How to Survive Review

Either use your brain or have it eaten.

Zombies. The word alone conjures images from dozens of films, books, and games. After being heavily exploited by the media for more than a decade, zombies have infested every subgenre. How to Survive, arriving relatively late in this pop culture fad, falls well within the action comedy survivalist category and thematically channels Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead. Much like its inspirations, How to Survive is a mishmash of tried-and-tested ideas. It's a peppering of gripping challenges and mechanics that come together into a cohesive whole that elevates the otherwise milquetoast experience to a level that satisfies an itch you may not even know you had.

You can play as one of three young, able-bodied people, lost within a small archipelago packed with way more zombies than there are people in New York. Your goal, of course, is survival against all odds. You need to craft items, and manage hunger, thirst, and exhaustion, all while fending off the limitless hordes of bloody, brain-eating monsters hell-bent on your death. The crux of the experience becomes a careful balance of a dozen or so disparate mechanics, none of which are particularly complex but that total something genuinely interesting.

Many of the real baddies come out only at night. Sometimes it's best to find a safe corner and hunker down.
Many of the real baddies come out only at night. Sometimes it's best to find a safe corner and hunker down.

For the first hour or two of the story mode, you're steadily introduced one by one to the core mechanics: combat, crafting new items, gaining experience, leveling up, and all of the other basics of survival. These strategies are communicated to you by way of cheeky tutorials left behind by a mysterious man named Kovac. He tells you, for example, that if you don't eat, you'll rapidly lose strength and be unable to fight well, dramatically reducing your ability to stay alive. He qualifies that with unique rules that elaborately build up that core idea. If you're hungry, you can kill animals for meat, which will rapidly fill you up. However, all meat must be cooked because the animals of the islands contain deadly parasites. Fresh meat also attracts zombies and places you at additional risk until you can pop it on a fire. It's a balancing act in which satisfying one need can place you at greater risk of death. Much of the combat isn't too interesting, but it doesn't need to be--there are plenty of ways for the island to kill you, and you need to stave them all off at once. It's an interrelated network of play that establishes and maintains tension throughout.

Finding safe houses or triggering alarms that attract several dozen souped-up zombies who then stand between me and sleep are some of the most invigorating moments I've had with a game in recent memory.

Missions begin simply: find a jerry can, fill it with gasoline, and seek out other objects that might help you leave the archipelago. Inevitably, such simple tasks are complicated by swarms of the undead. Generally speaking, with each encounter you can take the stealthy route or go in making a lot of noise and causing just as much damage. Unfortunately, a dearth of sneaking options keeps the quiet approach from being all that satisfying, so unless you prefer to repeatedly hug walls to avoid rotting, walking corpses, you’re better off taking the zombies head on. Some weapons make it easy for you to pick off foes, but the zombies aren't completely stupid and will notice if their fetid friends go missing. When using a melee weapon like an improvised axe, dashing and then swinging wildly is pretty effective. Later, handmade guns become available and change up tactics. While some armored enemies are resistant to bullets, others can be targeted with precise headshots, which takes time to set up, but yields more experience. As you play, other subtleties will also become readily apparent. Explosive zombies resembling boomers in Left 4 Dead can be used against their cohorts. Strategically funneling such zombies into a crowd and sprinting by or shooting them causes massive damage to everyone around.

As all of these mundane pieces fall in line, however, the game rapidly reaches its conclusion. The setup for all this does take time, however. Incendiary and explosive devices, two classic anti-zombie weapons, don't become available until the late game, and their utility at that stage is minimal at best. After such an extensive tutorial, the end comes right when tension should be at its highest, and ultimately the game feels like it's missing another few hours of play. There are challenge modes to help extend the experience a bit, each of which involves starting with an empty inventory and trying to reach an escape plane before you die. They're definitely fun tests, but none of them add up to what the game needs to appropriately demonstrate its strengths: an extra-long story, or a trial to see how long you can survive as each passing day grows exponentially more difficult. Either of these would amount to more time to play around with the full sandbox potential of the game.

Later in the game, you need to be careful only around massive hordes.
Later in the game, you need to be careful only around massive hordes.

Despite the lack of a mode that facilitates experimentation, in my first run I found plenty of excellent moments that kept me thirsting for more. While the game map is static, the appearance of most of the zombies is random, and there were more than a few instances when a routine trip down a known route quickly got me screaming out of absolute terror, particularly in the late game, when even the wildlife joins the ranks of the undead. Piranhas can take turn a careless wanderer into a mess of flesh and bone faster than you can drop an F-bomb. Zombies are also susceptible to these dangers. At one point, I was surrounded by a good three dozen or so brain-hungry monsters and desperate for some way to take them all out. I was running and gunning through a swamp and noticed several go down in a matter of seconds; thanks to a swarm of hungry piranhas, I survived. Later, I was out of healing items and low on ammo. Lost in a new section of the island at night, I managed to wipe out zombified humans by tricking an undead deer into goring them on my behalf. After dispatching the last foe, I set up camp on a cliff and waited out the night until I could safely risk the rest of the journey to a safe haven.

On higher difficulty, the spirit of survival horror finds a home in an unlikely wrapper. Finding safe houses or triggering alarms that attract several dozen souped-up zombies who then stand between me and sleep are some of the most invigorating moments I've had with a game in recent memory. These examples aren't common enough, however, and with the largely random nature of the game, you may not have exciting moments like these at all. While it may be tinged with an insubstantial campaign and a few other minor problems, How to Survive is a worthy game built on a strong foundation of exciting experiences.

The Good
Truly greater than the sum of its parts
Exhilarating moments that are created solely by the interaction of the mechanics
Fun challenge modes that put your survival skills to the test
The Bad
Campaign mode is too short
Inconsistent difficulty
7
Good
About GameSpot's Reviews
Other Platform Reviews for How to Survive

About the Author

An experienced killer of zombies, Daniel Starkey learned how to survive and tackled the undead hordes.
12 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
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advocacy

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On sale now for $8 on PSN, if anybody's interested.

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AndyM9594

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I agree with the review that was given for this game. I bought it thinking that there was a good story and awesome multiplayer, but what I got was a campaign that was several hours long and a multiplayer that's basically the same every time. The challenges are the same just different maps and different items to get. They should add a survival mode that's singleplayer and multiplayer and then I will fall in love with the game

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hitomo

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Edited By hitomo

fallout ?

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Ripper_TV

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@hitomo Yes at all. But only Brotherhood of Steel from PS2.


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Pyrosa

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@hitomo Not at all, but the graphics design definitely borrows from that classic Fallout 1+2+Tactics style. It's real-time, so movement and control is more like a Diablo/Tochlight-esque ARPG than anything. But the actual pacing and activities are a bit more involved than that, definitely heavy on the "collect/build recipes" survival tip. It's definitely fun, and definitely worth $15, but it's nowhere close to the masterpiece that is/was State of Decay.

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DinoBuster

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Been have a good amount of fun with this game especially for the price. The review is right in saying that the game doesn't really break any molds, but it has an amusing sense of humor with the whole survival guide concept, and even though it's by the numbers, the primitive crafting and combining is neat.

I actually think the game would have been more interesting conceptually without the zombies. Maybe just crazy dudes on an island, or something like the film "No Escape".

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Zevvion

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I've played this a few hours and it's kinda neat. But it's also somewhat limited (limited enemy types, limited useful weapons, limited inventory) and there is no point in using anything except for the tri-bone or bow and arrow since ammo for guns take up an inventory slot in and they don't insta-kill any enemy. I found guns rather useless. Also, there is very little variation. It's fun, but it's just killing zombies, not much more.

I'd give it a 5 or 6.

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hitmanxmk

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@Zevvion True, overall good game, very amusing a bit boring because of repetitive places and zombies are respawning. But the WORST things in this game are:

- very very small inventory, there is no chance to craft extended bag or increase the inventory slots

- small variety of good items for build.

- NO SAVE GAME, if you need to quit the game you will have to re-play everything (you also loose all inventory items gained if you dont reach checkpoint before you exit)


If you can go over this problems, then this game will be good for you

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Warlord_Irochi

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May give an opportunity to this one, and after that Maybe "Roam" will be already released. Still quite entertained with "State of Decay" though, so not sure about this one...

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feared4power

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LOL THIS GAME IS THE SHIT IT MAKES DAYZ AND WOW LOOK LIKE TACOS AND EGGS

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WantYouBad

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@feared4power Since when is tacos a bad thing?

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Pyrosa

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@WantYouBad @feared4power I love breakfast tacos. ...and survival-zombie games with or without tacos (but NOT survival horror).

How to Survive More Info

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  • First Released Oct 23, 2013
    released
    • PC
    • PlayStation 3
    • + 4 more
    • PlayStation 4
    • Wii U
    • Xbox 360
    • Xbox One
    How to Survive strands you on a remote archipelago off the coast of Colombia in the aftermath of an unexplained accident where in order to survive, you must fulfill the most basic of needs.
    6.8
    Average Rating74 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate How to Survive
    Developed by:
    EKO Software
    Published by:
    505 Games, Spike Chunsoft
    Genre(s):
    Survival, 3D, Action, Adventure
    Theme(s):
    Horror
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Mature
    Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language