I always enjoy an obviously descriptive title. In this game, you're on a raft. Floating aimlessly from tiny island to tiny island, trying to avoid both starvation and dying of thirst. You've not got much when you first get started, finding yourself on a 2m x 2m square of floating wood, with nothing but a plastic hook to grab the things that float by you.
(I spent the first hour or so of this game a bit confused, so this review will be littered with hints and tips on how to succeed at Raft, which you'll hopefully find help you understand how to play Raft. However, since it's in early access, it only applies for now - June 2018. They will hopefully keep adding to it.)
Hooking is the game's first and most important mechanic. There is a lot of rubbish in the sea, which you'll need to get hold of in order to make your raft bigger, and start building the tools you'll need to survive. As a species, our pollution of the sea is a rather terrible thing, and we really should get better about things like plastic use and recycling, but here it just means that I can make a really sweet home in the ocean.
You'll be collecting plastic, wood, leaves, the occasional mechanical duck and thankfully a lot of barrels. The barrels tend to give you four or five different items, making you more efficient, but they also include a couple of interesting blueprints, for a receiver and a transmitter. And so begins the tech tree.
First off, get a hammer. You can make rope from leaves, and you should have plenty of wood. Then you need to expand your raft. Though you might not know it yet, there is a shark out there. If you get in the water, it's going to attempt to brutally murder you. It also hates rafts, so is going to try and eat yours relatively frequently. If you make yourself a spear, you can try and fight it off, but it's going to keep coming back. (Honestly, it's relentless. It's more or less the only villain currently, as there's no storm damage to the raft, and the only other creatures are seagulls and fish, but I believe more are planned.)
Luckily, the shark will only ever attack the edges of the raft. So if you get yourself a big enough raft, you can place your equipment in the middle, and they won't fall off due to shark attacks. The next things you need to get are a water purifier and a grill. You're going to be eating a lot of fish, and cooking it improves how much benefit you get from it. After that, you need a spare hook. Though you can grab things straight out of the sea if they happen to float past/under your raft (and this is an excellent way to multi-task if you're fishing), you're likely to be missing a lot of useful things. And if you swim after a barrel, you'll run into other problems.
The tech tree starts with simple items, but you'll soon unlock a research table which can examine items you'll find/manufacture to unlock more. This goes from the vaguely sensible - combining plastic to make a paddle, to the ridiculous - combining bricks to make an on-raft smelting device, in order to create metal ingots. There is a certain element of belief to be suspended here, but I've had so much fun playing the game, that has not been an issue. It's also furiously addictive. "Just one more barrel, will give me that one bit of scrap I need to make an axe so I can murder a couple of trees on the next island I float to."
Next hint. There are things under the islands. Go for a dive. You'll find no small number of interesting crafting items under there which you can dig up and use to keep on building. In the end, you might find yourself having to throw away some of the basics, since you can only realistically make your raft so big before it gets silly. Although once I hit endgame (there is an end of sorts, though I won't spoil it for you), I think I might just start attempting to build a raft castle. See how ridiculously huge it can get.
Though I'm getting close to the end of the game, it's taken me probably about two solid days of time, split up into some multi-hour play sessions as I got horribly obsessed with it. It's a relatively simple game, with collecting and building, but it's also very satisfying. Getting to that next level of technology, or building your first ramp off the raft in order to reach those higher islands (use the roof components for this) are very enjoyable moments. It's kept me awake far longer than it should have done, far too often. And hopefully, since it's early access it's only going to get better (they've just added a bow!) Trust me, it feels a little like this.