Wilderness: A Survival Adventure is a survival simulation game that places the player in a variety of possible wilderness survival scenarios (for example, after a plane crash) and tasks the player with making it out of the wilderness alive. During the course of gameplay, the player is required to tend to their character's hunger, thirst, shelter, and health needs, including tending to any injuries or diseases that may be received along the way.
Most gameplay commands are carried out through a text prompt, similar to text adventure games; however, the player's surroundings are displayed on-screen after each command through simplistic static graphics. Despite this fact, however, the player's vision and movements do occur within a 3D-like game world; players can look in any arbitrary direction (including panning their field of view gradually to the left or right) and/or travel in any direction for a specific amount of time (such as "walk 20 minutes"), and the visual representation of the game world would be accurately reflected. This graphics technology was dubbed "Pangraphics" by the game's developer.
Wilderness includes a surprisingly large amount of depth, despite its primitive appearance. The text parser recognizes hundreds of different objects and actions, allowing the game a great deal of detail in the survival simulation.
Common problems that players must deal with in the game include:
- Building shelter and making fire
- Obtaining and cooking food; obtaining and purifying water
- Encounters with dangerous wildlife such as bears, rattlesnakes, and mountain lions
- Tending to illness or injuries (broken limbs, sickness, malaria, infections, etc.)
- Weather conditions such as rain, snow, and extreme heat
The game includes an in-game map screen, but it essentially functions the same way as a real-life paper map; as such, the player's position is not indicated, and the player must use the surrounding landscape as a guide to attempt to identify his or her location on the map, and use that information to make decisions about what direction to follow.
The main game scenario is a plane crash in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California; in this scenario, the player starts at the site of a wrecked plane at an unknown location within the mountains. The player must attempt to identify his or her location on the map and walk to a ranger outpost (marked on the map) in order to complete the scenario. A second scenario type is also included in which the player starts from a known location in search of the Lost City of Gold.
Expansion disks were available, which added additional geographic locations including Bolivia, Burma, British Columbia, Chile, and New Guinea. These additional locations featured new terrain, weather, and wildlife to challenge players, including elephants in Burma and even cannibals in New Guinea.