7 Days to Die is what could be simply described as a cross-breeding of Minecraft and DayZ. Combining the harsh pseudo-reality of the latter with the voxel based destruction and exploration of the former, their success made its existence inevitable. Powering onto Early Access after well over doubling its target on Kickstarter, it's obvious from a few moments of play that it's still in the earliest stages of development. There's messy bugs, crappy animation and confused mechanics aplenty - but also potential and, based on the regular patching from creators "The Fun Pimps," a willingness to adapt, develop and listen. Have a read of where I stand after a few hours.
I bounced straight off 7 Days when I started. Every new spawn begins in a corner of the map, next to a burnt out car and discarded rubbish. There's no instruction, no hint as to where is safe from the already-encroaching zombies. The landscape is an ugly mess of brown and black, stretching off into a slightly-too-close draw distance and pock-marked with disinteresting rocks and tangled bushes. Without direction I stumbled into the neon-green area behind me and immediately began to die at a shocking rate, having accidentally sidled off the edge of the map. Somewhat at odds with its roots, there's little procedural generation outside loot so you're always playing on the Alpha's one current map.
I frowned and punched a deer. It hopped away from me up a small hill, bounding with all the grace and style of a man trying stilts for the first time.
It really seemed like the game was that basic. Walk around, dodge shambling zombies that posed no threat unless walked right into, looting the odd corpse until a gun or knife was found that sped up the process further. A single foe could be held at bay until death simply by holding the punch button aimed at their face until they fell over. The most difficulty I faced was trying to fend off infected dogs while laughing at their madly spinning, somewhat terrifying model as they attempted to climb some stairs after me.
I frowned as the in-game clock ticked over to evening. As much fun as the fish in the barrel were, there are an infinite number of other games that provide similar entertainment in more refined shells.
Thankfully, nightfall is when 7 Days plays its hand. Zombies immediately switch from slow, neigh-passive observers to sprinting monsters. Spawn rates for all manner of nasties are increased and additional creatures, like giant hornets, come out to play. The safe dystopia of daytime is removed by the sudden aggression, replacing it with something that feels much more like the apocalypse. Foolishly caught out in the open with few defenses and less ammo, I died almost immediately.
I frowned and opened a browser, hoping for just the barest hint of what to do. As I’ve come to expect from its survival peers, I found it in spades. A wiki explained what to look for as a beginning player and that all the seemingly random garbage I’d picked up was useful for crafting. Hub caps and cans could be turned into scrap metal, a certain amount of which could then be used to build walls or doors. It’s simplistic but successful, allowing a certain amount of believability without over-emphasising the survival aspects and sacrificing fun.
This philosophy is echoed throughout. There’s health, stamina, hunger and thirst to balance, but they’re tools to keep you moving and hunting rather than imminent threats at all times. While the crafting itself takes time, it can be done in the background while continuing to explore the world and eliminate threats or investigate houses. These indoor areas often boast better loot holders, which take longer to open due to locking mechanisms (sadly represented simply by a timer rather than mini-game). Vision unable to move from a gun safe on the wall, I can hear a horde of zombies shambling after me with properly horrifying screams, beating down doors and walls in their way to get to me.
You see, 7 Days' undead nuisances aren't kept out by simple blockades or pits. They'll actively dig through terrain, bash down doors and slowly, inexorably beat their way through entire structures if they know where you are. While the current graphics are basic (and some of the female models more than a little gross) the sudden speed and ferocity of their attacks is more effective than many of the thousand other virtual zombies. The blood icing on the gore cake comes in fantastic sound, from a Doom 3-tier menu theme to the height of creepy, atmospheric ambience during play.
The main draw isn't to always avoid a purely deadly enemy or constantly be collecting new loot, it's a cycle of exploration during daytime and mad defense at night. There's incentivisation issues - it's possible to survive by holing up in a crudely made fortress far from the nearest zombies and staying hidden - but that's not the point. It's about seeing what you can get away with. Making the daring dash from room to room with a growing pack of Zs trailing. Trying to take out those guarding a house in the dead of night, one at a time with a silent crossbow to avoid a full horde. Using the building systems and crafting to create a defensible position of spike pits, firing holes and enough ammo to hold off everything that comes.
My own creations paled in comparison to what I found on servers and forums, however. Great underground bases of winding tunnels and choke points, packed with crates of spoils. Trenches filled with desks to jump on to escape but which otherwise trap zombies in with spikes and make them easy prey. At one point I spawned into a new server next yo a man named Cully who gifted me a knife and crossbow from his stash before sending me on my journey. His little cave was simple but effective, difficult to find for both human raiders and the NPC undead and just big enough to stash his stuff. Lovely chap, too.
7 Days to Die is still far from perfect and an example of Early Access as we should expect it. However, not only is it a massively promising concept but I is already showing the signs of reaching those heights. If you wish to support the development and have a group who can dedicate some time to it, it may well be worth your pennies. For everyone else, the solo game isn't interesting enough yet to merit investment and searching for a server that meets your tastes could take some time. Watch this space, mind.