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REVIEW | How to Survive Puts the Emphasis Back on Survival

Posted on November 22, 2013 AT 02:02pm

When faced with a zombie apocalypse, often the first thing one might think of is how they’re going to take down the hordes of the undead. This is certainly an important point to think about, but there’s something even I often forget to take into consideration: basic survival. How to Survive takes this concept and runs with it by stranding you on several desert-islands infested with zombies and tasks you with staving off your hunger and thirst in addition to the horde of ghouls that infest the islands.

Waking up on the shore of a beach, you find yourself confused as to how you got there and why zombies are roaming around this mysterious island. As you walk along the beach you happen to find a chapter from a book written by a man named Kovac who is evidently so good at surviving on this island that he wrote the book on it. These segments, called “Kovac’s Rules” are fun to watch with often chuckle-worthy animations included with the tips.

Most of these rules involve survival which plays a big part in the game. In addition to the requisite health bar, you have a thirst, hunger and tiredness bar. Each of these has a different effect on your character when it begins to run low and can be refilled in specific ways. By hunting animals or collecting plants you can satiate your hunger, but you need to watch out when collecting raw meat, because it will attract zombies until it is cooked. Thirst can be quenched from any of the fresh-water wells on the islands. If you’re going someplace farther away from those well, you can carry a container filled with water to quench your thirst on the go. Tiredness can be satiated by finding one of the shelters located on each island, clearing out the undead inside, and taking a nice nap. Each of these stats, while not instantly fatal, are important to keep track of, because they do effect things like the power of your hits and your ability to aim.

In addition, there is a constant day and night cycle in effect and when night comes, more dangerous ghouls are on the prowl. You can stun them for a bit with your flashlight and they’ll run away, but your better bet is to take them out while they’re stunned. Be careful though, because more of their buddies are on their way and won’t stop coming until the sun rises. It would have been easy for these added layers to simply make the game more tedious, but it instead adds an extra layer which leads to a more fun experience if you’re looking for a challenge. If you are more interested in simply dispatching the undead, there are many more games out there that give you easy access to zombie extermination. Come to How to Survive for the, albeit slightly, more realistic scenario where you not only have to look out for the zombies, but more importantly your health.

If you’ve had any experience with isometric games, Dead Nation is a good example, you’ll be fairly familiar with the style of How to Survive. It certainly doesn’t break any new ground there, but it does a good enough job of providing an interesting group of islands to explore. The color palate of the game tends to blend together a little bit in places and it can be a bit difficult to see the characters on the screen. These moments don’t happen often, but when they do it can be a bit frustrating. It also would’ve been nice for the text to have been just a little bigger or bolder as I occasionally found it difficult to read.

The true pull of this game does not come through its look however, it comes from how it’s played. The game features a large number of customizable weapons, armor and other items that you can craft with the materials you find on the islands. If you’re one of those people that enjoys looking through every nook and cranny for new stuff, this game will be right up your alley. I found myself constantly going to my menu and doing a quick check to see if I had anything new I could combine. Discovering the recipe for the bone boomerang, I instantly fell in love, because it was a nice ranged weapon with no required ammo.

In addition to be able to customize your equipment, you also have choices in regards to the character you take to the island. Each character can be leveled up and has their own strengths and weaknesses. They also each have a unique skill tree that can be unlocked bit by bit for every level you gain. This customization provides a nice depth to the game and kept me coming back and experimenting with the various character choices.


  • Survival mechanics and customization make for a deeper experience
  • Deep crafting system makes it fun to experiment
  • Kovacs Rules sequences are amusing
  • Juggling hunger, health, thirst and tiredness might not be for everyone
  • Color palate makes it sometimes hard to differentiate objects well
  • Text is sometimes hard to read

Final Thoughts:

With multiple difficulties, including an “iron man” difficulty which was just a bit much for me personally, the ability to play co-op and complete challenges, there’s plenty to keep you coming back for more in How to Survive. The juggling of the survival part of it might not be the pace that everyone is looking for in a zombie game, but it creates a much more deliberate pace for anyone looking for that kind of experience. Trust me, figure out how to make a boomerang and you’ll have a good time. Just remember to pack plenty of food and water.

Final Grade: 7.8 (out of ten)

Reviewed on PS3

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