You could be forgiven for thinking that the groaning horde of entertainment products geared around the Z-word over the past few years might’ve had its day. On the other hand, you might be justifiably accused of fun-spongery in the first degree – you might even be taken out back and shot in the head, and quite right too.
Those rotten-fleshed denizens of so many George A. Romero flicks have undeniably had somewhat of an explosive renaissance, spurred on by Hollywood and the prolific success of American drama, The Walking Dead. The virus has even spread into the realm of video games; seemingly there is no end. One question? Who on earth would want there to be?
Zombies are a classic, a staple of horror entertainment, and a genre so perfectly suited to the gaming environment. Titles such as Left 4 Dead and Dead Rising, amongst countless others, have proved time and time again that there is always boundless amusement to be found in dismantling swathes of undead beasties, one limb at a time, and it’s my job to report to you, dear readers, that How To Survive: Storm Warning Edition proves it once again.
How To Survive is back with extra, added bite. A revived, retouched, retooled iteration of the last-gen 2013 release for Playstation 4 and Xbox One, including an up-to-date collection of all published DLC, the Storm Warning Edition sets out its light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek take on Z-Day survival on a stall made of rotting limbs and DIY weaponry, all the while remaining a challenge.
From a bird’s eye view, the player must guide their survivor through the varied terrain of a mysterious chain of islands, scavenging the supplies and materials necessary to stay alive in the zombified face of adversity.
Simple enough in theory, but in practice the various responsibilities that must be attended to in the quest to remain whole and unspoiled mount up quickly and can rapidly incite panic, particularly after the sun has set. As ever in the genre, moonlight plays spectator to some of the foulest of goings on, with tougher beasties lurking in the shadows.
Praised in the original and still its crowning glory is How To Survive’s crafting system, thrusting upon the survivor an expansive, slightly unhinged platform for combining what spoils can be harvested from the environment to create anything from weaponry to armour; from medicine to dinner.
Creating the weapons is a joy, and the extensive combinatory are a credit to the game. Sadly, though, using the weapons you’ve painstakingly gathered together the materials for, even spilt blood for, is a little less enjoyable – finicky at best and downright clumsy in the worst instances. Despite this, there’s still something enormously satisfying about calmly pincushioning zombies with bow and arrow.
The frustrations born of at times eccentric weapon handling are mitigated by regular checkpoints and autosaving, ensuring that the world going to hell in a hog cart doesn’t drive the player to the brink of insanity, this is just a game after all. These frequent milestones also make the title suitable for more casual, dip-in, dip-out gameplay.
The rapid day/night cycle can infuriate, and the need to eat, drink and sleep also tends to come rather out of the blue, often throwing a spanner into the works when striking at especially inopportune moments. Paying attention to the ‘How To Survive’ guidebooks scattered across the levels, however, should drum into the player the importance of these bare necessities at an early stage, instilling (in theory) a situational awareness of where they might find food, water or respite in any given moment. The eccentric Russian, Kovac imparts survivor 101 top tips through tomes scattered about the archipelago, and these form something of a progressive tutorial as your survivor meets new breeds of challenge.
A constant battle of wits and reactions, those who take care and fully exploit the available resources will win the day and be true survivors. It becomes a flat out impossibility with the difficulty set higher than easy to waltz around like the king of the jungle; try to and the game will slap you so hard it’ll sever the ties between your body and your soul. Creative and quiet solutions, for the most part, come off better than going all guns blazing, no matter how tempting it might be.
Through the Story Mode, a series of missions are given by NPCs, which drive a narrative gravitating around the player’s mysterious mentor, Kovac. Hopping from island to island to complete these tasks, ordinary zombies and night-bound critters will hamper attempts at survival, persistence and cunning, alone, will win the day. As the bodies and completed objectives stack up, player skills can be upgraded in familiar skill-tree fashion. Here it feels a little unnecessary; the game wouldn’t have suffered without the upgrade system.
Challenge Mode sets the player down on an island and tasks them with getting to the other side and making an escape. The levels on this mode are the same action as the story, streamlined and concentrated, perfect again for short, intense spells of gaming. How To Survive is best like this – quick burst fun without over-analysis. It’s the extended sessions that cause the cracks to show, the gathering quests, for instance, quickly mount up to be a real drag.
Visually the graphics won’t cause any earthquakes – and that’s probably for the best, because with all these zombies, it seems that humanity’s got enough to contend with – but How To Survive is by no means an ugly runt. There’s been polish and sheen applied since the original version making it perfectly satisfactory for a current-gen title. It’s a crying shame.
A good range of content has been added, with there being new playable characters over and above the original three available, as well as there being more islands to explore. Tweaks to the weather system add new threats such as electrical storms into the equation, though cleverly these can prove blessings in disguise as they recharge depleted energy generators, used to recharge flashlight batteries. Furthermore, additional game modes designed with community feedback to the original version in mind are included.
Of particular note is the ‘Barricade!’ mode, echoing the classic tower defence genre, where our survivor is given time to fortify a base and then must face a relentless onslaught of shambling corpses, testing their mettle and seeing how long they can survive. This is joined by ‘One Shot Escape’, which randomises the level and resources available, tasking the survivor with finding a way to escape. Local and online co-op functionality offers the chance to shake up the formula a little when things get a little stale or just too damn difficult.
The new modes vastly increase the game’s scope and flesh it out to the point where it could almost hold its own as a full-fat retail release. As it stands, selling at £15.99 on the Xbox Store and PSN, this new edition of How To Survive gives quite the mouthful for zombie lovers to chew over. The taste, however, will soon get old if left to linger too long upon the tongue.