Monday, 30 December 2013

How to Survive - Preview

How to Survive is the Playstation’s answer to XBLA’s State of Decay, and though I’ve only played the demo, which had been slowly decomposing on my PS3 for some time, it’s extremely fun. The game, although not overly scary, has a pick-up-and-play vibe attached to it, meaning that you can explore the four zombie-infested islands alone, or with a friend, whenever the mood strikes you.

Warning: I played this demo with my girlfriend, and I can assure you that friendly fire is most definitely on.

As one of the most recent games to be included in the already bursting selection of zombie games, How to Survive had to break away from the norm and do something a little different. In my mind at least, it succeeds. This third-person top-down affair begins with your chosen character – there are three to choose from, each with their own story and characteristics – being shipwrecked on an island. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the pristine sand of your castaway home is soiled with blood, body parts, and a dying man. Guess that sun-tan will have to wait.

Ladies, ladies. There's enough bullets to go around.

How I believe this game differs itself from other zombie-games is that it combines fast-paced arcade gameplay with a depth at its core. Sure, you’ll have immense fun running around the colourful, if a little unfriendly, islands taking down the undead with a variety of weapons and finishing moves – which are all satisfying to pull off – but if you don’t pay attention to your character’s needs (health, hunger, thirst, tiredness), then you won’t do it for long.

Like I said, How to Survive hides much deeper gameplay under its simple fun exterior – maybe it’s afraid to open itself up because it’s been hurt too many times, I don’t know – but there’s real depth here. Aside from the needs, which you’ll have to keep in check by drinking water from puddles, hunting and cooking wildlife, and clearing out safe houses so that you can get a nervous night’s rest, there’s also weapon-crafting and skill trees.

I have a message for Bambi.

An example of weapon-crafting would be combining a stick with a wire to create a bow, and using a machete on smaller sticks to create the arrows. Voila, you can kill zombies from a distance.
The skill tree, which offers a number of different skull-crushing abilities, also appears to have multiple advantages for survival and exploration. Once I had levelled up and received my first skill point, I learnt to create campfires. Fire has many different uses in How to Survive, and is a perfect example of the game’s depth.

Firstly, it can be used to cook meat, and reduce hunger (and salmonella, I guess), Secondly, it can be used to burn down thick areas of foliage, and therefore open up new areas of the island previously inaccessible. And thirdly, it can keep away the creatures that return each and every night.

Wear bright colours, just in case the undead have bad eyesight.

Hm? Oh, don’t worry about that. They’re just spindly Gollum-like creatures that scuttle around on all fours, using the darkness to get really, really close. They may just want a hug, but I’d be lying if I said I gave them that chance. What I did do, however, was feel somewhat more edgy than I had felt throughout the entire demo. 

In a similar fashion to the free-running zombie title, Dying Light, the night completely changes the gameplay. When the sun goes down, this tropical island gets much spookier. The pace slows right down, and you’ll be creeping your way through trying to shine your torch or flame in all directions at once to keep these strange creatures at bay.

Along with these night-time beasties, I also encountered a mammoth of a zombie, who exploded on contact, and a massive, I mean massive, zombie that could have ended me with one misplaced step. Luckily, I didn’t have to experience that, as the demo ended there, with my death looking pretty certain.

The apocalypse isn't all bad.

How to Survive combines fun, fast-paced gameplay with a hidden depth of character needs, skill trees, weapon-crafting and exploration. With 2-player local play, or eight online co-op missions available, there’s no excuse not to drag a friend along for this vacation from hell. Though this game has been criticised for its price tag, as it is meant to be relatively short, it is currently only £5.99 on Steam and for a fun afternoon with another zombie-lover, that sounds like a deal you could just sink your teeth into.

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