There’s no getting away from the fact that zombie games are pretty much everywhere these days. Whether it’s a fully fledged zombie killer like in the Dead Rising series, or whether we get to meet the shufflers in an added game mode (I’m looking at you COD!), everybody loves a bit of zombie slaying. Which really should mean you’ll be wanting to take a look EKO Softwares Xbox Live Arcade title, How To Survive.
As you can probably guess from the title, How To Survive teaches you one thing and one thing only, how to survive a zombie apocalypse. From the start you get to choose one of three characters (or two characters if you are playing with a friend). Each character has a different upgradeable skill set and starts off with differing health, strength, precision and stamina stats, but your choice only makes a small impact on the way the game is played. Being washed up on a beach after a plane crash is no fun, but you soon stumble upon a small group of survivors who give you tasks which will need completing in order to escape the islands. For the most part, these tasks are pretty basic. Go to X point and collect item Y, take it to Z point and then rinse and repeat with new items and slightly different points on the island. I’ve got to admit that it’s pretty decent fun to start with and the exploration of the islands is certainly a highlight, but once you’ve uncovered each smallish island once, the rest of the fetching missions around that same island get a tad tiresome. There’s only really one thing to stop you from just running from point to point as fast as you can and that’s the massive amounts of zombies you find in your way.
And many a zombie you will find! The first island you explore is pretty well infested with the blighters, as do the second, third and fourth islands for that matter! And when I say infested, that’s exactly what I mean. The bloody things are everywhere and whilst that isn’t necessarily a bad thing (it is a zombie apocalypse you are trying to escape from afterall), a few hours of bashing the undead round the head, things can get a little repetitive to say the least, especially if you just want to pop to the other side of the island for a quick sleep.
And sleep is something you have to remember to do in How To Survive as it’s one of four basic functions that you’ll need to keep an eye on if you wish ‘to survive’! There are safe houses dotted around every now and then, and these are the only spots that are safe enough to grab a quick kip. That said, they are only secure once you’ve cleared out our favourite zombies, something which in itself is no easy task. You’ll normally be looking to sleep once your fatigue level drops and with this at a low level, any fighting/running abilities you may have will be severely depleted, which in turn will make any action twice as hard to execute and at least half as effective. The same thing goes for your other functions. You must remember to eat (but only cooked meat as the raw stuff you find will kill you), drink (again, clean water only please) and keep your overall health levels topped up by consuming herbs (Resident Evil style!). As with the sleep deprivation, once any of these levels start reaching critical, you’ll struggle to make your way around the island and really won’t be surviving any longer than a few minutes.
You’ll also need to keep an eye on the time of day as when night falls, you’ll find even more of the undead rising at your feet. You can quite easily get overrun through the night and unless you have a torch or lit flame equipped, you stand little chance of even moving a few feet without getting devoured.
To keep you alive you MUST craft. Thankfully, How To Survive features a cracking crafting system in which all manner of weapons, equipment and food can be created. As previously mentioned, if you eat raw food, you will ultimately die, but get a little creative with the raw ingredients, make yourself a fire and you’ll soon be sitting at the top table enjoying some fine cuisine (steak and mushrooms whilst you take a break from zombie bashing anyone?). The same crafting skills can be used to create all manner of weapons. Combine certain ‘parts’ with other ‘parts’ and your weapons can end up ranging from a boomerang, through the Molotov cocktails and right up to hard hitting shotguns. The world really is your oyster with the crafting system and the more weapon blueprints you pick up from around the islands, the more your weaponry can vary, and the more damage you can deal out.
Helping you on your way is a guy called Kovac. He is one of the craziest guys you’re likely to come across in a game, but his help, guidance and survival skills are vital. In what does, I suppose, boil down to an over extended tutorial system, Kovac’s guidebooks can be found dotted around the islands, usually just before a new skill mechanic is unlocked. The guides, whilst short, are presented in a fun manner and are a welcome change from the battering of zombies. You’ll quickly learn to love Kovac, and the way his guidebooks have been implemented is a work of genius.
So yes, How To Survive is a half decent take on the zombie genre but ultimately one that becomes a little mundane in it’s ways. On TheXboxHubs 1-5 scale, this latest zombie mashing top down game, sits slap bang in the middle. There’s nothing offensive here and very little in terms of loading screens, but neither the graphics or the audio, stand out above anything else in what is, at its rawest, a twin stick hitter. The crafting system is however excellent and for the first hour or two, so is the combat and exploration. After that, things tend to get a bit repetitive and boring, especially once the islands have been fully discovered. For a penny short of a tenner, and only around 5 or 6 hours of gameplay, it’s a slightly overpriced title, albeit one that will give you a little fun for a while, particularly if you play it with a friend. As such, it would probably be better to wait for it to drop into an arcade sale when you will no doubt be able to pick up the ‘Heat Wave’ DLC pack for a reduced price at the same time.
Can you survive the zombie apocalypse? Yes, but only if you can fight your way through the slight monotony first.