We may earn a commission when you buy through links in our articles. Learn more.

Steam’s new survival game hit mixes Ark and Palworld to weird results

Creative mask mechanics and a lush ancient Mayan setting help me look past new survival game Soulmask’s janky and downright bad bits.

A masked figure from Steam survival game Soulmask standing in front of a Mayan village..

The beat of drums and roaring fires drown out the cries of the woman strapped to a ceremonial altar before she is ritualistically sacrificed. The butchers turn to me, a prisoner trapped in a wooden cage. Soon another clan attacks and I flee into the rainforest amid the chaos. After a shocking introduction, Soulmask’s early game devolves into disappointingly rote survival game fare, but once you’ve passed the tutorial stage, its unique flourishes start to shine through in the ancient Mayan setting.

Soulmask always has something new and shiny to tempt me onwards and keep me wanting more. The character creation during the intro is underwhelming, offering just some preset looks and color customizations, but after my escape and discovery of an ancient temple, a mask attaches itself to my face. This, too, can be customized, and it offers three distinct ways of playing, with perks for ranged or melee combat, or stealthy buffs.

YouTube Thumbnail

This mask is also key to the game’s most interesting elements. With it, I can bend weakened NPCs to my will, using its intense stare to put them into a state of hypnosis that forces them to join my clan when they awake. You can upgrade it by venturing into mysterious ruins and finding stone shards imbued with ancient yet futuristic power. But I shouldn’t get ahead of myself.

Before I can raid temples, I need to tool up. The first hour or two of Soulmask are the dullest. I have to search for rocks and branches to make rudimentary weapons and tools, something I’ve done dozens of times in dozens of survival games. Resources don’t highlight automatically, which makes them difficult to spot at first, but I eventually familiarised myself with the art style and grew to enjoy the game’s immersive qualities.

A futuristic yet ancient shrine within some overgrown ruins is activated, sending a bright beam of energy upwards.

Like Ark: Survival Evolved, the technology tree is large and requires a frustrating amount of modularity. Why do I need to unlock thatch floors, roofs, doors, and walls with five separate technology points rather than purchasing them all in a handy bundle? Obviously I want the roof and the door, not just a box without a lid.

Fortunately, some neat quality-of-life features stop this from becoming a deal breaker. When I tried to unlock something I didn’t have the prerequisite items for, Soulmask offered to autobuy all the necessary tech first. Unfortunately, there’s no proximity inventory while at camp, meaning I have to move between chests and fill my pockets before I can build new upgrades for my camp. Soulmask is a Steam early-access game, so hopefully we’ll see features like this added further down the line.

Three members of an ancient Mayan clan sit on their grass mats around a large bonfire in a thatch building on the beach in Soulmask.

A large chunk of the in-game text could also do with a proofread. From grammatical errors and typos to sentences that just read weirdly, there are a lot of issues with the writing. Visually, though, Soulmask looks surprisingly pretty and runs smoothly, especially for an early-access release. I was playing with all settings on very high with an NVIDIA RTX 4060 and AMD Ryzen 7 and never noticed any frame drops or texture pop. The rainforest is lush and the night is dark, hiding vicious animals waiting in ambush – it’s a great setting for a survival game. You can still expect some early-access jank here, including stilted animations and trees falling through the ground once felled, but there’s nothing too egregious.

What worries me about Soulmask is the presentation of its characters and how that fits with the core gameplay loop of expanding your clan through violence and hypnosis. In particular, the game’s overt sexualization of its women makes the virgin sacrifices and push toward kidnapping and forcefully enlisting the locals feel especially tone deaf.

A man holds a woman by the neck and uses his golden, beaked mask to hypnotize her. A bright stream of energy pours from the mask to her face.

Once kidnapped, you’ll put your clan members to work. Gathering is a chore, but in Soulmask, it’s supposed to be. It takes a lot of vines to make rope, and a lot of rope to make anything useful, from buildings to tools. Just like in Palworld, you can delegate menial tasks to NPCs. I had a lot of control over them all and was able to assign numerous chores to complete in order of priority. Also like Palworld, it’s possible to change a ton of the XP and resource gain settings, so you can personalize the game to your liking.

The NPCs possess different stats, preferences, and proficiencies. Once I’d made some stone tools and clothes, I cleared an old ruin of rival clan members, looted the crystals, and repaired my mask, imbuing it with the ability to directly control my NPCs and use their innate abilities alongside my own perks.

A woman charges the player character of Soulmask with a terrifyingly jagged sword in Soulmask.

This can be especially helpful in combat, which is fiendishly difficult. You can dodge roll and perform jump attacks, and holding the left mouse button triggers specials, like rapid jabs with my spear. In one-on-one fights, things aren’t too bad, but it’s typically better to run once you’re outnumbered, as dying causes you to drop all your gear. Enemies are smart and aggressive; they don’t just wail on you one at a time, they’ll dodge, surround you, and beat you down swiftly. Even animals can be a threat out in the forest. I was killed by bush dogs more times than I care to admit.

After my time with Soulmask, I’m keen to continue digging into its world and uncovering the mysteries of the mask. It’s got a bit of early-access open-world game jank to it, and its writing and depiction of women leave much to be desired, but the mask mechanics, overall aesthetic, and NPC delegation make me want to keep playing.