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Nov 6th
2013

How to Survive Review

Another zombie romp comes stumbling in.

They say first impressions last, but if that was everything we had to go on in this industry then gamers would be rarely impressed any more. Bungled launches have become ubiquitous and dare I say, politically correct. But with digital distribution and online patching a simple automatic update away, the stress rarely lasts too long. Unless it’s SimCity.

When I first launched How to Survive (PC Steam version) in single player mode everything seemed fine, until I got dropped into the first map. A pink haze permeated my screen making any texture definition impossible. I relaunched the game, hoping the good old “turn it off then on again” technique would do the trick.

Success! I could now see the jungle island as the developer envisioned it.

That was, until I wandered into one of the tutorial books. Scattered throughout the islands where this top-down survival horror action-RPG takes place are a set of books known as “Kovac’s Rules.” These tips for how to survive the zombie apocalypse – narrated by a Russian man wearing a welding mask – were helpful, but upon exit I was thrown back into the pink haze. This happened every time and required a restart to shake it off, where by I would be reset to the latest checkpoint. I resolved the issue by no longer investigating any more of Kovac’s Rules. (Note: this graphics issue has since been resolved.)

Ponytail Pugilist

Back to zombiville. The combat is Diablo-esque requiring a left mouse click for a swing of your weapon and holding down for a heavier swing. Even with the remedial starting weapon – a wooden stick – I was able to put down three walkers at once. Not bad. But where the combat excelled was the finishing move I could execute once I knocked a walker off balance or off guard. Suddenly my college girl protagonist, in hotpants and a ponytail, was decapitating, bludgeoning and puncturing every dead thing in sight, just minutes into the game.

How to survive

Here come the undead… again.

After a relatively easy set of fetch quests for Ramon, a Latino version of Herschel from the Walking Dead (complete with long white hair, crutches and an amputated leg), I was off in a tin boat to the next island to meet Kovac himself. He taught me the basics of how to subside with food, water and rest and how to craft my first homemade boomstick. The micromanagement of hunger, thirst and tiredness adds a bit of suspense during the missions, let one go and you’ll have less energy to run away and your aim time and melee strength will be affected.

The NPCs are all the cliché zombie survivor types, but none have the clever characterisation of Dead Rising or Left 4 Dead. 

Spare parts to craft new weapons are also scattered throughout the islands, as are the blueprints. In some cases they are optional, like putting a stabiliser on your carbon bow. Other times you’ll have a lot of difficulty clearing a zone without crafting a beefier ranged weapon, like the boomerang. Bone, flint and various other modifications are also possible, adding a customisable element to your kit – a nice touch.

But all of this was overshadowed by the beef I have with How to Survive: it’s a Diablo clone with zombies, however, every other action RPG would be slightly guilty of that. The NPCs are all the cliché zombie survivor types, but none have the clever characterisation of Dead Rising or Left 4 Dead. Your own protagonist (you can choose from three) has a distinct set of perks, but is silent. All I cared about was seeing what animations the next big weapon could show me. But as enemies got bigger, more numerous and more armoured it all just became a game of wearing down zombies with nuts and bolts for bullets. Bosses charged at me but had little else in offensive strategy. Duck, roll and pepper with bullets until they fall over.

I had more fun in How to Survive then I thought I would, at least in the story mode. There’s some hideous crawlies that come out at night that will creep up on you then scatter when you burn them with your flashlight. There were some suspenseful moments, hearing the zombies in the dark and not seeing them, for example. Campfires are a welcome sight in the dark but offer no refuge; the only places to rest are the occasional safe houses, all with sirens ready whenever you need to open the door. There were times when I was running for my life, but I was never really on the edge of my seat like in the aforementioned zombie games.

The challenges are a haphazard mess of hoards trying to claw at you while you scramble to craft new weapons. Multiplayer has a maximum group size of two – yeah, two. Even with the smallest possible size of a gang there weren’t many folks out there willing to chop up the undead with me. Having a a group of four I could see being a lot fun with burly tanks wielding big clubs up front and ranged shooters in the back, perhaps EKO Games thought that would be too much like Diablo III.

A review code of How to Survive was provided courtesy of 505 Games. The game was reviewed on PC.

How To Get By

Disappointing

There is some depth to How to Survive, mainly in the choices you have in how to approach combat and what to craft with all your spare parts. But sadly, the balance hasn't hit the nail on the head and game-breaking graphics glitches ruin what could have otherwise been an enjoyable, action gorefest.

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