E3 2013: How to Survive Impressions

What would you get if you mixed the bow and location of Tomb Raider, the weapon crafting of Dead Island, the creature design of Left 4 Dead, the top-down co-op of Gauntlet and some heavy action RPG elements? Chances are it would look a lot like EKO Software’s How to Survive. It’s being touted as a “third-person action adventure game that equips players to stay alive in a world where the outbreak of an unknown virus has turned most of the population into zombies.”

Getting the obvious out of the way, none of How to Survive is particularly original when looking at it on paper. All of the above are present and accounted for in the portion of the game I saw. However, dismissing How to Survive at first sight would be a mistake because it is the gameplay and the depth of the systems that will really make gamers take notice.

During Day One of E3, EKO Software was not allowing people to go hands-on with the game, but lucky for me, our meeting was on Day Two and I was able to play a portion of How to Survive‘s Challenge Mode.

How to Survive - Gory
Unlike World War Z, How to Survive is gory….like anything zombie related should be.

Castaway Meets Dawn of the Dead

At the start of the game players will be able to choose 1 of 3 playable characters (2 if you’re playing co-op but more on that in a bit), each with their own stats and specialties. For example, Abby, whom I played, is quicker but isn’t very strong. Each character is said to have a tactical advantage over the other two and should provide balance while offering a unique playing experience through each character.

Once the player has chosen their character it’s time to start exploring. Inexplicably (at least at that point in the game), there are crates to be salvaged, vegetation to collect for food as well as wildlife to kill and eat. Salvaged items act as crafting materials to make weapons, traps, bait and more in order to not only survive the zombie infested island but also being stranded on this island. It’s an incredibly robust mechanic that immediately shows benefits. For instance a branch can be combined with a string to craft a bow. Arrows are crafted by combining the machete with a thick branch. You will need to scour every inch of the island to find what you need, and not doing so will make the game much more difficult.

There is also skill system, and while I didn’t get too deep into it, I did see that it’s not a simple, linear skill tree. The player will have a lot of options and it looks like it could prove to add replay value to the game.

There are little tongue-in-cheek nods like a survival manual collectable that just so happens to tell the player “how to survive” after having washed ashore from a capsized ship.

The game also looked great, as you can see in the screen shots. What you can’t see in these screens shots is how smooth character animations are.

How to Survive - Fishing
Hunger is an actual factor in How to Survive. You need to craft a fishing pole in order to fish.

It’s in the Details

Combat is handled by using the left bumper for melee, and the right stick handles the aiming of your ranged weapon. Arrows must be crafted and are limited but you can retrieve them from your targets once they’ve been felled.

Oh, and remember how in Tomb Raider, a big deal was made about how Lara needed to find food to eat only to never be mentioned again? Well, one of your meters in this game is “hunger” and you actually need to eat to fill it back up. It’s this kind of mechanic that makes How to Survive stand out from other zombie games currently flooding the market.

As I mentioned earlier, I played Challenge Mode, which is a one life type of hardcore mode which allows players to get as far as they can before dying. This leads me to believe the game isn’t very long, but with multiple characters, local and online co-op support (only local on Wii-U) and the variations of skill choices when leveling up, I’d imagine that this game will offer plenty of replay value.

How to Survive - Ammo
Crafting requires specific items and is surprisingly deep.

This far in to my preview and I haven’t even mentioned the zombies. There are zombies. There, ya’ happy? Like most modern zombie games, there are different categories of zombies. I managed to fend off regular zombies, night zombies that attack you in the dark unless you shine your flashlight at them and a large zombie who explodes when you kill him. The reason why I haven’t mentioned them is because honestly the zombies are the least interesting part of this game from what I was able to play. They add another degree of tension to the already tense situation, but they could have been any other enemy at that point.

With a surprisingly deep crafting system, good graphics, fun combat, and a robust leveling system, How to Survive jumped towards the top of my “Must Play” list for the fall when the game releases on Xbox Live Arcade, PSN, Wii-U e-shop and PC via Steam.

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