Game Review: How To Survive [Xbox 360/PC/Mac]
The zombie-survival genre is a crowded place nowadays, with new titles trying to be the next standout hit announced every week. But for every good game there are countless tiresome imitators. So imagine my surprise when a game I’d heard relatively nothing about caught my attention and stood out from the hoard. Ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce you to the world of How To Survive.
Developed by EKO Software and published by 505 Games, this newest action-rpg zombie title instantly stands out with its isometric view. How To Survive seems to draw inspiration from many other titles, taking the viewpoint from Diablo, the humourous guides from Fallout, “needs” bars from The Sims, crafting tools from Dead Island and the list goes on. It’s as if the developers made a list of great ingredients from bigger titles, mixed them around a bit, added a splash of their own secret spice and out came a pretty good XBLA game.
However the story here is pretty weak. You’ve been stranded on a island and you need to escape. That’s it! Sure, you’ll meet a few characters here and there, but for the most part they’re bland and serve no purpose other than to give you missions and side-quests that usually involve retrieving items or searching for a missing person. These missions are decent, but the lack of variety can be pretty boring. Luckily the map isn’t too large that you’ll waste hours walking back and forth, but there should have been some creativity here.
The game gives you a choice of three survivors to choose from with each coming with their own set of skills tasked with surviving and escaping the 4 islands they’ve found themselves stranded on. Abby is quick but weak, Kenji is the all-rounder and Jack is strong but has poor stamina. Depending on your choice, it will affect the way you play How To Survive. Taking a weaker character will mean you’ll have to take on smaller groups of enemies or fight with more ranged weapons, taking on a heavy gives you a slight feeling of being a tank, though if you do get overwhelmed you’re likelihood of escape is slim due to your poor stamina bar.
Luckily for you there are handy survival books around the map. Each chapter of the guide plays out as an amusing tutorial video with Kovak explaining to you about an upcoming peril or teaching you survival techniques. Who is Kovac? He’s another survivor who’s conveniently written a survival guide called How to Survive. These videos feel very much Fallout-esque and do well to help teach players about the gameplay.
You’ll need to eat, sleep and drink to keep yourself in top condition. The islands have a wealth of food and water so these rarely, if ever, become anything to worry about, especially when you learn to hunt wild animals or start fishing. Your health will sometimes need medical packs rather than food to regenerate, but you can also find medical plants to help you out. Sleeping is a necessity and will be decided when your survivors feel they’ve used enough energy. This can come at day or night and you’ll have to make your way to designated safe zones. Well, I say “safe zones” but to access them you’ll need to defeat hordes of zombies that have been alerted to your presence. While these add a little depth to the game, they really haven’t been explored enough but at least they never become annoying, game ruining experiences.
Combat is pretty simple. Using a twin-stick system you’ll move your player around using the left thumbstick while aiming using the right. This all works well until you realise the attack button is a slightly odd choice of the right bumper. I’d have preferred a right trigger or face button option, but with a little game time you soon get used to it, though it never feels natural. Choose your type of weapon, melee or ranged, by using the left bumper and cycle through that category with Y to choose your favourite zombie killing tool. It’s certainly a different control system to what I’m used to and some gamers may find it a little odd, but it’s responsive and gives the game an identity of its own which is to be admired.
“What weapons can I kill these undead freaks with?” I hear you ask. Well, the choice is really yours. You will start with a simple wooden stick until upgrading to machetes, axes, guns and more as you find more parts littered around the islands to craft with. Crafting can be done at any point in the game but, as with many scavenging games, you’re limited to how much you can carry, however, How To Survive employs a system that doesn’t so much fix that limit, but gives you an extra strategy by allowing you to craft items in multiple stages therefore freeing up some slots while you search for that missing element to finish a weapon build.
There are plenty of blueprints to pick up and although these aren’t required to build any items, they can help let you know exactly what you can build. You can also dismantle the weapons, which becomes helpful when you just need that one part to make something a lot more powerful than your current weapon. Crafting isn’t just limited to weapons though. You’ll also be able to make armour and tools, such as motors or fishing rods, to help you as you try to survive and escape the islands. This system works and some of the fun comes from just seeing what happens when you craft items together and marvel at what the final outcome is.
Enemies are your run-of-the-mill zombie types that you’ll have seen in most games of a similar ilk in recent years. Weak zombies, armoured zombies, tanks and boomer zombies are all out to eat your brains and limit your progress across the islands. The game features a day and night cycles and when night-time falls a new type of zombie appears. Luckily for us they don’t like the light and waving a flaming stick or a flashlight in their direction is enough to keep them at bay. Trickier yet are the infrequent boss-zombies. Backed up with hordes of regular zombies these guys can be an absolute pain if you aren’t stocked up on health, armour or good enough weapons.
How To Survive starts at a very casual pace. Gradually teaching you the various aspects in the game before ranking up the pace and overwhelming you with zombie hordes to defeat, as well as other nasties such as infected animals or piranhas to watch out for. All the while you’re trying to pick the best weapon for the task at hand, hoping nightfall doesn’t arrive mid-battle and fulfill missions set out by some of the varied NPCs you’ll encounter throughout the game. There’s also a glaring plot hole here. You’re trying to escape the four islands, but how do you think you go from island to island? By using a perfectly good boat you repair early on in the game of course. Maybe civilisation is just too far away, but I’d have risked the long boat journey over the islands full of undead. That aside the single player campaign is a blast and you can return to it via local co-op or, if you’re very brace, take on the Iron Man mode.
Unfortunately How To Survive lacks an online co-op mode and instead features a challenge mode for you and a friend to take on. It’s better than nothing, but an online co-op would be a welcome addition. If you’re a fan of zombie-survival games then you should consider How To Survive as a game to pick up. Great gameplay, decent graphics and an enjoyable campaign help make How To Survive stand out from the crowd and it’s incredibly refreshing to see a different style of gameplay than the typical first-person and third-person games we usually get nowadays
How To Survive is available now for Xbox 360, PC and Mac. A Wii U version is in the works with a date to be confirmed.