Hands On With How To Survive

EKO Software’s zombie ARPG with survival bits, How To Survive, comes out rather soon. I got my hands on it for a bit of a rummage, and – genre cliché be damned – I was fairly impressed.

The state of Jim Being Impressed took a while to materialise, I have to admit. Initially the game seems to make quite a weak offering: you wash up on a beach, hit functionally animated zombies with a stick, follow some instructions. Not looking all that promising. But then the game begins to escalate.

First, combat starts to offer a little more as you begin to use a secondary, stronger attack, and then receive limited attacks of opportunity when enemies are off guard, or off balance, which finish them off. Simplistic, yes, definitely. But it works. Then night falls, and you start to have to use your flashlight to chase away even nastier horrors than the shambling undead. Things which fear the light. As the game goes on you meet a chap who appears to be the salesman/narrator from the Borderlands game, an overly cheery Russian caricature, who guides you through the deep nuances of the game. (He’s a bit annoying, but stick with it.)

There’s a talent/skill tree you can fill in as you progress up through levels, and there’s a fairly wide-open crafting mechanic, where junk can be taped together into guns and so on. I’ve not played enough to really be sure about the scope of this, but the start of the game seems to imply quite a lot of crafting potential. This is all held within predefined in blueprints, of course, so there’s not much scope for invention, but it does provide a wide canvas for activity as the game goes on. Scavenging is relentless and turns up an astonishing array of items, not all of which are clear in the purpose. Some of them probably end up going into contraptions, but for others it’s less clear. For you, it’s about making priorities (as well as makeshift shotguns).

Then there’s the survival layer itself. The most obvious of these is not being killed by the zombies – you are fairly vulnerable, and can reduce incoming damage with various bit of armour – which requires a fair amount of skill when dealing with lots of enemies, and can be patched up with medicinal plants, or medkits. Then there’s the problems of hunger and thirst – you’ll need to eat and drink, and find both fresh water and foodstuffs – and finally the issue of sleep. Finding secure shacks gives you a place to sleep, and admittedly a rather contrived one, but it does mean you’ll find yourself pinging between night and day as you fight off the all-pervading snooze.

Once you’ve learned all this, it’s down to you to get through the game’s story mode (there are a bunch of challenge-based fluff scenarios, but the story mode is the main event) and to survive the island dangers, while trying to find a way to get out from this zombie hell. Small rowboats allow you to get between the various islands, but you need a more permanent and long-distance solution if you’re to escape entirely. Quite early on, that becomes the goal. I’ve not played enough to tell how satisfying this is, and I can’t see the game being all that big, but so far it’s held my attention.

The challenge that all these vectors for peril set out for you is a pretty serious one, and I found myself quite engaged once the initial worries of the tutorial were over. The game contains an uneven tone, still, and Kovacs – our Russian tutorial narrator, and island resident – makes for a peculiarly jolly gloss on a game which is otherwise fairly moody. The marketing has made a big deal out of the game having “a sense of humour”, but I am just not sure it works. Nor does it really matter, because the game offers enough in terms of monster-thwacking and person-management survival challenge to keep you interested.

While I am in the gripe stage of my write up, I should mention that the visuals too are odd, in that they seem both aged and yet highly appropriate. The game would not have looked much different in 2007, I am sure, but the lighting and so on mean that it doesn’t antagonise the aesthetic judge in me too much. I mean, it’s not exactly pretty, but it does work, and the shift between night and day, and the reliance of dynamic light sources, makes for some atmosphere.

What also works, and works well, is local co-op. And I can’t remember the last time I played locally on a PC, with me on keyboard and chum on gamepad. Here it works wonderfully, with the pad support being well developed, thanks to the cross-format nature of this release. I almost want to recommend the game just for this, although there are clearly a few better such titles if you want pure co-op (Lego, etc.)

In zonclusion, then, I think it’s clear that the horde of gamers who would put zombies into their brains are probably still waiting for Dead State. How To Survive, however, is nothing to be sniffed at, and if you are hungry for both a survival game and an ARPG, then this is a rare banquet from the hotpot of both genres. It has some problems, but damn, from what I have played so far it seems to fill a hole.

How To Survive is released on the 23rd of October. That’s tomorrow!


  1. CookPassBabtridge says:

    Sounds a little bit mechanical at the moment with not a lot to stand out from other zombie games, but one to watch if Impressed Mode was activated.

    By the by, my favourite Russian shopkeeper is Mr. “What Is This Shit?” Sidorovich.

    • SillyWizard says:

      Non-FPS zombie survival game available tomorrow = stands out from other options.

      • TrixX says:

        Looks like after getting turned down by the Roam dev’s they decided to set up their own version and rushed it out the door.

        Personally I’m looking forward to Roam and 505games goes on my Publisher to avoid list.

  2. golem09 says:

    I hope I’ll be able to survive until the release. (I preordered, and do wants nows!)

  3. nrvsNRG says:

    right as PoE is about to go live on steam too.

  4. DavidM says:

    What is this? I enter my birthdate ( 1971 ) and it tells me content is age restricted???


    • Big Murray says:

      You have to be over-50. That’s how f**king hardcore it is.

    • Bugamn says:

      You are too old for this shit.

    • Winged Nazgul says:

      That happened to me to when I mixed up month and day (damn euro conventions) so I just deleted the site’s cookies and tried again.

  5. AW says:

    A narrator named Kovacs is Hungarian, not Russian.

  6. UncleLou says:

    I am as tired of zombies as anyone, but the top-down perspective always gets bonus points from me, and an action-RPG with a survival twist (or vice versa) sounds splendid.. Bought it on Steam earlier, looking forward to playing it tonight when it unlocks.

  7. Love Albatross says:

    “although there are clearly a few better such titles if you want pure co-op (Lego, etc.)”

    Like what (aside from the Lego games)? I’ve been searching for some good PC local co-op games.

    • Aloe says:

      I’d really like to know too, I’m always looking for good co-op games to play.

    • Summermute says:

      I play a few games co-op. The first Shank game (but not the second for some reason), Mortal Kombat, Rayman Legends/Origins and Castle Crashers. And the Lego games, natch.

    • Casimir's Blake says:

      How about Legend of Dungeon and Hammerwatch?

      (Oh and, agreed, quite a lame use of etc)

    • cpt_freakout says:

      Monaco is pretty great for co-op. I also played Dead Pixels with a friend and it was a fun little afternoon; it’s nothing really amazing but it’s definitely fun. I also agree with Sumemrmute that Castle Crashers is great for co-op.

      Also, thanks for the tip on Hammerwatch Casimir’s, I’ll definitely get that to play with friends.

      Anyone got any more suggestions? I really love co-op as well.

  8. Ergates_Antius says:

    In zonclusion, then
    zonclusion? Is that like conclusion, but with zombies? Zomclusion?

  9. Foosnark says:

    This kinda sounds like a less cartoony Don’t Starve, but with zombies.

    Which makes me think I’d be terrible at it.

  10. Wounder says:

    Please note that there are an apparently large number of folks (including myself) who are unable to play the game with keyboard and mouse. There’s an option to do so, but it looks like the game decides you have some controller connected and therefore, must want to use a pad. Which I don’t have.

    I have yet to hear back from developer, but as it stands, this was a complete waste of money for me.

  11. Rinimand says:

    I picked this up on Steam Sale last week. Noo problem using with keyboard / mouse. Game is pretty fun, somewhat casual. Save games could be a bit better documented. You save by going to a new island or by entering a safe shack and hitting the “save” button. Loading a save game is trickier – you follow the steps to launch a new game, you *must* select the same character to play (there are 3 of them) and then click “Continue” as the last step. WHen i was selecting the character I figured it was only letting me start a new game, not continue my old one. Concepts such as fishing being more fruitful at daybreak and sunset are the kind of thoughtful things added to this game. I like the open-ended crafting system where you can craft and un-craft without any cost – ie. you can re-use the crafting items over and over to build different things to try out, or based upon your need. I also like that it pauses when you open Inventory or the map.