When it comes to a zombie apocalypse, the entertainment medium seems a little static. Sure, you have The Walking Dead hitting it big on the small screen, as well as the Resident Evil movies being a long main stay on the big screens. However, when it comes to video games, the zombie pandemic has been a mixed bag. Eko Software and 505 Games obviously saw a gap in the market, and tried their hand with How to Survive. The original How to Survive was okay; it was essentially what boils down to a Diablo-esque 3D isometric loot-driven game, where the zombie apocalypse has happened. It was relatively simple in concept and mechanics.
Fast forward to 2017 and we have How to Survive 2 released for consoles; a game that plays, on the surface, just like its predecessor.
In How to Survive 2 you play as a survivor in Louisiana who has come across an audio message in which Kovac – a quite eccentric guy who thinks he’s funny and wears armour – reaffirms that all is not lost after the zombie apocalypse has taken over, and that if you wish to, as he puts it, ”fight back and build a new community”, then join him and do it together!
When you as the survivor(s) arrive at the coordinates that Kovac gives you, you find not a well thought out community, nor even do you find anyone else. No, it seems poor Kovac has hit tough times and needs your help rebuilding, thus starting your adventures in How to Survive 2. It’s a simple premise that gets you going, leaving you to perform menial tasks that mostly consist of fetch quests.
With How to Survive 2 being an isometric survival loot game, you start out with very basic equipment from the outset; with just a baseball bat, old tatty clothes, and the constant need to replenish food and water metres on a regular basis. Once getting past the bulk of the tutorial missions (and they do take a while), the main portion of what you do in the game opens up. What is that, you say? Well… base building. Sounds obvious, right? But considering in the first game all you had to do was get from one side of an island to another, having this extra layer of strategic game play added is quite refreshing, especially considering how in-depth and thought out it is.
Early on you get given a mission, before being tasked with building up a base in which you can create weapons, food, drink, and even armour. You do this in a ‘build’ menu where you can choose where to place the building around Korac’s bunker.
The mission structure here is quite simplistic; whether it be talking to Kovac himself, or a towns person who seems too scared or too stupid to collect something themselves, you’ll more or less be doing the same thing. Kovac heard a voice on the radio telling him they need help in town! You’ll go. A towns person is worried about their long lost love who they haven’t seen in year? You’ll go. What I’m saying here is that the questing can get a little repetitive; especially when not only are the quests quite similar, but so are the environments. Whilst you’re supposed to be in different part of town, you’ll be very quick to notice how rooms and even certain building structures are the same from one map to another.
To start off, your equipment options are limited, with just a chest to hold all of your items in. But as you level up you get access to things like a kitchen, so you don’t have to hunt for canned beef or bottles of water, and a foundry where you can craft metal objects such as weapons and fences to help defend your community against the undead hordes looking to descend upon you.
This leads me to yet another mechanic and gameplay style this game throws at you, and that is tower defence. After levelling up your community enough through pumping experience points into it – which you also have to use to level up your traits; such as melee and lockpicking, as well as using it towards your overall character level – your building will soon start getting attacked. Only regular zombie types will arrive at first, but soon after the likes of zombie dogs and ‘boomers’ will join the fray.
Defending your base is actually a lot harder than it seems, but the game does do a good job at giving you the tools to deal with this – gates, fences, and lookout towers to name just a few. This is good, as the minute to minute action of actually attacking these enemies can be tedious and extremely frustrating at times. With no traditional lock-on mechanic in the game, you’re left with just pushing a direction and hoping you make a connection. What also doesn’t help is the game’s choice to prioritize animations when attacking. Crowd management, especially early on, can be a bit of a chore; you’ll swing your weapon at a zombie, fully expecting to also be able to swing, with another press of the attack button, at the other zombies behind you, only to find that you have to wait for your survivor to perform the full three hit combo first before redirecting.
You do get used to it mind, and the use of firearms equipped to the dual joystick shooter-style does alleviate the issue to a degree. However, that’s not the only issue. The animation quality that is shown here is still rather basic and poorly executed, meaning that for most of the game you’ll be taking damage from hits that you feel you should be able to defend against.
To help alleviate some of the struggles you’re going to face early on, you have the choice to purchase some day one DLC if you’re so inclined. These include better weapons, more backpack space and pets that give you static stat buffs. They do help, especially Thor’s hammer, which even though is slower in terms of swinging, takes out the zombies in one hit early on.
Downloadable Content isn’t the only way to equal the playing field against the endless undead. Multiplayer makes its return in How to Survive 2 and this time it’s up to four player co-op, either on the same screen or online. Now, the game does scale up in difficulty accordingly, but having those extra survivors spreading the blows does help. The online multiplayer adds a bit more to the game than just bringing another decoy to help you out; it’s one of the coolest features in the game, giving you the opportunity to join other players communities. Here you can upgrade their base of operations using your own experience, go on or replay quests together, and defend the base as one. It’s a neat feature that keeps you coming back to it and helps out with levelling your own character or base.
How to Survive 2 is definitely a much improved sequel, the added player count is a neat addition giving you the option to enjoy the cool parts of the game with more people, including the interesting community building mechanics that you could literally get lost in, or the upgrade and survival-able systems. Nevertheless a culmination of small, but meaningful issues, leaves me with a sweet but bitter taste in my mouth. Things such as the janky animation can be frustrating, and the lack of environment and quest variety leaves a lot to be desired. In the end How to Survive 2, even though being a better sequel, is still very hard to recommend.