There's a moment early in survival game Arid that's a bit of a kick in the gut. After surviving a plane crash in a scorching desert, I'm scurrying around searching for clean water to fill my canteen, stockpiling what little food I can find, crafting bandages from spare cloth, and venturing carefully into spooky, claustrophobic caves using a stick doused in oil as a torch.
And when I leave the cave, I see an airplane on the horizon. It's my would-be rescuers, searching for me. But they're looking in the wrong place. The plane is slowly crossing the sky a few miles away from my own downed aircraft. I won't be able to just gather supplies and then hunker down here and wait to be rescued. I've got to cross the sun-blasted desert to reach the search area if I want to have any hope of surviving. Sheeeeit.
Arid is a project created by students at the Breda University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. As a result, it's completely free to play on Steam, and any fan of survival games should really give it a try. It's in Early Access so it's not yet complete, and some aspects of Arid are still pretty rough, like the very basic UI.
But the desert environments are fantastically done. Not a lot of games, even those set in a desert, wind up really feeling hot. Far Cry 2 did it well with its sun-bleached African country, and Assassin's Creed Origins' deserts really felt like deserts. Arid feels damn hot, too. The landscapes are completely still and quiet and you can really feel the sun beating down on your shoulders as your boots crunch over the dusty ground. The sun is a real threat, too, raising your temperature and burning your skin if you don't protect yourself by finding shady areas to rest in, or by smearing your body with clay or aloe you find on your searches.
Those caves I mentioned will keep you out of the sun, but they're extremely spooky, too. Real darkness is something else a lot of games don't do well, but the caves in Arid are pitch black (nighttime is extremely dark, too) and it's nerve-wracking walking through narrow tunnels in search of hidden supply caches with just a measly little improvised torch to light the way. There are sometimes bodies down there, too, others who fled the baking sun but never made it back out again. It's unsettling.
You'll have some help while trying to survive Arid. The region you've crashed in isn't entirely devoid of civilization. There were attempts to set up mining operations in the desert at some point, so there are crumbling little buildings, outposts, and other half-finished structures dotted around the landscape where you can sometimes find food, water, supplies, and the occasional bed to sleep in. (Arid's location is based on the real Atacama Desert in South America, which was mined for nitrates for a number of years.)
There's some basic crafting you can do—the desert has no trees to chop down (thankfully) but you can disassemble ramshackle furniture and gather sticks to cobble together tools. Sometimes you even find discarded mining tools like shovels and pickaxes to help you break into new caves or dig up resources from the ground.
The biggest threat to my survival in Arid, apart from the relentless sun, is my own malfunctioning brain. I keep forgetting where stuff is. I set a trap in a cave hoping to snare some small furry animal for food, but now I can't remember what cave it's in. I know I stored some extra supplies in a little hut because I was overencumbered, but I can't remember where the hut was. I'm pretty sure my terrible memory would be my undoing in a real survival situation, because I'd burn up all my energy backtracking and re-backtracking to find all my precious supply caches.
Thanks to my crummy memory, I don't have high hopes of surviving much longer in Arid. I may have gotten a bit closer to the search plane, which I still occasionally spot on the horizon. But it may just be my fevered imagination. I'm currently trying to repair the entrance to some abandoned mines so I can go spelunking in what's sure to be another spooky cave, but I'm running out of food and I've only got a little aloe left to smear over my skin. I could try searching and working at night, but I'm low on oil for my torch, too. I have a feeling I'm going to wind up just another mummified corpse in a cave.
Again, since it's a student project, Arid is completely free to play on Steam. I recommend checking it out if you want a beautiful and harsh survival experience. Hopefully your memory is better than mine.