"How to Survive ends up feeling like a sloppy mish-mash of lifted gameplay ideas crammed into an aesthetically lazy world that’s not worth exploring."
State of Decay had practically zero storytelling and relied entirely on its clever RPG mechanics, fun gameplay, and immersive world. It was technically sloppy, but provided some of the best zombie-slaying action on XBLA. How to Survive wants to take a similar approach by being simplistic yet fun, but unfortunately serves as a sad reminder of how much better the games are that inspired it. The moment the game launches you’re treated to what I can only describe as eye piercingly awful visuals. For a second I felt like I stepped back in time and was playing my old rusty PC from the mid nineties…and I don’t mean that in a nostalgically alluring way. As soon as your character moves, it’s immediately apparent that you’re in for a disaster. Stiff animations, unresponsive and sloppy controls, RB as the attack button (?!)… It’s a mess and it only gets worse.
"The game tries so hard to be funny, but Kovac is an obnoxious character and I cringed every time I encountered one of his dumb guides."
It’s fine for a game of this nature to exclude a narrative, but How to Survive makes no effort whatsoever in grabbing the player’s interest. After selecting your avatar you find yourself on a zombie-infested island and are immediately asked to perform fetch quests. If the visuals didn’t make you cringe, the very first dialogue will. The voice acting is awful and the poor writing doesn’t help either. As soon you start exploring, you’ll encounter Kovac’s Survival Guides scattered around the island that serve as gameplay tutorials and survival lessons. These play out as short comic-style animations and they’re dreadful. The game tries so hard to be funny, but Kovac is an obnoxious character and I cringed every time I encountered one of his dumb guides. His character isn’t all that interesting either…he’s just some crazy guy who’s been stuck on the island long enough to figure out how to get by and now he’s passing on his lessons.
How to survive is not a zombie game with survival elements but rather a survival game with zombies in it. While this sounds great on paper and all, the end result is anything but exciting. Crafting weapons is nearly identical to Dead Island, although using them is half the fun. The game uses a Diablo style perspective and using the right analog stick to aim long range weapons is anything but precise and responsive. Aside from collecting items for crafting weapons and armor, your character has to eat, sleep, and drink water to keep his or her stamina high enough for combat. While the eating and drinking part is a nice touch, the sleeping is just outright annoying. You can only sleep in designated cabins that have protective doors on them, but the problem is the game won’t let you rest unless your tiredness level is low enough to impact your stamina. Since the safe zones are few and far between, you can’t just take a quick nap to replenish your bar when you’re halfway tired, rather you have to wait until you’re completely exhausted and hope that there’s a resting area nearby. This typically results in your characters constantly slowing down due to their tiredness…and even after leveling up your stats it does little to remedy the situation.
"When surrounded by enemies, it feels like you’re playing a game of whack a mole and not like you’re slaying zombies."
Combat in How to Survive is as fun as getting your teeth pulled. Using RB to swing weapons feels stiff, unnatural, and unresponsive. Depending on the weapon weight, you can hold down RB (hold longer for heavier weapons) to charge your strike typically resulting in instant kills and if using weaker weapons, you can perform finishing kills (ehm, State of Decay) if the enemy fumbles to the ground. All this sounds fine in theory, but it just doesn’t feel right. When surrounded by enemies, it feels like you’re playing a game of whack a mole and not like you’re slaying zombies.
Playing How to Survive is just not fun. I had no desire to explore the various islands (yea, you can travel between a few islands but they’re practically identical) and the lack of originality and polish is absolutely embarrassing. The game tries to throw in random mini boss fights to stir things up, but they only serve to highlight the game’s weak gameplay and lack of creativity. How to Survive may be worth checking out if it ever drops down to maybe two bucks, but even then, it won’t be worth your precious hard drive space.
Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Xbox 360