How To Survive Review: Assuming You Still Want To

A zombie apocalypse? Pffahh. Nothing a little duct tape, a few sharpened sticks, and some good old elbow grease can’t fix.

That’s the prevailing attitude woven throughout How To Survive‘s MacGyver-style approach to staying alive when the reanimated dead come shambling en masse for your sweet, delicious brains. Scavenging random junk and cobbling it together into tools that are crucial to your survival puts a cool twist on blasting and chopping up zombies in this top-down survival shooter. Amassing deadly doodads is as enjoyable as actually using them, but it’s just not enough to sustain the fun across this short romp through undead-infested islands.

How To Survive
Platform: PC (Reviewed), Xbox 360
Developer: EKO Software
Publisher: 505 Games
Release Date: Oct. 23, 2013
MSRP: $14.99

Winding up stranded on a desolate island is bad enough, but finding out your new temporary home is crawling with swarms of bloated, rotting cannibals is a crappy way to kick off a tropical getaway. The only good news comes in the form of an impromptu zombie survival guide penned by a crazy guy sporting a welding mask and a Russian accent. Named Kovac, this burly dude offers comic relief and useful advice when he pops-in from time-to-time.

Other than brief encounters with the crazy fellow and a few other human stragglers still alive on the islands, there’s not much to How To Survive’s story mode’s plot beyond trying to escape alive. The punchy arcade-like focus on battling through packs of zombies as you explore makes this a moot point. Do you ever really need a good excuse to slay the walking dead? Didn’t think so.

Unfortunately, much like everything else required to keep your grey matter intact on this forsaken archipelago, hunting down the helpful pages in Kovac’s book and pushing onward quickly churns into a repetitive grind connected strung together by fetch quests. A few hours in, it’s enough to make you question whether you really care to survive long enough to see your harrowing escape through to fruition. Trekking back and forth from one island to the next offers a few notable changes in scenery, but it does little to lessen the repetition that sets in early on.

When it comes to exploration and combat, How To Survive’s twin-stick shooter gameplay is a bit slower and more methodical than twitchier offerings in the genre. Building an assortment of bows, boomerangs, jerry-built guns and other missile weapons lets you pick off zombies from a distance. Taking the time to hone in on a particular zombie tightens the aiming reticle and lets you pull of headshots to drop them faster.

You can also wind up your swing in melee combat too, using machetes, home-made clubs and other bludgeoning weapons to get the job done when foes get too close. Executing takedowns results in everything from messy decapitations to flaming zombies that flail around. They’re satisfying when you have the time to pull them off. That’s not always the case.

Dismembering all manner of gnarly beasts has its rough spots. In smaller numbers, your shambling adversaries are manageable, and the controls aren’t an issue. But as bigger crowds close in around you and the intensity ramps up, the aiming for both melee and long-distance attacks becomes painfully imprecise. This makes it easy to miss your intended target and get overwhelmed by the hordes. The sloppiness doesn’t ruin the experience, but it’ll get you killed a few times more than you’d like.

How To Survive does have its bright spots that help to hold your interest at points. As the name implies, there’s a lot more to worry about here than just being ripped apart by roaming zombie mobs. A steady supply of food and water is needed to stay in tip-top shape. Hunting down animals to skin and cook, foraging for edible plants, and locating sources of clean drinking water are important tasks that command your attention. Sleep is critical too, since your ability to function effectively diminishes as your grow more fatigued.

The plentiful supply of things to scavenge means you’re rarely ever in danger of starvation to death. What it does add is some welcome extra weight to the survival aspect, since the negative impact of failing to stay on top of your core bodily needs really hampers your ability to fight and flee.

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