I feel like I should be the utmost expert on surviving the zombie apocalypse at this point. It seems there is a new game teaching me the concepts on a weekly basis. The latest comes from developer EKO Software and while it brings a few new ideas to the table, it also falls into the same tropes I have come to expect from the genre. The most unique pieces come in the form of some comic relief and a few mechanics that give some life to this undead title.
How to Survive is played from a top-down perspective with twin-stick shooter controls. It feels good to pop the head off of a zombie. Combat is simple and responsive making it easy to mow down three to four enemies in succession. When a crowd surrounded me though, I found myself getting lost in mashing the buttons and hoping to survive.
Things begin with melee weapons such as sticks and machetes, but then the game introduces custom firearms and blueprints. It is hard to talk about How to Survive without making comparisons to Dead Island. This feels like a top-down version of Techland’s offering. Blueprints are littered around the islands, and once I salvaged the parts, I could craft some truly spectacular weapons. Things like shotgun chainsaws and grenade-launching boomerangs are just the tip of the iceberg. Sadly there is no incentive to even bother in most cases.
The core rifle I created would take down most zombies with one or two blasts. Combine that with an ammo system that makes me question why they even bothered forcing me to pick it up, and I was left wondering why the mechanic was there at all. Ammo is plentiful to the point that it only becomes a hindrance that I have to bother picking it up. This also detracts from the survival aspect of the game. I never felt like I was in a situation that couldn’t be solved with my boomstick.
The developers have also introduced a system for drinking/eating/sleeping that players must adhere to in order to survive. Hunting animals will provide sustenance; just make sure it is cooked before eating. Wells will provide fresh drinking water, and little shelters can be cleared out around the islands for a good night’s rest. Again these systems never flesh out because they are all readily available at any time. It became a matter of my particular bar blinking, and me taking five minutes to remedy it. I never felt a sense of dread when the meters went off; just a sense of having to stop what I was doing to tend to them.
Crafting feels much like every other system in the game; an afterthought. Items such as healing plants can be combined with other items to make them more potent. Problem is, there is abundance of everything. This island is the penultimate zombie survival area. There is a plenty of everything I would ever need. Crafting takes place in a menu, Resident Evil style, by simply selecting the item and hitting combine. This then showed me what that item could be combined with, eliminating all experimentation. Oh did I mention it also pauses combat, so there is never a fear of dying while trying to create a healing aid.
The upgrade system feels like standard fare. XP is earned by completing missions and killing enemies. Each level earns a point that can be used to unlock new skills. These include causing my eat/drink/sleep meter to drain slower and so on.
There are bright spots to be found though. My favorite being the humor injected thanks to Kovac and his crazy How to Survive guides. Pages from his guide can be found around the island, with each one showcasing some crazy how-to explanations of how the game works. Eventually I ran into Kovac himself, who took me to his island for more training. He is the best thing about How to Survive, I just wish there was more of him.
I also enjoyed the combat, as simplistic as it was. It reminded me of Diablo in a lot of ways, just without the promise of loot. There is also a co-op mode as well as additional challenges to complete if players are so inclined. I found I was enjoying the game more when I treated it like an action game as opposed to a survival one, and having a friend join in definitely made things even more entertaining.
I wanted there to be more to How to Survive. It plays well, has some cool ideas and the combat is satisfying, but none of it ever evolves beyond that. Systems are in place, but none of them feel constructive to the experience. In a time where the zombie game is more than mowing down hordes of the undead, How to Survive fails to impress on most levels. It isn’t a bad game, just one that never quite makes a name for itself.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.