Genre Isometric Survival Action/Adventure / Platforms PC (digital), 360 (XBLA), PS3 (PSN; TBA), Wii U (eShop; TBA)
Developer Eko Software / Publisher 505 Games
Platform Played On PC (Steam)
Killing zombies isn’t something particularly new. Pretty much every genre has – at one point – included these walking corpses, in one form or another. Some were successful, some made gamers want to actually start a zombie apocalypse, due to how broken the games were, and others were somewhere in the middle. How to Survive perfectly fits the latter category.
How to Survive features two modes: an offline solo/coop story, and around a dozen of online challenges. Playing the story with someone else will not influence it in any way – since a partner can drop in, even if you’re in the middle of the campaign – but it’s always nice to have this option, as playing with a friend is always better than going all alone. Having the option to experience the story with someone else, via online, is curiously missing, but 505 Games has announced that Eko Software will include it in a future patch.
First, let’s talk about the offline surviving.
Right from the very beginning, How to Survive starts with you – a castoff on an unknown archipelago, which just happens to be overrun by the undead. You don’t know why, and it doesn’t even matter, as the only thing you’re interested is getting off the islands. This represents its basic premise, and, unfortunately, it doesn’t really get much deeper than that.
The game offers you three characters to choose from, each having their own background and role playing statistics. Besides you, How to Survive also features a few other characters, but – with the exception of one – all the others are either downright boring, or annoying. No one in How to Survive is – in any possible way – believable, with all those unnecessary – and frankly cheap – swears only making it worse.
How to Survive is all about keeping your body in top shape, while killing and defending from the hoards of zombies. What separates this game from many other zombie-survival titles are your body’s requirements – you must eat, drink, and sleep.
Hunger is the first you encounter. This necessity is satisfied by harvesting plants, fishing, or hunting other animals and cooking their meat. Plants are easier to find, though they won’t raise the bar as best as real meat. Because of this, hunting presents quite a challenge, as animals quickly vanish, usually after your first shot. Fishing isn’t so simply either, as you can only catch something during morning, or evening (more on that in a moment).
The second requirement is drinking. You can only drink from fresh wells – as there aren’t any other options – but these places are usually surrounded, either by zombies, or animals which do not hesitate to attack you as well.
The third and final element is tiredness. Resting can only commence in secure places, which always need to be cleared of zombies. How to Survive features a day and night cycle, but the game is smart enough to not let you simply skip the most dangerous part of it (nighttime; more on that below) by simply sleeping over. Your character only wants to take the necessary nap when his tiredness bar is actually close to depletion.
Not meeting the requirements of your body means that your character moves slower than usual, though, other than that, the game is pretty forgiving, giving you generous checkpoint, in case you find yourself eaten by a hoard.
How to Survive also features a simple role playing system. Killing zombies and completing objectives earns you experience. Earn enough, and you level-up. Level-up, and you gain experience points with which you can gain abilities like lighting a campfire, crafting new weapons, being able to stay awake for a longer period of time, and more.
Speaking of crafting, How to Survive also features a pretty robust system which lets you create all sorts of new weapons, armour, and potions. Crafting consists of two processes: finding, and creating. Firstly, you need to find the specific elements from which you can create new items. These can be plants, tires, pitchforks, scuba-diving equipment, bottles, and many others, which – at first glance – seem pretty useless. After that, crafting something new is as easy as clicking on individual parts, and seeing which can be combined. Finding blueprints will make experimenting easier, though they aren’t necessary.
Creating new items can actually be fun. Weapons include high-powered rifles, bows, shotguns, chainsaws, simple pistols, and more. Each character has his/her own set of weapons, though. Most are common among all three, but if you want to use them all, multiple play-throughs are required. Potions include giving you a temporary boost to attack, speed, defense etc., in addition to reviving your hunger, thirst, or tiredness. Some items are even necessary, in order to progress through the story.
Another quirk found in the game represents the inventory. Making it limited seems obvious, but why isn’t it categorised? All your items are randomly associated to a square, and even moving them is a chore in itself. It simply feels clumsy. Additionally, your stamina bar only lowers when running, which is weird, since swinging a club/sword/chainsaw/gun at hoards of walkers should actually make you feel tired. That said, the instant kills are a nice touch, and will definitely make you proud.
As mentioned a few times above, How to Survive features a day and night cycle. Daytime feels pretty standard, but during the night, danger is highly intensified by new, tougher enemies. Luckily, they hate light, so a flashlight or a torch is all you need to keep them at bay. Playing during nighttime is certainly more fun. Zombies don’t mind your light, but while you’re facing them, the nocturnal enemies are free to sneak up behind for a bite.
Speaking of facing, some enemies and animals sometimes have the tendency of simply getting stuck in the geometry, not responding even if you start attacking them.
With that said, the story mode’s biggest problem lies in its missions. Every last one of those quests consists of only one objective – fetching something for someone. Be it a battery, a rope, lots of packages, food, water, every time someone needs something, you’re their running boy. It’s not so bothersome for the first two or three hours, but it’ll definitely get on your nerves, as you get closer to the end. In addition to this, the monotony is also amplified by the need to travel through multiple islands, only to get to a specific one. Why can’t you just take one boat to any island you want, instead of traversing multiple maps, just to get to your next fetching assignment?
That was the offline part. Now for the online.
There isn’t much to say about it. All the challenges present you and your partner with a smaller map from the campaign in which you’ll need to reach a specific point, via killing all that stands in your way. There is, however, one, really annoying feature to- both players cannot be separated. Every time during the online sessions, both you and your partner must remain on the same screen. This is online, not off; every player has his/her own screen, so why limit them so drastically?
Visually speaking, How to Survive doesn’t impress either. Animations are poor, and the world isn’t spectacularly detailed. On the audio side, the soundtrack featured during the night is appropriately spooky, with everything else simply feeling generic.
As a whole, the idea of having to eat, drink, and sleep, all while being surrounded by hoards of zombies is a good one; even an intriguing one. Crafting is fun, going through the night feels dangerous, and stabbing a zombie multiple times after decapitating it never feels old. That said, How to Survive simply feels unfinished. The story is almost non-existent, the characters are unbelievable – even annoying – the menus are clumsy, repetition is at an all-time high, and the online mode restricts you from splitting from your partner.
The Price Factor
That being said, price should also be a factor in reviewing. How to Survive costs you $13.99, not $60, so you may strongly consider it, if you don’t mind the story, characters, or having to traverse the same environments multiple times.
+ The hunger, drinking, and tiredness system
+ Lots of crafting options
- Almost non-existent story, coupled with really weak characters (except for one)
- Clumsy user-interface
- Repetition, repetition, repetition
The Score 6.5
In addition to being a PC editor, Vlad Pintea is also a chief of news and reviews here at Analog Addiction, and sometimes he even speaks his own mind. You can contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, on Skype (vlad94pintea), Steam, Facebook, or Twitter. Have a good day, and remember: stay calm, and keep on gaming!