With a top-down, isometric perspective, and an unusual focus on survival and provisions, How to Survive: Storm Warning Edition provides a pleasantly unique zombie, action game on the next generation platforms. With a persistent day/night cycle, a bunch of scrappy survivors – including an odd fellow called Kovac – and some excellent game modes, How to Survive provides a harrowing, desperate, and mostly entertaining experience.
Several survivors are ready for you to jump in to the shoes of, each suiting a different style of play as well as a subtle backstory. Once picked your survivor comes to ship wreaked, dazed and confused on an island packed with deadly zombies and the odd survivor looking to escape. It’s you job to survive the dangers with the hope of leaving the small chain of islands and finding your way back to civilisation. The other survivors you comes across offer quests and progress the shallow but intriguing story, but your primary concern is your survival.
All manner of zombified people plague the islands during the day, but at night other creatures mean to nosh on your flesh. As such, gathering resources and exploring is best done in the light of the Sun, once it sets it’s time to hunker down and rest. This proves to be the crux of the experience, and it’s wonderfully compelling. Simply surviving, ignoring the story and staying alive and healthy is an all-consuming and entertaining task. Items are strewn across the island, gathered from corpses, found lying around, or hidden in abandoned shacks and camps, and combining these to create useful weapons and tools is the key to staying alive. Makeshift weapons firing scrap, flint to light fires, sticks to create torches, arrows, bows and more, everything is useful with the right combination and it’ll keep you a step ahead of death if you use what you find effectively. Meanwhile you need to eat, drink and sleep to keep your strength up, forcing you to hunt and gather frequently as well as secure hides to sleep in unmolested.
It’s brilliantly engaging and full of emergent storytelling. A hunt for a deer can turn in to a desperate fight against zombies also looking for a meal. The finding of precious resources can tempt you in to more brazen exploration, resulting in the loss of those oh so precious items and scrap. On more than one occasion I was struck by lightning, hurt and stunned long enough for a hungry crocodile to take interest in me, followed by a horde of zombies. It’s these moments combined with the hefty challenge of simply surviving that make How to Survive so unique and enjoyable. This is especially so with a friend, whether online or locally.
In addition to the main story are three other modes with twists on the experience. Challenge mode tasks you with escaping a single island as quickly as possible. One Shot Escape steps up the difficulty tremendously by introducing permadeath. Finally Barricade mode tasks you with ignoring escape and perfecting the art of hunkering down, encouraging you to search for resources during the day and keeping yourself, an injured survivor and their doctor safe during the night at a camp you’re fortifying. Whatever kind of zombie survival you’re in the mood for, How to Survive caters to it.
Unfortunately the experience isn’t flawless. The aforementioned shallow narrative is disappointing, dialogue switches drastically from melodramatic to slapstick – especially after meeting survival guide author, Kovac. Meanwhile, a bright but samey colour palette quickly bores the eyes, animations lack smoothness and melee attacks lack impact. It can’t seem to decide on an overall tone and this indecision can break your immersion from time to time.
It’s more State of Decay than it is Dead Rising, and for that it stands proud and unique amongst the catalogue currently on the Xbox One, but it’s also an experience that’s likely to frustrate more than entertain the majority. How to Survive is a challenging title, one that’s terrific fun with a friend, intense and terrifying on your own, and abundant with great ideas and content, but not quite polished enough.
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