Game Review: 'How to Survive'

"How to Survive" boss battle.

"How to Survive" is a game produced by 505 Games of "Payday 2" fame and developed by Eko Software. It pits the player against a shuffling horde or zombies on a mostly deserted chain of islands. Players must run, smack, and shoot their way through undead mobs to escape before the never-ending procession of ghouls rips them apart. Sound a little too derivative? Some players may find that the case, but "How to Survive" has taken a gaming's wish-list of gameplay mechanics and attempted to pack them in to one arcade-sized title. The game isn't flawless, but it's engaging enough to keep you playing till the end.

How to Survive zombie swing.

Eko Software chose a top-down perspective for gameplay and kept the controls reminiscent of old isometric games. The design is simple but easy to use and frustration-free. Instead of aiming in free-form mode, players can only aim in a 360 degree radius around them. A thin white line shows exactly where the player is looking and whether or not they've aimed long enough to land a critical shot. As for close combat, players can swing wildly or hold down the button to swing higher for increased damage.

One of the major ways Eko Software tries to side-step tired zombie tropes is by including a basic needs system: thirst, hunger, and fatigue all slowly drain at unequal rates. This forces the player to hold enough food and water to sustain their adventure while making sure they can reach a safe-zone to sleep in once fatigue threatens to overtake them. Due to the small size of the islands and an abundance of resources, you'll never have trouble fulfilling a given need unless you're truly careless.

How to Survive crafting.

Another fun twist to "How to Survive" is its crafting system. Players will find a slew of items around the archipelago which can be combined in specific ways to create different items. Some items only require the right combination of parts to create while others, like certain potions, require the player to unlock the right skills or play as a certain character. "How to Survive" doesn't hold your hand in discovering new recipes, so there is an engaging element of discovery through the first two thirds of the game. However, once you've found most of the crafting guides and items available to use, the limits of the mechanic become a little too apparent. The crafting recipes certainly have breadth, but lack depth of choice.

What "How to Survive" absolutely nails is that it makes killing zombies fun. Scavenging for resources and crafting new armor and weapons is great, but they all lead to one thing: wrecking walking corpses. The gameplay, sounds, and animations combine in just the right way to make shooting and stabbing zombies addictive.

"How to Survive" features roughly five different types of enemies, and it handles them perfectly. The majority of the campaign is filled-in with small groups of zombies, some of which may sport chest and/or head armor. They usually only require a few swings from an axe, but explosive enemies and photophobic  night-crawlers add enough variety to require thoughtful and varied strategies. Tangling with limited types of enemies may feel a little stale towards the end, but the game clearly maximizes their potential. On top of great pacing, the final boss fight is a ridiculous, over-the-top satisfying bloodbath of zombie guts.

How to Survive night crawlers.

The story behind the campaign is extremely lacking in substance, so if the gameplay doesn't grab you then nothing else will. Even if you forgave poorly translated and awkwardly voiced dialogue, it's clear that "How to Survive's" story could take a few pointers on plot and characterization. There is a small bit of mystery and gee-whiz factor, but Eko Software could have taken the basic concept a lot farther.

No one element of "How to Survive" truly stands out in our zombie-infested gaming culture, but they all interact in a fresh way that's well worth spending $15 for the purchase. You can download this M-rated title through Steam, Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network, or the Wii U eShop.

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