As a zombie survival title, you could say that How To Survive is a little fish in a pond the size of the Atlantic, something akin to a krill or a prawn. But that’s on the outside looking in and upon playing the EKO Software developed and 505 Games published title you’ll understand that the undead genre could perhaps make room for one more.
With Zombie Games vs Zombie Games, The Gamer is the Winner
The zombie games market needs another challenger like Apple needs to release another iPhone – there are already over half a dozen that all work fine, but they’re popular, so we’re getting another one anyway – but it’s easier to praise How To Survive for what it is than for what it’s not. What H2S is can be described as ‘Dead Rising versus The Sims’, as where other games tease you with suggestions of the depraved, decrepit husk of society in an undead apocalypse, H2S challenges you to live in that society as a real human, championing basic needs as much as it does zombie perma-death.
You’re tasked to traverse the game’s treacherous islands as either Kenji, Abby or Jack, all with varying levels of Health, Stamina, Precision or Strength, making your choice of protagonist a strategic rather than a superficial one. Playing as Abby, who excels in stamina and precision, the shit hits the fan almost instantly, like flies to the windscreen of a speeding Maserati.
With colours that blur like a red tie and a white shirt in the wash and characters made up of as many polygons as a toddler’s toy box, How To Survive isn’t exactly a beacon of realism but in principle, it’s certainly more apocalypse resembling than most other zombie fare. So it does make sense then, that How To Survive is tough as nails, taking some real perseverance to get through the game’s set up of mission/kill some zombies/fetch that thing initially. But carry on, hope that you’ll escape or outlive the zombie plight and ye shall be rewarded, especially if your favourite type of prize is ‘more undead slayin’.
PDIY (Perma-Death It Yourself)
The zombs on the end of your pointy wooden stick (the game’s starter weapon) come in a variety of ghastly flavours. There are your standard brain chompers who can be offed with a single blow to the head or two, there are Bombers who explode upon proximity that will really test your wits, or, in my case, circle strafing around rocks trying to thin the pack out and there are piranhas to dodge when in swamps or zombies who wear metal armour. If you’d rather not place too many eggs in your combat basket however, you can craft more powerful weapons to keep the infected at bay, with parts needed to be collected and combined via your inventory to put together makeshift shotguns, to deliver satisfying pops to zombie heads from a distance or your more basic ‘flame on a stick’ so those shufflers burnt to a crisp and there’s also ranged weapon du jour, the crossbow, to name just a few. Unlike most games with weapon crafting systems, How To Survive makes it a vital and most importantly, fun part of gameplay as you genuinely enjoy embracing your inner craftsman or woman, making zombie killing a massive joy, even if you are total cack at it.
How To Make Friends and Pulverise Zombies
You’ll have plenty of time to off undead as you take on the game’s missions. However many of them will fall into the tedium inducing ‘go here and fetch something’ variety, which is fine in short bursts but if you’re ploughing many hours into it in a single sitting you’ll quickly notice the repetition. Thankfully in some parts this is broken up by jests and interactions with fellow survivors such as one-legged hardware expert Ramon, Kovac (the man behind the game’s titular guide) and Kovac’s monkeys, all with things for you to do to. Amongst the missions of collecting engine parts and such, to aid your escape, you’ll also have to balance hunger, thirst and tiredness, collecting food, water and clearing out suitable shelters, keeping you acutely aware that this game is hard and that your character is very much vulnerable.
The game is a lot (and I do mean a lot) of fun and pacing keeps you occupied and enthralled as you genuinely want your chosen character to make it back to society. That being said, a primary frustration I have with How To Survive is much related to its identity. In some ways it takes itself far too seriously. Despite the tongue in morbid and decaying zombie cheek humour that we see in zombie ‘expert’ and experienced survivor Kovac’s guides, the game often chances an excursion into emotional waters. A small spoiler is of a mission that sees you rescue a woman’s daughter. The daughter sobs, reaches for her teddy and falls into the less than safe clutches of the waters below. But rather than hitting emotional gold, EKO actually come up with dirt. Much like the overarching plot of ‘these islands are swarming with zombies, nevermind how they got here or why some of them are the size of mammoths, you’re here and you need to kill them so deal with it’ it feels like a half-hearted attempt.
That’s excusable perhaps if you’re looking to play a very enjoyable and genre challenging zombie slasher but other aspects are not. Like how within about 10 minutes I witness at least 3 different typos, which, this site is by no means typo free but you also don’t have to pay upwards of £10 or $10 to access it and so the errors quickly establishing H2S’s polished game front as a facade. Gameplay errors such as, unhelpfully, not being able to alter the camera angle and that it often sees you finish a mission with half your health, expecting you to go across the map to do some other objective, make playing it at times an impossible grind – again, this is fine if this is an arcade sprint but not for a story based marathon.
Overall, you can’t fault EKO Software for trying as they’ve (mostly) pulled off a fairly good revamp of the zombie genre, making me glad that they made it all, as How To Survive really breaks off the pack, doing something far more original than expected. It works well, bar a few issues and is absolutely worth your time and money, if not a sequel.
How To Survive is out now on PSN and XBLA.