The Ninjabot

How to Survive Review: Dead Rising on a Budget

Posted on November 23, 2013 at 1:56 pm by Victor Chaves

how to survive

How to Survive leaves you stranded on a set of islands with wildlife, oddball characters, and the tried-and-true generic bad guy that’s present in so many games nowadays—zombies. Wait, wait! Come back! Hear me out. Even though it’s another zombie game, it has more to offer; such as a fun gameplay style, intriguing level design, and a nice personality with the type of characters and an aesthetic that makes quite a solid game.

Swingin’ for the Fences

What I find very enjoyable about How to Survive is that the combat isn’t a complete button-masher like other games involving zombies. Let’s just say that blindly swinging and shooting is not going to get you anywhere. Sure, you’ll leave a trail of bodies, but yours will be one too if you don’t handle yourself carefully. Each weapon (except one or two) is best used when taking a moment to aim in order to make a killing strike, or at least a critical one. This is downright required by the time you move on to enemies with bullet-proof vests and helmets, as the only way to remove helmets are with well-aimed shots that peel them like onions. It gives a fresh perspective, one where in the face of a manic zombie rush you need to stay stalwart and calm so as to know when to chip away at a few heads, or make an escape. Probably one of my favorite things about this combat is being able to group up zombies and charge my swing and timing at just at the right moment to break five heads in one MLB-level swing.

how to survive

3,000th headshot is just as satisfying as the first.

Other facets of the gameplay involve the crowd control, such as the dash ability which runs you in whatever direction you’re holding and ignores the enemies in your path, providing a nice short burst of escape from when you’re control on the situation is a bit too loose. My only complaint, though, is that the dash doesn’t move diagonally, but only in four directions. The lack of choice in direction really hinders the player, and considering how many times you’ll be overrun and hustling to get to a more advantageous position, this will become annoying at times.

Weapons can also be useful for crowd control, depending on how you want to manipulate the oncoming horde. Weapons vary in damage effects, ammo types, and aiming methods so making an effort to constantly craft these weapons will best prepare you for nearly any situation. Weapons like the chainsaw require no aim but needs gas, bows are silent but require a long draw (some even force an arrow to pierce), shotguns have the capability to aim but they are more for slowing a crowd down more than killing, and many other nice details that really serve to match with common scenarios. Often in a battle, I would switch between weapons constantly to be as efficient as possible; and knowing when to put away your bow and switch to a shotgun, or drop the torch and fall back to gain some time to slam a hammer into a zombie chin, is just a ton of fun.

Safehouses Not Safe At All

But this game isn’t called How to Kill Zombies, it’s called How to Survive. Besides health, the survivor has a hunger, thirst, and sleepiness meter that all need care. Hunger is taken care of by finding fruits and hunting healthy animals, which is easy enough as you just need to keep an eye out for them. Once you gather the meat, you cook them in a fire and boom you have food.

Thirst is also pretty simple as finding water, and filling a bottle or jug with water is all you need to keep yourself hydrated. The true pain is sleep, as the only safe places to sleep are in the safehouses placed quite a distance from each other, and what’s difficult is that each new safehouse requires a battle with a horde as opening one sets off an alarm that brings zombies over like ants to a picnic. What makes the situation odd though is that if you lose these fights, the game spawns you next to the safehouse you just opened with all your items, sans zombies and alarm. It’s such a weird oversight as there’s no penalty for not surviving, even though the game is all about SURVIVING. Despite making the situation easier, this inconsistency is really weird to see when the game is generally solid.

how to survive

So much to make…so much to kill.

What compliments this measure of survival is the crafting and gathering system, where using the items you pick up around the islands you can then repurpose them using the crafting system. Some objects are obvious, like meat and fruits, that are meant to refill hunger or thirst; other objects are less obvious, like taping two sharp sticks together to make a boomerang, or upgrading your bow by attaching a pulley. You can learn how to craft these by finding manuals throughout the island that show what you need, but if you experiment like me and just see what pegs go into what holes, you’ll make weapons and equipment without the need of a recipe. This makes exploring very entertaining as you will find odd items and try them out against what you already have in order to see what pops out. Better yet, you don’t lose your supplies when you craft them, as you can easily disassemble them and use the old parts for something else. With this freedom of experimentation and interesting uses for weapons, it becomes very satisfying to explore the islands.

Paradise to Die For

Speaking of the islands, the locations are actually quite varied and well thought out. Moving between the four islands, you find some typical forests, swamps, beaches, cliff sides, and ruins. In the face of these familiar themes, the levels shine in their design as no location is the same and invites you to explore for that last part of that great armor or weapon. I specifically enjoyed the swamp locale, as walking through the swamp had me going under bridges that led to other places, enemies got a little bit harder, and a new piranha enemy was introduced that complicated swamp traversal. It was fun knocking off zombie heads and studying my surroundings as well as finding new parts for weapons and armor. What this game really does right is that nearly every nook or cranny rewards you with an item that you may or may not need. Whoever designed this had a very keen sense of timing between discovery and battles, as well as a nice sense of how to ride the line between too hard or too easy. It’s undeniable—the fun-to-traverse environment is a big reason to play How to Survive.

how to survive

There better be a manual in this…

The story and quests serve nearly no purpose, except to tell the player to go and grab something. Of course, that something is always on the other side of the island, and there’s always more zombies standing than how you left it before. Considering that exploring and fighting is pretty fun, the lack of story doesn’t necessarily detract from the experience, it’s just something to note.

The characters themselves have fun personalities that vary the story a bit. Kovac is the most entertaining fellow island-dweller, as he has his own instructional videos you watch that have their fun little jokes in them that makes going the drudgery of going through a tutorial that much less annoying. There’s also a monkey and parrot duo that offer side quests, which just adds that much more surrealism to an already odd game. All in all, the narrative in How to Survive isn’t anything bad or good, it’s more of a question of whether there even is one.

 I Chose Jack Black

how to survive

It’s…uncanny.

You have a choice between three characters who bring their own set of strengths and weaknesses, however there is one character who is definitely overlooked: Jack, who is geared more towards melee attacks rather than ranged. The skill tree in the game doesn’t provide any sort of melee boost or upgrade at all. The other two characters benefit from the ranged upgrades and supply boosts, but Jack is left in the cold, using skills that don’t benefit him as well as the other two. Much like the safe house issue, it feels like designers just overlooked this aspect of the game.

The player can do some online or local multiplayer to do some dual-zombie killing, but unfortunately it’s not in the story. Instead, you participate in challenges where both players are plopped on an island and need to reach a plane somewhere on the island to escape. The mode is a shadow of what the game is, as all that you craft and kill doesn’t carry over to the single-player campaign. It begs the question, what’s the purpose of this mode? Although the co-op added a new wrinkle in handling the hordes, it didn’t actually forward anything for either player. Even more puzzling was that the co-op had no method of communication, neither voice or text was available to use, which is important if you want to communicate that you found something or want to share a weapon. It’s a disappointing feature in a mostly sound title.

Deers will annihilate you.

Deers will annihilate you.

Final Thoughts

The game is solid fun in the single-player mode. You’re killing zombies, you’re exploring and finding supplies, crafting some silly weapons, wearing wacky armor, slipping through crowds, and when you finally look at the clock you’ll realize you played this way longer than you thought you would. The game is by no means new in any way, but How to Survive does a good job of reminding you why you enjoyed zombie games in the first place.

 Presentation: 8

Gameplay: 8

Replay: 8

LEGACY SCORE: 8.0

Geek Legacy’s review scores are on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest possible score.

This review is based on the Steam download of How to Survive, provided by 505 Games.

Follow Victor on Twitter @fake_brasilian to keep up on his sandwiches.

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