How to Survive, a title produced by 505 Games, the same guys that brought us Payday 2, and developed by Eko Software is another Zombie survival game newly released onto the Xbox Live Arcade. It’s a title that’s taken many of our wish list features/game-mechanics and attempted to pack them into one small bundle.
In How to Survive, the player is pitted against a shuffling horde of zombies and other scary creepers on a (mostly) deserted chain of islands. It’s an engaging title that keeps you playing right through to the end, albeit with its flaws, it’s a good game all round. Players must run, smack, and shoot their way through undead mobs to escape before the never-ending procession of ghouls rips them apart.
In an interesting decision Eko Software chose a top-down perspective for gameplay and kept the controls reminiscent of old isometric games. The design is simple but easy to use and frustration-free. Instead of aiming in free-form mode, players can only aim in a 360 degree radius around them. Players are able to see where they are aiming via a thin white line showing the direction and this will change depending on whether or not they’ve aimed long enough to land a critical shot. Close combat consists of swinging various melee weapons from sticks, machetes to flaming branches. This is a little more frustrating and will have players manically bashing the corresponding button or holding it down for a stronger swing.
Recently State of Decay introduced survival on a group scale seeing players having to scavenge for multiple supplies and resources to help manage a group of survivors and keep everyone happy. How to Survive has instead gone for a simpler, more effective, method of including a basic needs system: thirst, hunger, and fatigue all slowly drain at unequal rates. This forces the player to hold enough food and water to sustain their adventure while making sure they can reach a safe-zone to sleep in once fatigue threatens to overtake them. Due to the small size of the islands and an abundance of resources, you’ll never have trouble fulfilling a given need unless you’re truly careless.
One of the most fun inclusions from Eko Software is the crafting system. Players will find a slew of items around the various islands which can be combined in specific ways to create a wide variety of different items. Some items only require the right combination of parts to create while others, like certain potions, require the player to unlock the right skills or play as a certain character. How to Survive doesn’t hold your hand in discovering new recipes, so there is an engaging element of discovery through the first two thirds of the game. However, once you’ve found most of the crafting guides and items available to use, the limits of the mechanic become a little too apparent. The crafting recipes certainly have breadth, but lack depth of choice. Some of the weapons that can be crafted make the game that little more appealing and add to the overall enjoyment.
What How to Survive absolutely nails and gets right, is that it makes killing zombies fun. It doesn’t over complicate things and whilst scavenging for resources and crafting new armour and weapons is great, they all lead to one thing: wrecking walking corpses. The gameplay, sounds, and animations combine in just the right way to make shooting and stabbing zombies addictive. Before you know it, you’ll be 5 hours in and enjoying the mindless gore that comes with each and every zombie massacre.
In How to Survive there are five different types of enemies ranging from the slow mindless walkers we’ve come to know and love right through to the Resident Evil-esqe figures that clamber around on all fours only at night. What How to Survive does well is handle them all effectively and not bombard the player to soon. The campaign is mostly filled-in with small groups of zombies, some of which may sport chest and/or head armour. They usually only require a few swings from an axe, but explosive enemies and above mentioned photophobic night-crawlers add enough variety to require thoughtful and varied strategies. Tangling with limited types of enemies may feel a little stale towards the end, but the game clearly maximizes their potential. On top of great pacing, the final boss fight is a ridiculous, over-the-top satisfying bloodbath of zombie guts. Bring on the gore!
There isn’t a single defining or standout feature/element to How to Survive, which will put it above other titles in the race to be king of zombie gaming culture, but each one on their own works and they interact in a way that makes How to Survive well worth the $15 it will cost you on the Xbox Live Marketplace. If you found State of Decay tedious and just need a quick zombie fix before Dead Rising on the Xbox One, this is the game for you.
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