How to Survive was released on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 back in late 2013, but now makes its way to next gen with the Storm Warning Edition. The game received middling reviews originally, but this is a brand new set of machines, and the Storm Warning Edition has 6 ‘DLC drops’ and a tweaked difficulty level. So it must be better, right? (Sigh). Essentially, How to Survive is a twin-stick zombie survival game set over a variety of small islands. You begin on a beach and must fight your way through each island, completing tasks that people and animals (yep) give you along the way, and generally surviving – gathering resources, crafting items, and keeping yourself alive.

At the beginning of the game you will have a choice of four characters, each with their own set of skills and back-story: Kenji, an all-rounder with high precision; Nina, also an all-rounder, but with high health; Abby, who has high precision and health, but low strength; and lastly Jack, who has high strength, but low stamina and precision. Each of the skills are pretty self-explanatory – precision gives you better aim, strength means you’re better with melee, etc. The first thing of note as I enter the game is the resolution – apparently, this is ‘How to Survive: Black Bar Edition’ (I couldn’t find an option to change this) – and it’s not a great looking game considering the hardware it’s running on – it has some colour, but textures and animation are decidedly poor. Nonetheless, I crack on.

For some reason, fists are unable to be used in combat, so you need to keep an eye out for weapons and resources to craft them. A stick can be used as a melee weapon, for example, but can also be used to craft arrows. You can hit/shoot enemies by pressing R2, but if you hold the button with a melee weapon you will charge your attack, delivering a more powerful blow. You can stun enemies by hitting them, usually resulting in a button prompt to execute – it’s a pretty effective mechanic, particularly when confronting big swarms of zombies.

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Ranged weapons work slightly differently. You can move your character with the left analogue stick, but the right is your aim. You can simply let fire, or if you hold aim over your target for a bit longer, you will engage a head shot (obviously killing enemies quicker). If all goes tits up and you have little or no means of fighting, you can attempt to sprint away with a press of L2. Well, in theory anyway. In actual fact your character is unable to sprint for more than a second, if not less (not kidding). Some encounters, particularly those involving animals, can see you outrun, which is rather annoying – if you’re on low health and meet a crocodile, you are basically screwed. The combat in general though, isn’t bad. It’s fairly visceral and satisfying, although a tad simplistic.

Crafting is also fairly straightforward, although requires a bit more input on the player’s part. As you explore the islands you will find parts, plants, etc. on the ground, as well as on the corpses of slain zombies. Some items are useful as they are, such as the healing herbs; however, some will only be useful when combined with other items – recipes can be found across the islands to make up things from body armour, to weapons. Some items can also be improved, such as the already useful healing herb, which can be combined with some fabric to create a more potent ‘healing poultice’.

The crafting system itself is perfectly fine, and there is a good variety of craftable items. However, a frequent problem I faced during my time with How to Survive was the inventory system. Simply put: there isn’t enough space for the things that you find. Some limitation is a given, or else you pilfer everything in sight and the game becomes too easy; but it became something of a chore, and I ended up using items I didn’t need to in order to make space for an item I may or may not get to use in the future (of course, you may find a part for a gun, but it could be hours until you find the various necessary parts to fully craft it, meaning that your inventory is constantly full of useless items). I can’t think why there wasn’t a storage place implemented, as this would have completely alleviated the problem. Plenty of quests require you to source items as well, which doesn’t exactly help the situation – “what’s that? You found one of the items required to make an awesome gun? Well, tough shit, because that monkey has had you collecting exotic fruit and you don’t have the space”. On the subject of quests, they’re pretty much just a bunch of fetch quests – go to this location, get this item, return to quest giver. They are not without charm, and the main storyline is reasonably engaging; but there is a lack of variety and genuinely interesting missions to dig in to.

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Now then, generally speaking, the game is competent – it doesn’t offer anything really interesting or different, but it is a bit of fun nonetheless. However, the difficulty ruins everything. This game is bullshit hard, and I emphasise the ‘bullshit’. I died a lot, and very rarely did I get the impression that it was a fair death. Case in point: I got into a sticky situation on an island, for which I was clearly not at a high enough level (apparently these ‘tougher’ zombies are significantly less susceptible to bullet shots to the head), and thus I fled to the boat. A couple of levels later, I return to find that every zombie that chased me is still waiting on the landing and they kill me instantly. I died 11 times in a row, before I managed to glitch my way around them and run to safety. And the game will frequently dick you over: “let’s spring a boss enemy on them; let’s make animals ultra-difficult”, crocodiles are more dangerous than a hoard of zombies, and for some reason bears destroy your plant items – I lost three loads of quest items because of a bear attack, after which the game auto-saved, preventing me from reloading and thus leaving me with the choice of ignoring the quests or spending another two hours scavenging for those particular items again.

There is a massive difference between a fair challenge and irritating difficulty spikes. It seems as though the developer didn’t manage to make the game legitimately and fairly challenging, and upon realising that aspects of the game were a little easy, instead of changing those aspects, they simply implemented mechanics to drag you down every once in a while (quick example: you can get struck by lightning. That’s not a legitimate mechanic, it’s just annoying) – the ‘survival’ elements such as maintaining your character’s hunger and thirst levels don’t help this either.

Another issue is the tone of the game. It’s clear that some humour was attempted with How to Survive, and those aspects are quite successful (these are in the form of tutorials, or guides that a character in the game presents to you); but the rest of the game doesn’t follow suit. The game is morose and violent – it’s very jarring to go from one of the silly guides, or a quest where a monkey tells you to give it fruit, and then do a quest where you fail to rescue a little girl from falling into the sea. But you know what? If it wasn’t for the terrible difficulty spikes, then I would consider this to be a reasonable title – something you’d buy in a sale and have a few good hours of fun with – but its genericism and lack of innovation, coupled with instances of pure, unfiltered crap make a passable game bad. Perhaps if you are desperate for a zombie game or a survival game (because how many of them are there?), then give it a go; otherwise, I wouldn’t recommend it.



Author

John Little
John Little

I started gaming with the release of the PS1 - Crash Bandicoot and Ridge Racer Revolution being the first 'real' games I ever set eyes on - and have been enthralled with the medium ever since. I particularly love strategy and horror games, the sort offered by titles such as Total War and Silent Hill, though I also have a soft spot for a good RPG. I studied Journalism at university in the hopes of progressing into writing about games, but my 'real job' is as a postman. You'll most likely find me covering indie games as I'm always on the look out for interesting little titles, and generally I stick to the PC and PS4 platforms. I'm not interested in MMOs or really any kind of online game, and I have an unusual and frankly worryingly expensive obsession with collecting gaming guide books, but aside from that I like to think I'm a well rounded average gamer. Find me on twitter @JohnLittle29