I took this new Steam title out for a spin this last weekend. Let me first explain my lack of posting lately (10 days!) by reassuring my 3 readers that I’ve been hard at work on a new very in-depth article that I feel will be of significant interest for CCG/TCG gamers everywhere. With that said I couldn’t help but be excited by “How To Survive” when I watched the little preview video in Steam. I preordered the game about a week before launch, which is rare for me on Steam (though the 30% off pre-sale helped push me a little…)
Clearly what appealed to me most was the notion from the video that I would be building my way out of a very bad situation. I’m drawn to the survival aspect of the simulation; the scavenging, the collecting, the harvesting and then constructing a means to survive. Oh, the fact that the game takes place in a zombie infested environment was a pretty big thing for me too.
What I discovered while playing the single player story mode is that this game immediately struck me as a survival-zombie version of another game I’ve been spending time playing; Path of Exile. The overhead Diablo-esque approach to showing the environment I was playing in, was immediately comfortable and approachable for me. It felt like my genre of game immediately.
Built upon that feeling was a construction system that at first felt simple but quickly made me giddy as I constructed items with more zombie-punishing power then what I had before. For example; I had been finding “bones” laying around in the corpses of animals since landing on the islands that provide the backdrop for How to Survive. The bones can be sharpened by combining them with my Machete, and then combined when I have two such sharpened bones. This creates a nifty boomerang which obliterates zombies in its path. Cool right?
I then further upgraded the boomerang by attaching some sharpened flint which increased their killing power significantly. On a whim I came across another bone and wanted to see if it would let me combine it… sure enough it did. Instead of a two bladed boomerang I had now crafted up a three bladed throwing star with sharpened flint edges! I was so excited to have discovered this recipe without relying upon the games frequently found “blueprint recipes” lying around the island.
This highlights what I consider a crucial component to a survival game; discovery. Being told you need X and Y to build Z isn’t nearly as fun as experimenting and trying it out. To be fair, the game removes the “combine” option if no combination exists within your current inventory. Yet, the discovery component was what caused my greatest level of enjoyment with the game.
Killing zombies with my whirlwind of zombie slaughtering death was immensely enjoyable, I had no fears over Ammo consumption (you can construct many different types of guns). The survival aspect of the game, however, was mostly an illusion. Sure you have a few bars to manage; health, hunger, thirst and “sleep”. Yet these bars were mostly trivial to keep maxed out on moderate difficulty. Resources were plentiful on the island.
The last major element I enjoyed was the combat. It wasn’t overly difficult nor too easy. Sure certain weapon combinations seem a bit overly powerful (the Chainsaw fully upgraded trivializes almost all encounters…), yet all in all, the combat was well paced and grew exponentially with your characters power in the game.
Hinting at it already, yet, “How to Survive” does have a few shortcomings. For an indie game they excelled at creating a fun experience, yet my personal opinion is that the game could have been so much more.
Instead of sleeping in pre-existing “security huts”, the game could have easily been expanded to force the player to upgrade or build from scratch their own places to sleep safely in. The notion that this one random dude created safe houses all over and then let zombies move in seems a bit… silly to me. Not that the game is overly serious.
I also mentioned but will explicitly state that the “blueprints” were a big mistake. Forcing players to experiment in constructing new items would have been immensely more rewarding then merely building a known recipe. Additionally I would have removed the “cheat” that shows when an item can be combined or not based on your inventory. Instead just pop up a message stating “You can’t think of a good way to combine these items” thereby forcing players to discover new items on their own.
I’ve avoided telling key components of the story, because I don’t believe it’s necessary to explain the games mechanics. I will say that the single player story was a decent length for a game I paid $10 for. It was a fun, immensely enjoyable title from a new developer. If you enjoy Diablo or Path of Exile like games, or even just want to dive into a Zombie Apocalypse… How to Survive is absolutely a fantastic title to pick up.
P.S: I’d recommend focusing on building a boomerang first! So fun….