Cardlife is a fantasy open world survival game that has been part of the Steam Early Access program since last October. Its store page promises plenty of adventures, a lot of interesting features, and extensive mod support; wrapped in environments we’ll be able to explore at our leisure.

I’m quite fond of the genre and I’m always happy to give new projects a chance to impress me, but how is this particular title holding up?

It’s Dangerous Out There

First things first: we should mention that the game is currently in pre-alpha, build at the time of this review. There seems to still be a lot to do for the team at Freejam Games before a full version of their indie title will see the light of day.

That said, I love the game’s current aesthetics! A whole world of cardboard appeals to my inner child. I remember building forts and spaceships with my cousins from a young age while visiting our grandparents, which is probably why I felt a small glow of nostalgia when I entered the in-game world for the first time.

The whole thing, however, was ruined about 20 seconds later. The wildlife in Cardlife is not very friendly. Everything I have encountered so far had violent objections to my existence. On top of that, as with any survival game, the player starts flimsy; and that lack of power shows here.

In a one on one encounter, if you have a basic wooden sword, you could manage to fend off weaker enemies. Sadly, whenever you encounter anything a bit stronger, the best strategy seems to be running away. This brings up my first and honestly my main problem with the current state of Cardlife. Survival games should be a challenge, but a challenging game should never become a chore.

Here’s One I Made Earlier

On the other hand, Cardlife features a crafting mechanic that brings something different to the genre. If the player manages to survive long enough to punch a tree and gather some fiber, they can get into building tools. This is where things become interesting, if not a little bit silly!

When crafting, it’s up to the player how things will look. Will their hatchet have spikes? Their pick-axes have round edges? Some of us may even choose to build a shovel with a massive hole in the middle!

The ability to design my own tools was a fun little gimmick and, at least to some, I’m sure it will be a huge attraction. Sadly for me, after about an hour of gameplay, I just started keeping things as simple as I could. This was for a couple of reasons: I didn’t notice what my tools looked like when I was using them and the system for drawing was maybe a bit too clunky.

When drawing the shapes outline, the player has to link up dots. You’re essentially free to decide what your items will look like but still need to follow a few guidelines. There is also a noticeable lack of an undo button, meaning you’re forced to start from scratch if anything goes wrong; something that, it goes without saying, you’ll find yourself having to deal with on a regular basis.

Is Cardlife Worth A Look?

If I were to be 100% honest, I’m not sold on Cardlife. It is hands down the best looking pre-alpha I have ever played and there’s definitely an interesting idea here; but one I just personally never found engaging!

Game-play wise, this indie title still needs a ton of work. Players can already explore the world, craft items, and hunt animals, but there seem to be no end-goal other than mere survival at the moment.

Don’t get me wrong: Cardlife looks great on paper. Unfortunately, most of what the devs promise is simply not there yet. I should also mention that I only experienced the single player. I imagine this is a game that would come to life with a group of friends; even in its current state.

If you like the idea of making a home out of cardboard, this may be the game for you. Cardlife is currently on Steam and on the Humble Store. Note that, if you decide to buy from the latter, The Indie Toaster might receive a small commission.