How To Survive Review
My new nightmare.
I know what you’re thinking, and yes, this is another zombie game, but it’s not the kind that you’re used to. How To Survive hit my radar due to its emphasis on survival, compared to most zombie games that just focus on killing as many zombies as you can. I’m no longer interested in just mindlessly killing hordes of zombies, and I soon found out that How To Survive is about much more than that. Let’s take a look.
How To Survive’s story is pretty simple: you become stranded on a zombie infested island, with the goal of retrieving the necessary parts to repair a plane and escape to safely. As you explore each of the four islands you’ll meet other survivors that will give you missions to complete as you search for the missing parts. They usually require you to fetch something for them in return for a part, or maybe they just want you to clear out some zombies in a certain area. EKO Software definitely didn’t break any new ground in terms of story telling or mission creation, and it’s a shame that they didn’t put more effort into those areas.
Survival is truly the name of the game in How To Survive, as you not only need to worry about zombies killing you, but you have to worry about your character getting hungry, thirsty, and tired, as well. You’ll have to find food to eat, whether it’s hunting, fishing, or finding fruit or vegetables, find water to drink, and clear out shelters to have a place to sleep. As each of the status meters drain, your character will walk slower, attack slower, and take more damage when you’re attacked. It’s not that hard to manage though, as there are plenty of places to sleep, you have the ability to fill up bottles of water to keep in your inventory, and there’s plenty of ways to find food. You just have to stay on top of things or you’ll find yourself with a huge disadvantage when you do run into a mob of undead.
How To Survive also features a basic progression system that rewards you with EXP for killing zombies and for completing each mission. As you level up, you’ll earn skill points to unlock one of the skills in each of the three character’s skill tree. Skills include being able to light campfires, decreasing the speed at which each status drains, better accuracy with ranged weapons, earning extra EXP, displaying animals and plants on the map, and more. One small, but cool, thing about the progression system is that the loading screens will display survival questions and you’ll be rewarded 15 EXP for each correct answer. You can’t beat earning EXP while you wait for the game to load. You can also progress your character by playing the various challenge maps outside of the story mode. Challenge maps take place on the same islands from the story mode, but they don’t have any missions, other than staying alive until you make it off the island. If you complete a challenge map, your character’s progress will carry over, but you won’t keep any of the items you found. If you die, you’ll have to start all over again and you lose the EXP you earned and the items that you found. It’s definitely best to play these maps after you’ve completed the story mode and your character is on a higher level.
You won’t just find weapons and armor lying around (aside from a Machete) in How To Survive, so you’ll have to find the right parts to create your own. You’ll find blueprints for how to make different items and it’s up to you to decide what you want to make. As you find different parts, you’ll be able to combine them to create over 100 different items, such as armor for your head, body, arms, and legs, various Axes, Hand Guns, Shot Guns, Machine Guns, Rifles, Bows, explosives, and much more. You’ll also find different plants around the islands, which you can combine to create booster potions that increase your damage, aim, armor, speed, and more, for a limited time. One small crafting feature that I really like is that if you’re having trouble finding a certain part, but you already have it in another item, you can break that item and reuse the parts to make new ones. The only real problem that I have with the crafting system is that there is nowhere to store extra items, so you have to constantly drop items to free up space, and then come back for them later if you need them. It would have been really nice to have some sort of box to save your extra items in, instead of having to just drop them and then remember where you left them.
Unfortunately, as much as I love most of How To Survive, there’s also a few things that I really don’t like. For starters, the controls are backwards compared to most games, with Sprint on the Right Trigger and Attack on the Right Bumper. It’s extremely frustrating when you’re used to pressing RT to shoot or attack in most games, but only to sprint right into a zombie’s face in How To Survive. Neither button is used for anything else, so there’s no reason to have them mixed up like this. An easy fix would be to add an alternate control scheme with Attack on the Right Trigger. I do like how if you aim at an enemy long enough, you’ll get an automatic headshot, but having to use RB to shoot is still annoying.
I also have a problem with the lack of saving options in the game. It will autosave after you complete a mission, and there are checkpoints during a mission for when you die, but you can’t manually save anywhere and the checkpoints reset if you exit the game. You should be able to save and exit and keep your inventory at least, if not be able to manually save at certain points, like after you clear out a safe house.
If you can deal with those issues, the story mode should keep you going for six to eight hours, and you can always start over with a new character and their unique skill tree. The challenge maps help extend the life of the game a little longer, but they won’t keep you coming back for very long.
On the multiplayer side, How To Survive doesn’t include any competitive multiplayer modes, but it does feature two player online and offline co-op. Two offline players can play through the story mode together and two online or offline players can play through the challenge missions. The unfortunate part is that the second player doesn’t get to save their progress to their account, so only the host’s characters progress. It should save that character’s progress to your game for when you go back to playing alone again, but that is not the case in How To Survive.
It’s also strange that EKO Software were able to let two offline players play through the story together, and then two online players can play the challenge maps, but not the story. If you know how to let two players play the story and you know how to let them play online, why not let them play the story online? It’s not the most ideal co-op system, but it’s better than nothing, I suppose.
UPDATE: EKO Software just emailed us to let us know that they will be adding online co-op to the story mode in December 2013 for the PC and soon after for the console version. You’re welcome.
How To Survive is a great game that’s hidden underneath some unfortunate design decisions. I like it, and I want to love it, but there’s just some things that I can’t get past. The story is forgettable, the lack of online co-op through the story mode is disappointing, the limited autosaves are frustrating, and the controls need to fixed. That being said, for a zombie survival game, How To Survive does a lot of things right, such as the creative crafting system, the draining status system, and the heavy emphasis on survival and not just shooting anything that moves. If EKO Software made a few changes, they would have a real winner on their hands. Until then, How To Survive is its own worst enemy.