Xbox Live Gold account holders get another freebie treat this month in the form of top down zombie Action/RPG How to survive: Storm Edition. The game’s story line is simplistic enough: you and a couple of other survivors are marooned on an island chock full of zombies – you use your wits and skills to survive and make it off the island. The game is reminiscent of old PlayStation One titles – not in quality, but in gameplay and interaction with the world.
The really interesting aspect to the game is its survivalist nature. You have four things to worry about in this adventure: health, hunger, thirst and sleep. Combine that with flesh-eating zombies, ammunition shortage, nightfall, and you’ve got a recipe for some real difficulty. Hunger, thirst and sleep though are more complicated than health. Ignoring any of these will reward you with harder aiming, less stamina, and a weaker punch, all of which make the player vulnerable to the already dangerous undead horde.
Thankfully, there are ways to replenish these throughout the game. Fruits, herbs, roots, water wells, and a cozy bed are all available for the player to find and use. Weapons in the game are limited; you won’t get any military grade sniper rifles – which forces you to use what you can find on the island. Don’t fret though, as crafting is taught early in the game and the player is rewarded well for picking up little trinkets found around the island. The craft system consists of collecting junk materials, then combining them to create weapons, armor and medicines, to name just a few. Materials and items are spread across the island, but are not labeled and glowing like in other games. The player has to consciously approach what they think is an item, and then interact with it. Healing plants and weapon parts are plentiful, but you do need to keep an eye out.
Another survival must is the ability to use skill points gained through leveling up, to acquire more abilities. For example, the knowledge to make fire, combine ammunition, lower the rate of stamina depletion etc.; to defeat the horde, the right skill sets must be properly used by the player. After taking this all in, this is definitely one complex game, and its skill curve is quite high.
To offset How to Survive’s gut-wrenching chaotic action are the game’s user-friendly controls. Movement with left stick, aiming with the right stick, attacking with the right trigger, map usage with the Select button, and inventory usage on LB – with only a few commands, you should be okay. Tutorials are placed in-game and are spread across the island as handy books, entitled Kovac’s Rules, each of which comes bundled with a charming animation of what Kovac is trying to teach you.
Though the controls are effortless to learn, aiming can be a hassle, especially if there are multiple enemies on screen. There is minimal auto-aim in the game, meaning roughly 20% of shots fired will fly off screen thanks to your aim being a millimetre off the target. Normally this would be fine – after all, it is an action game – but the camera angles at times exacerbate the already tedious process of aiming, which can often end up leaving the player’s arrows/shots stuck all over the place except in the targets’ bodies.
Graphics have a cel-shaded look to them, and flora and fauna, water detail, and the like are surprisingly good for a fairly low-budget arcadey title. The game uses a day/night cycle with twilight looking especially pretty. Sound design is nothing award-winning, but it does have its merits. An eerie feeling of dread is evident in the game’s soundtrack especially at nightfall, which combined with nocturnal creatures that pounce at you from the bushes, means you’ve got a game that’s good for a scare.
If that wasn’t enough, the whole game is available in co-op mode. The fun essentially doubles when another player joins either on split screen mode or over Xbox Live, bringing with them more zombies, more mayhem, and the same amount of resources to share – so do beware of who you appoint as your Player 2. Couch co-op games are slowly dwindling in numbers these days, and it’s a good touch that How to Survive still implements it – in fact, the game feels meant for co-op mode.
How to survive: Storm Edition is a must play for the gamer looking to kill some time. The game may have a steep learning curve, odd aiming system, and graphics that look a little jagged at times, but in the end it’s the gameplay and fun factor that really count. The game is free to download for Xbox Live Gold users this month anyway, so there’s no real reason not to pick it up and give it a try. Mindless zombie bashing never looked so tempting before.