.

Other than that, it looks like most of the changes from the previous build is under the hood. There are supposed to be at least one NPC somewhere, but I didn’t managed to find it. There is still a lot of potential in UNDER the SAND, but the developer at some point has to focus on adding a story, player goals, and other things that give the players a sense of purpose when they sit down with the game.

What the Future Holds

It’s good to see that UNDER the SAND is alive and kicking again. But it’s impossible to say what will happen to the game going forward. As a player, it feels a bit like being reunited with an life-long friend that suddenly abandoned me, and now I’m having a serious case of separation anxiety. It’s nice to have the friend back, but it’s hard to shake the nagging feeling that the friend will disappear again with no warning. I guess that’s the risk you take with everything created by a single person.

That said, I still recommend UNDER the SAND, not for the gameplay mechanics, features, story, or content - of which there is little at the moment - but for the mesmerizing atmosphere and the breathtaking visuals.

UNDER the SAND is set in the apocalyptic future we’re steadily heading towards. I, for one, hope it looks as good as this so we can enjoy the scenery while we continue to shot ourselves in our collective foot.

Sreenshot from UNDER the SAND showing a long, straight road leading into the desert.


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