By now, zombie games have filled up the gaming library right into oversaturation, and there seems to be no signs of stopping this trend. Aside from the upcoming (as of posting) Sniper Elite V2: Nazi Zombie Army 2, there’s also this game that puts you in a survival zombie horror story which is both quirky and kind of bland at the same time. That may seem like an odd combination, but that does seem like it with How to Survive. The title is quite presumptuous, but perhaps that’s what makes gamers curious enough to play the game.
How to Survive by 505 Games is a survival horror twin stick shooter that puts players in a rather familiar setting. The premise and visuals feel a bit like that of either the Dead Island series or a modern day real world version of the online action RPG Path of Exile by Grinding Gear Games. You can pick between three characters, each with his/her own strengths and weaknesses in various areas. Once a character is picked, the game starts with the player being stranded in an island full of zombies. There are other survivors on the island, and they can help you as you can also help them. Along the way, you get to learn about the various mechanics in this game.
The tutorials include sequences that have a bit of Zombieland and Borderlands feel to them as they’re cutscenes featuring a narrator with a pseudo-Russian accent called Kovac, who apparently had written his own zombie survival guide (kind of like that written by World War Z’s Max Brooks). In each chapter that you find along the way, you learn more about the various things you can do to survive, as well as how to deal with enemies. The presentation style is quite interesting, although it can get old after a while. Perhaps the only bad thing about this is how they may seem tongue-in-cheek or even cringe-inducing to some players, how they use the same sequence of announcing “Kovac’s Rules” and opening “the survival manual”, as well as how they don’t transition well back into the game.
Aside from the zombies, there are also monsters that appear at night. One of the more interesting gameplay mechanics is the way you can keep them at bay. They’re afraid of light, so you can either carry a torch or shine a flashlight at them to keep them away. As long as you have a light shining their way, they won’t be able to get close. You can also use your light to stun them once they get too close, which you can then take to your advantage and either beat or blast them afterwards. There are both melee and ranged weapons that you’ll find along the way. You start off with a stick and work your way up to guns and so on as you play through.
The inventory system in the game is pretty easy to understand, and the skill tree tells you everything you need to know so you can plan ahead in which skills you take first. The very first skill you have to get is being able to light a campfire, which makes sense both context-wise and gameplay-wise, the latter of which is due to how you can pick up a torch that stays alight for a limited time. You can use this torch to beat and light zombies and other incoming enemies up on fire, as well as the bushes that block your path. Throughout the island, you can pick up various items like healing plants and so on, and you can craft better items out of them. There’s that concept of scarcity at work in this game, and being able to craft items makes the game more engaging.
For all the good things that this game shows, it’s held back a bit by that cheap look and feel that it seems to have. First off, even in the PC version, the graphics look more like that of a mobile game. The interface is a bit shabby too, although it’s still easy enough to comprehend. As for the story, it isn’t overly bad but not that creatively written either since it’s just a run-in-the-mill plot of being stranded on a deserted island with zombies in it. Perhaps it can make you wonder how that Tom Hanks movie would have turned out if it had zombies. The environmental design is rather monotonous, but expectedly so since the island is just one big jungle full of zombies. You get an easy-to-read map though with symbols to show important landmarks and quest markers to balance it all out.
If you can stand the technical issues, the “meh” voice acting, and the Frankenstein-like arrangement of various gameplay elements stitched together to make this game, then it could still be an entertaining survival game. There’s even a two-player co-op mode, which adds to the potential fun factor of the game. It’s dubious on whether it deserves the $15 price tag, but it’s a good enough buy if you get it at a discount in a sale. It’s maybe good enough, but it’s not too bad either.
Tested in PC. Final Score: 6.5/10