Bring duct tape.
Like any good zombie attack, you never see it coming and How to Survive will sink its teeth into your nights if you let your guard down while patiently awaiting the arrival of your shiny next-gen console.
EKO Software’s game is a top-down action-RPG that can be loosely compared with the likes of Diablo III or Dead Nation. After crash landing on a zombie-infested tropical island, you’ll need to scavenge for salvage and build weapons and armour to hold off the infected masses. The overall aim is to make a series of vehicle repairs via completing fetch quests. Ok, so not exactly a revolution of new ideas, but once How to Survive gets going, it’s hard to put down.
Combat is a mix of melee and improvised firearms. Everything must be built from scratch. From humble beginnings with a stick, you’ll go on to craft machetes, axes and spiked boomerangs. Melee attacks are assigned to RB, which isn’t ideal if I’m honest, as it can get uncomfortable after prolonged sessions. You can use basic swings or hold for a charged attack. If you stagger an enemy, you can initiate a grisly kill move, which usually pushes back nearby zombies too, giving you some essential breathing room.
Firearms are crafted with harpoon gun grips, fire extinguishers, metal tubing and other bits of washed-up debris. Ammo is in plentiful supply in the form of raw scrap metal, but most of the early weapons have a slow rate of fire, so care still needs to be taken. You aim with the right stick and a white circle closes around a target the longer you hold your aim. Wait long enough and it’ll settle for a headshot with a pop of RB.
Ranged attacks generally behave, but there were a few annoying instances of the targeting circle not appearing until I released the right stick and tried again. When the bow and arrow is so much fun to use though, it’s easy to forgive the odd gameplay blip.
You can’t afford to hang about during the more intense attack waves, as the zombie variety keeps you on your toes. You have the shufflers, the runners, exploding fatties that’ll knock you down or former soldier zombies, who need to have their helmets shot off before going for the kill. Even the local wildlife aren’t immune to infection. Here’s a hint, don’t bother trying to take on a flock of zombie ostriches until you’ve built a chainsaw.
Despite the similarities with Diablo and Dead Island, I was glad to find that weapons don’t degrade or break. Nobody needs that ball-ache during a zombie apocalypse. However, in addition to a health metre you have one each for hunger, thirst and tiredness. Let them wear down without stopping for lunch or taking a nap in one of the safe zones and you’ll find your attacks less effective and headshots taking longer to line up. These challenges are well handled though, as you’re never far away from what you need.
The inventory is a massive pain though. While item management often plays a part in RPGs, there’s no need for such a small bag here. It’s so easily filled with clutter for weapon crafting. Duplicates of parts, health, food and so on are stackable in single slots, but you’re constantly having to drop stuff on the floor so you have room to combine items into new ones.
There are no Resident Evil-esque magic chests to store items. However, anything you drop on the floor won’t disappear, not that any of the game’s little hint books ever tell you this. So, if you can remember where you put stuff down, near a boat for example, you can make a better go of it. Even if you do have to resort to writing a reminder list on a piece of paper.
The game only has a handful of islands, made up of lush jungles, piranha infested swamps and corpse-ridden beaches. But they each offer reasonably expansive exploration and there’s plenty of scope for returning when you get new abilities, such as cutting through bushes or blowing up barricades. The three selectable characters don’t offer much in terms of variety, but the option to play the game in co-op offline or online could see you get more for your money. Not that your friends will appreciate you using them as bait while you stand there whittling twigs for arrows.
- Satisfying blend of melee and ranged combat options
- Five more minutes turns into hours
- Better than Dead Island
- Occasional aiming issues
- Inventory is too small
- Zombies ostriches want to eat my face
The Short Version: Priced at £9.99 (XBLA) / £11.99 (PSN), How to Survive may seem a bit pricey, but with at least ten hours of tropical islands to explore, enjoyable combat, and a moreish RPG grind to keep you foraging for new zombie-killing tools, it’s definitely worth a shot.