When Brendan reviewed the last-gen version of How To Survive last year, he found it to offer "ten hours of tropical islands to explore, enjoyable combat, and a moreish RPG grind to keep you foraging for new zombie-killing tools" and serve up a worthwhile way to kick one's virtual heels while waiting for the arrival of the PS4 and Xbox One. Twelve months on and Eko Software have released a new-gen version of their isometric survival romp, adding in a new playable character, one or two new islands, and the new modes that have been dropped in little DLC packs over the last year.
The core game remains largely the same, fulfilling a role that's a kind of mashup between Dead Island and Dead Nation. You trot around a handful of lush, tropical islands, picking up anything that you can find, in the hopes of beating off hordes of the undead and scavenging bits and bobs that might be used to fix a vehicle that can get you out of this hellhole. The darkness that night brings is to be feared, but not quite as much as the creatures who dwell in its inky shadows, and a torch -- flaming or electric -- is a fundamental necessity. Being caught out in the wilderness as night falls with out some form of illumination is a easy way to get yourself killed.
I gather that the game has been spruced up a little, although this isn't exactly a looker. How To Survive wasn't going to win any awards for visual design previously, and it certainly won't a console generation on, but the lighting effects perform well, and that's important in a game like this. Mind you, there's a distinct lack of fluidity to character handling, and I'm not sure having the melee button mapped to R2 is a good idea at all. It feels clunky and unwieldy at times, although ranged attacks fare a little better. Brendan's right, though -- the targeting gaffes can be really rather frustrating.
That said, the survival aspects are nicely worked, and choosing the right difficulty mode is essential. Don't pick the easy option, it ruins everything. Hunger now ties directly in with your Health so that once you run out of food, you're going to die unless you can rustle up something, anything to eat; shelters will scream bloody murder from their alarm systems when you first open the gate, attracting attention from everything in the vicinity; water becomes one of the most precious commodities, and there's real tension to be found playing the game on Ironman.
The new character, Nina, doesn't really bring much that's to the table. She can craft advanced flamethrowers and chainsaws, but really she suffers from the problem that plagued the original trio -- there's just not enough to distinguish between them. They don't really have personalities as such, and their practical, mechanical differences are fairly slender.
To be honest, though, this version is really all about the new modes.
One Shot Escape is the best of the lot, basically just plonking you down on a randomised island with absolutely nothing at your disposal. It's a no-frills, dynamic experience that really gets to the core of what How To Survive is all about. You get one life, and you have to use it wisely. It's so good, in fact, that it makes the Story mode look like a super extended tutorial. It's seriously tough and can be treacherously unforgiving, but is probably the most rewarding slice of content in the game.
Barricade, on the other hand, is all about digging in and defending against wave after wave of zombie assailants. Not only that, but you have to keep an injured companion and the doctor treating him from harm as well. The day/night cycle ticks over fairly quickly, so if you venture too far and get stranded at night, you're likely to wake up to find a zombie snacking on your insides. But you need to venture out -- how else are you going to find materials to put up defences? Scavenging takes on a real sense of threat and urgency, though it feels very different in terms of pacing to One Shot Escape. You can afford to be cautious in the latter, whereas here, you often have to throw caution to the wind if you're going to make it back to your camp in one piece.
You can play the game solo or with a friend, in local and online multiplayer. I'm not sure that How To Survive works best with another person, mind. As a pick-up-and-play zombie romp with a smattering of survival, it sort of makes sense, but to be honest, I found that playing it solo and really testing myself against the ever-shifting islands of One Shot Escape proved more satisfying than playing with a friend, though working through the challenges can be entertaining with a chum by your side.
Ultimately, How To Survive: Storm Warning Edition is worth picking up if you have a hankering for some arcadey survival action on your PS4 or Xbox One and didn't own the game before. The additional game modes add a little variety into proceedings that wasn't really there before, and I rather imagine that it might prove to be a Share Play favourite on PS4 given the local multiplayer options.
- Good content package
- New modes add much need variety to proceedings
- Some moments of tense, thrilling fun
- Local and online co-op options are very welcome and provide choice
- Controls and animations are pretty clunky
- Technical issues abound
- Generational upgrades are pretty non-existent
- No personality or variation amongst the characters
The Short Version: Make no mistake, this is a content bundle rather than a generational upgrade, but that's sort of okay. How To Survive: Storm Warning Edition presents a solid content package, but it is disappointing that technical hiccups of last year's version still remain. Still, if you're looking for some pick-up-and-play, zombie survival action, this is a pretty good shout, and the new modes are ace.
7 - GOOD: Some sites seem to think that the halfway point between 1-10 is 7. This is not the case. It should be noted that 7 is not just a perfectly respectable score, it's a good score. A 7 is not an indication of failure, nor is it the mark of a bad, poor or even average game. These are titles that can be considered very worthwhile, but maybe come with a caveat. Frequently the domain of the well-made-if-rather-conventional brigade.
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed) | Xbox One
Developers: Eko Software
Publishers: 505 Games