Not quite brainless
While I usually occupy myself playing games that tickle my brain, I don’t think that there is anything wrong with killing one’s time with the occasional button-masher. There is a therapeutic effect to mindlessly killing zombies and I think is fair to say that it’s the “testosterone alternative” to Candy Crush and Puzzle Bobble. On the surface, Eko Software’s How To Survive falls into that category but as it turns out, it’s not entirely -brainless- either.
The title’s premise is delivered through a series of comic survival guides and near constant threats to the well being of your protagonist. The presentation of the survival guides – done by master survivalist Kovac – is vaguely reminiscent of some of the intermissions found in the Fallout games, but any comparison with that illustrious franchise ends there. Topics such as healing, eating and crafting weapons are all explained adequately but not all of the instructions arrive at the appropriate time. Puzzlingly, the skills tutorial told me to open the inventory to assign new skills, but not how to open the inventory itself. It also showed up some time after I leveled up and thus after I had - unsuccessfully - turned to the internet to find out what to do about the blinking arrow at the top of my screen telling me some sort of action was required.
I found myself walking through a forced corridor of bushes. “Survival on rails”, I thought, and while that idea never really went away, I did like how my options for travel broadened when a machete was added to my weaponry. Cutting away at bushes actually had a purpose too, as goodies are often to be found on the other side. I was similarly enthused by the day and night cycle. Combating the earlier zombies during daytime is fairly straightforward but others that looked like Gollum’s twin brothers turn up at night and are a fair bit quicker and more difficult to deal with. Creatively, a flashlight puts these guys literally in the spotlight to make them pause or even run away for a short period. How to Survive introduces new types of foes at regular intervals and almost all will force you to take stock of how you dispose of them.
Survival of the best equipped
Before I knew it, my inventory got filled to the brim with not-so-useless junk. Happily crafting away, I ended up improving the quality of my arrows by attaching feathers to them, and my look by strapping some bone to my helmet. Just as I started to enjoy the crafting, I realized the inventory is frightfully limited. You have to make choices as to what to bring and what to leave behind. If a slot occupies food or water, it cannot hold a component for a better weapon.
These choices became more and more difficult as the game progressed, as did everything else. To survive you need to quench your thirst, still your hunger, mend your health but also find a safe place to sleep. Failing to do so seriously affects your ability to fight and by the time armored zombies (!) enter the fray, you’ll find that such failures can be fatal. With only the last checkpoint save available, the struggle to survive reaches yet another level.
How to Survive’s skill tree has some items that can buff up your chances to stay alive, though. Some skills simply reduce the rate at which the sleep, water and food gauges decrease, others give you the ability to craft new items. It’s all a little plain but it works.
Gameplay deepens considerably once you’re past the first island.
Unappealing at first, obvious port.