This Miyazaki-inspired survival game lets you heal the environment

Aloft takes its name from its unique setting: a floating archipelago where you and up to eight friends find yourselves the sole survivors in a deserted world. Much like BitCraft, which I previewed at this year’s Game Developers Conference, Aloft emphasizes an interactive environment where players must give to get. However, Aloft goes a step further by introducing “healing,” allowing players to rebuild and nurture cursed islands. At Summer Game Fest, I had the chance to chat with the developers and watch them battle evil mushrooms to save the environment during a hands-off preview.

After just 30 minutes, Aloft left me with the impression of a survival game with a compelling gameplay loop: cleanse islands, design your home, and uncover the world’s hidden history. Players glide between islands, encountering those with ominous dark auras signaling infestations. Armed with axes and bows, they combat monsters, often spawned from thick roots that choke the island. Once these cursed roots are vanquished, the island transforms back into a lush paradise.

But ridding an island of its dark aura is just the beginning. Players must further nurture the island by completing a checklist of tasks unique to each one. The UI guides players through activities like planting trees or introducing wildlife. Some islands might yield blueberries, which can then be cultivated on other islands. Resources like milk or wool from animals add another layer of sustainability. These features incentivize thorough exploration, even if players don’t intend to linger on every island. Some islands may also conceal ruins that whisper tales of the past.

The developers drew inspiration from various sources, with a significant nod to Hayao Miyazaki’s films, particularly those highlighting nature and the repercussions of war. For instance, Princess Mononoke delves into the spiritual consequences of exploiting nature for greed. “It’s less about World War II or atomic threats and more about ecology and climate change,” a developer explained. “We wanted to create a game where players actively transform the environment positively, helping these islands thrive.”

Aloft also strongly encourages players to build. Discovering civilizations allows players to copy furniture designs from sketchbooks and recreate them. Friends visiting can also replicate any designs in a player’s home. Choosing an island as a base comes with the added thrill of attaching propeller-like devices to steer it like a ship. However, maintaining the balance is crucial: disrupting the island’s ecosystem can lead to its deterioration and eventual infection.

Aloft stands out as a robust survival game with a unique identity centered on environmental restoration and reviving lost civilizations. While the initial 30-minute preview was promising, I’m eager to see how the game’s progression holds up over longer play sessions. For now, we’ll have to wait until its full release—or dive into the demo available on Steam.

Aloft is slated for release on PC in late 2024. Its demo is currently available on Steam.