Scavenge, craft, build, manage, survive.
This is just a quick outline of some of the many things we are expected to achieve when playing through an open world survival game. For many people (myself included), this used to be all you needed to hear in order to splash the cash on the next open-world survival title claiming to offer that truly immersive experience set in a brutally challenging world. Despite this being attempted with every other title since the rise of the open world survival genre, it hasn’t stopped developers The Fun Pimps adding a fresh addition to the overwhelming selection available with 7 Days to Die. But with so many to choose from already, does this title have what it takes to compete with the best?
The short answer is no… definitely not!
When starting a new game there are several options available to the player; choosing things such as choice of character and the gameplay setup. Choosing a character is a rather simple process with fifteen to select from, and twenty-one available should you have purchased The Walking Dead Skin pack. However, despite the large number of characters available, choosing between them comes down to simply choosing which one you prefer the look of, with no other notable differences between the characters whatsoever. Something which really makes the unusually large selection feel rather useless. It is also worth noting that many of the characters look fairly similar to one another with only a very limited number of faces and body types in place.
Having been given the opportunity to experience the DLC skin pack along with the game, the obvious choice for me was to take charge of the unique looking Lee Everett, the well-known and lovable protagonist from Telltales The Walking Dead Season 1. Lee is one of five available characters included in the DLC along with Michonne and three other lesser known characters from the franchise. It must be said that the DLC characters are a remarkable improvement over all the other folk in the game and should you find yourself wanting to purchase this game (although I do suggest reading on before purchasing) then the skin pack is simply a no brainer. For the tiny sum of £1.59 it certainly doesn’t break the bank either.
After choosing your character you progress onto the game setup screen. From here you can go with a number of preset game layouts. These work much like a difficulty setting and include things such as enemy aggression, movement, and spawn frequency, as well as how often the items and resources appear. Of course this is also an opportunity to create your own custom made game with the settings you prefer. Whilst the presets are a good place to start, and do indeed help the player get used to the different options available, choosing your own custom settings really gives you the feeling that you have a slightly more unique game world to play in.
As far as any story goes, 7 Days to Die doesn’t have one. Whilst there is indeed a backstory in place which depicts the post-nuclear, barren wastelands of the world, the gameplay follows no story and instead focuses purely on player survival. The fictional county of Navezgane, Arizona is one of the remaining areas not yet completely wiped off the face of the earth and this is the location in which the player is placed. You are expected to find food, water and shelter as well as scavenge supplies capable of providing some much needed protection. Because you see, when you’re being hunted down by the fearsome creatures (mostly zombies) created by the nuclear war, you’ll be needing that shelter! Of course if you have chosen a randomly generated world then Navezgane won’t be your starting location and you’ll instead be treated to the same harshness but in your own individual wasteland. With each generated map comprising of an almost identical layout and the valuable resources of the town located within the centre of the map each time, Navezgane is by far the best way to play should you want something not so predictable. And that is very disappointing for a game containing randomly generated maps as a replayability feature.
You can probably guess that the main goal in 7 Days to Die is to simply survive, although there are many things in place that can make this quite challenging and even a quite frustrating experience. Despite having a title that could be mistaken for suggesting otherwise, seven days isn’t the end of the game either but rather the moment in which you will meet the dreaded zombie horde. The horde is a large group of about thirty to forty zombies that roam through the player’s area with the soul intent on destroying the player. They include a number of feral creatures capable of smelling the player through walls, and should you not have your home successfully barricaded with defences, the next action you see will be the large number of enemies pounding away at your flesh. Should you have survived the event however you are a better man than I and will be required to master the intense micromanagement of your character’s needs once more. That is due to the seven day counter resetting and you are once again left to prepare another impenetrable fortress!
Along with the management of food, water, shelter and avoiding the enemies of the world there are many other things in place that can cause any hope of survival to dwindle in a flash. These include weather effects, infection, radiation, supplies, weapons and most annoyingly of all glitches.. lots and lots of glitches! And is it at this point I should mention that 7 Days to Die is a game truly suffering from them.
Upon taking my first steps into the world I spent the first few moments familiarising myself with the controls, knowing I would need to have them mastered if I was to stand any chance of survival in a tense situation. I was immediately met with a few pretty big issues. Not only was the crafting menu terribly difficulty to navigate due to being a straight port from the PC – with seemingly no work being put in place for the limited buttons on offer with a controller, something which makes crafting a rather time consuming effort rather than a seamless experience – but I also found myself dying immediately. This was due to me being placed into an area with high levels of radiation and with no warnings on how to manage the situation, or more preferably a slightly more sensible starting location, it was a matter of mere seconds before my first death came about!
After respawning and checking that I was in a location slightly more compatible with human life, I set off quickly to start finding some much needed supplies, trying to find a way to avoid the same thing happening a second time should I stray into poisoned land once more. However once more something else was in place to stop me in my tracks…the gameplay mechanics. Broken gameplay mechanics which caused a massive area of the map ahead of me to fail to load, instead acting like a brick wall whilst I tried to walk for the thirty seconds until the game finally caught up. This wasn’t even the worst case because every now and then, I would find myself running along before magically falling through the floor whilst the entire screen turned white and the map flew off above me. This would obviously result in more death and the loss of all of my treasured items.
When 7 Days to Die isn’t suffering from these annoying bugs, the experience isn’t really that much better. Walking is as painful as watching paint dry due to the incredibly slow pacing. This means that sprinting is the only real way of making ground in any reasonable amount of time, but then you face the issue of potentially overheating and causing heatstroke, as well as having to manage a quickly depleting stamina bar. Should this turn into a situation in which zombies are on your tail you can often find yourself stranded with no means of escape.
I’ve also got major gripes with the weapons available. Whilst there are indeed many to choose from, with the game containing hundreds of items worthy of bashing in a zombies brains, it doesn’t seem to make any difference to which you should use. Whilst appearance is an obvious way to tell each item apart, the animation and damage seems almost identical regardless of whether you are holding a stone axe or a torch! On top of this it seems impossible to find a single weapon in the game, other than firearms, which cause any damage capable of downing any of the horrible creatures, with each weapon I stumbled across taking far too many hits before taking down the enemy.
Animations in the game aren’t blessed with much in the design department either with the same animation being used for attacking, mining and gathering resources. Whether you’re collecting some wild fibres to go towards creating your clothing selection or attacking that wild dog that just broke through the only door to your tiny safehouse, every action looks very similar giving the game next to no variety whatsoever and creating a really dull experience in the process.
Not everything is completely terrible however and after deciding to jump online to experience the game with others my experience became a lot more endearing. Not only does scavenging for items feel a lot more fruitful when you have others to look out for too, but taking down enemies also feels achievable with two or more people aiding in the attack. The possibility of actually surviving through each week to the dreaded horde at the end becomes something you will tend to see happen more often. However, with bugs and glitches as free flowing in multiplayer as they are in the single player game, no amount of co-op axe swinging can hide the fact that 7 Days to Die is in dire need of much more time in development.
The enemies in the game are the final straw for me. Even if I was to look past the dreadful combat, clunky, hard to use menus and the ever present bugs and glitches, the enemies show just how much work is still needed for this game to become a worthwhile purchase. With overpowered hits and a lack of variety, as well as each enemy feeling like a complete and utter damage sponge, each encounter is made to feel more like a boss fight rather than a day to day task of the wasteland.
With everything considered 7 Days to Die truly is one of the biggest let downs of 2016. Although there is every possibility improvements may well be made to bring this game up to scratch, it is really surprising that Telltale Publishing are happy to bring this game to console on a full release. Perhaps the highly popular and appreciated Xbox One Preview Program should have been home for a game that is in such an unfinished state.