The PS2-era visuals are among the first disappointing signs of the third-person variant of developer Eko Studios’ How To Survive. There are virtually no graphics settings to boost the game into an acceptable state, and there are a plethora of performance bugs – from a shoddy frame-rate, to an inordinate amount of clipping and dull textures.
That said, deep within How To Survive, there are many good ideas that aren’t implemented to their full potential, surrounded by a very tiring and generic zombie apocalypse backdrop. The plot follows one of four playable characters – with customizable skins and a brief backstory – stranded on an island full of zombies.
Early on, you meet an NPC with a working boat, which becomes the player’s conduit to travel to each island and explore that area. The main objective’s to get off said island, but you won’t be caring much about that, as the characters are not interesting at all and as said before, it drags on to become the average zombie apocalypse escape. Along the way however, there are funny ‘How to Survive’ books that give you a Ratchet & Clank style of parody tutorial. I was disappointed when I met the character who voiced the tutorial, Kovacs, and he turned out to be voice acted very poorly in-game, as did all the characters. More of Kovacs would do the experience wonders, but alas other dull characters take the lead roles instead.
What How To Survive excels at – or at least comparatively to the poor story and world – is the weapon customization and skill upgrades on the combat side. Players are able to hunt for resources and parts which they can then, via the inventory, combine with other parts to build unique weapons. As you blast zombies or machete them to death (which triggers a satisfying death animation), you earn your everyday skill points that open up more gameplay possibilities, like crafting different types of arrows, and concocting boosters that give you added health or damage.
Even with its attempted variety, most areas you explore will have the same types of zombies attacking you instead of a variation, so as to force players to strategize their battle plans instead of driveling down to a button-mashing festival. This also harms the leaderboard stats (which should’ve been more integrated into the campaign experience), when most kills are not through cool combos and instead just button mashing.
In terms of the actual mechanics, How To Survive feels like your standard third person melee title, but its gunplay is rather weak, as the weapons have no kick to them on top of sounding rather poor. The player has the ability to hold down the attack button for a critical strike with melee weapons and aim for the head with arrows and guns. You can test your skills in the 3 game modes included in the game: Story, Challenge, and One Shot Escape.
While Story mode’s self-explanatory, the game’s Challenge mode pits you against overwhelming odds in quick sessions, like making it to an airplane on the other side of the island with limited resources and tons of enemies or horde mode-esque survival challenge as bloaters and even ostriches (yes, wildlife hunting’s included in a very minimal form) rush your small hideout.
One Shot Escape’s a perma-death mode where players must find parts to fix a vehicle and leave the island. There are fewer resources and much stronger AI to stop you from your task. The modes also have a decent enough day and night cycle and weather system that change up how you approach enemies in the dark of the night, or the orange-tinted dusk, which is more of what the game needed.
The main story suffers from fetch quests, and even Assassins Creed-like ‘follow the leader’ quests that bog the game down even worse than fighting zombies. A bigger map and an added co-op mode would really help in the game’s lasting appeal, as both are sorely missed and replaced with ‘Find X amount of herbs’ or ‘Give X item to X friend on the other side of the island’. In the end, How To Survive: Third Person Standalone is a lazy attempt at advancing the zombie apocalypse genre, but has good ideas hidden between a lot of mediocre ones.
A review code for How To Survive: Third Person Standalone was provided by 505 Games for this review