Release Date: October 23, 2013Platform: PC (Reviewed), PS3, Xbox 360, Wii UDeveloper: EKO SoftwarePublisher: 505 GamesGenre: Action-RPG, Survival Horror
Usually when playing a zombie-survival game, the rules of survival are pretty straightforward: kill everything that moves and try not to get yourself killed in the process. Well EKO Software has taken this very basic premise and crafted a neat little lighthearted action-RPG game around the principles of survival. From tending to your everyday human needs, to crafting your own little arsenal of makeshift weapons, How to Survive manages to give us a short but sweet lesson in surviving against the undead, and in the brief time that the game lasts, you’ll have so much fun in the process that you’ll be fairly inclined to write your own survival rulebook on how to make it out alive.
The story itself is as basic as can be: you wake up on an abandoned tropical island that seems to be overrun with hoards of infected and other frightening creatures that come out only at night. You’ll meet a few NPCs along the way to give you various quest and aid in your journey, like the intriguing Kovac, who struts around the place in a full-iron body suit and leaves various chapters of his survival book around the island that serve as narrated tutorials for bigger concepts in the game. The writing is simple and humorous, and you can expect to be faced with the typical challenges on zombie-survival games, such as clearing out pathways and retrieving gasoline to get a speedboat up and running. The graphics are especially nice though, with great level designs and just enough variety to the enemies themselves that you’ll be pummeling throughout your adventure.
The first time I booted up How to Survive, I was immediately hit with a top-down third-person Dead Island feel: although I’m pretty hesitant to make that comparison, because How to Survive is nowhere near the unplayable mess that the latter series has sadly turned into. In fact, I feel like How to Survive is the game that Dead Island SHOULD have been. You have the tropical island setting, the crafting mechanic that enables you to build homemade weapons from the various supplies you can find throughout your adventure, and of course, using those weapons to bash tons of infected zombies right in their grotesque faces! The combat in the game is especially satisfying, as you simply move around the game world and attack everything that gets in your way. It sort of reminds me of a traditional MMORPG, only completely fine-tuned to be digested as a single-player experience. You’ll start off with melee-oriented weapons before graduating to firearms, and both styles of playing are fun and rewarding in their own right.
Since the game is all about survival, it might come as no surprise that you’ll constantly need to be aware of your basic human needs: such as eating, drinking, and sleeping. But don’t worry: keeping your character alive isn’t nearly as much of a hassle as you might initially believe. You’ll be able to sustain your character’s hunger by picking various plants in the wilderness or killing animals and cooking their meat over a burning campfire, while drinking is a simple matter of finding untainted water wells (you can even carry some additional water with you along the way if you happen to find an empty bottle during your travels). Sleeping is probably the trickiest need of the three, as you’ll need to find a designated safe area and clear it from hordes of infected before you can nestle down and rest up: and your character is a surprisingly tired one for someone who needs to be alert at all times or risk an unexpected zombie attack from behind.
Luckily, you’ll have lots of opportunities in the game to level up your character and unlock additional perks and skills, like the ability to light campfires or sustain your hunger and thirst meters for longer intervals. Experience is primarily earned from killing the undead, with larger chunks being awarded after the completion of the larger story quests. The character skill tree is extremely simple and straightforward, but like most aspects that I’ve found in the game, How to Survive shows you that sometimes simple is good. You’ll also have a chance to snag some rarer gear and loot from completing one of twelve side quests that are given to you by identical-looking talking monkeys who are all named Cocoa. These side quests are simple enough, and range from gathering three exotic fruits, to killing a deer and crafting a stylish monkey handbag from its hide.
But of course, despite how downright fun the game is to play, there’s still no denying that How to Survive is still a little bit rough around the edges in certain spots. For one thing, the pop-up instructions seem to have been infected by the same disease that’s running rampant in the game world, as they’ll often appear and repeat themselves on screen without warning. I mean, after I’m already two hours into the game, I don’t need to be reminded over and over again how clicking the left mouse button will let me attack the incoming zombies. I also struggled with the various menu interfaces on more than one occasion, whose corresponding key inputs were less than ideal, and using the mouse wheel to scroll through my on-hand weapons only worked about half of the time.
The only other real downside to the game is that How to Survive is an incredibly short experience, and most will be able to complete the initial single-player campaign in less than 3 hours or so. However, where the single-player campaign is lacking in the extra padding and the overall story (your entire adventure spans a mere four small islands), the bonus Challenge Mode makes up for it in spades, by offering a number a situational survival scenarios that function as mini-campaigns in their own right. For instance, one challenge tasks players with building a chainsaw right off the bat and using it to mow down everything in your path, while another is all about finding your boat offshore as fast as you possibly can. Each challenge can be completed on both the normal and iron difficulty settings, and further replay value comes in the form of replaying them all with a co-op partner and trying to earn a high finishing score (a welcomed feature that is also available for the main story campaign).
So even though How to Survive doesn’t particularly wow you in any one area, I still wasn’t able to stop playing this thing for one second until I saw it all the way through. The game is as simple as a zombie-survival game can be, and the action is fun, the presentation is enjoyable, and the extra modes and challenges are exactly what you would want in terms of replay value. Even though the base campaign is a bit on the short side, and some of the finer details can be a little finicky at best, I can’t think of any way I’d rather spend my island vacation. Almost appearing out of nowhere, How to Survive is one of the biggest indie surprises in recent months – almost as surprising as waking up on a stranded island with no one to keep you company but legions of the undead!
Story – 7/10
Gameplay – 10/10
Graphics – 8/10
Soundtrack – 9/10