Back in November of 2013, when 505 Games and EKO Software released How To Survive, the zombie genre was already beginning to feel stale. Sure, The Walking Dead is still killing it in the ratings, and upcoming titles such as Dying Light and Dead Island 2 look solid, but the undead menace isn’t as popular as it used to be.
Now, in a move to mine every ounce it possibly can out of the undead, 505 Games has re-released its zombie and hot lead mash-up, as How to Survive: Storm Warning Edition. Offering every piece of content the game ever featured, it’s currently available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.
For those unfamiliar with the original, How To Survive centers around…well, survival.
After their ship is wrecked, players will step into the shoes of one of four playable protagonists, each with their own unique stats and abilities. With little preparation for the zombie threat that faces them, our heroes must work with the few living inhabitants of the island in order to figure out how to escape. Chief among your allies is the mysterious Kovac, a seemingly jolly man who provides you with the knowledge of how things work. There’s something strange about the island-dwellers, though, which makes you wonder about their true intentions.
Straddling the line between comedy and drama, the story here isn’t going to win any awards anytime soon. And I’m not just talking about Oscars or Emmys either, as I can’t even see it winning a People’s Choice Award or VGA. It’s not absurdly terrible or anything, but it rarely goes beyond just being there. In some ways, being totally forgettable is actually worse than being bad, as at least bad is memorable. It doesn’t help that the playable characters are so bland, either, especially in comparison to the other people on the island, who are far more developed than our heroes.
The lacklustre plot isn’t helped by the lack of mission variety players will encounter in the main story mode. For a series of islands that have been overrun with zombies, there sure are a lot of people who need you to go around and fetch mundane items. And not only are you doing these tedious fetch quests over and over again, but each mission often sends you to the complete opposite side of an island, which proves to be a hassle after the sixth or seventh time you do it.
What separates How To Survive from its competition is the Sims-like survival system in place for your character. Besides having to deal with the undead, players will also have to make sure that their character is well fed, hydrated, and gets plenty of sleep. Each one of these aspects can be fulfilled through a variety of means. For example, players can kill stray animals and then cook their meat in order to have a filling meal. Or players can pick-up empty bottles found on the island and fill them with water from wells located in specific locations.
The one aspect of this survival system that really bothered me, however, was finding a place to sleep. You can’t just sleep wherever you want, as you’re basically a free meal to zombies by doing that. Instead, players need to seek out specific shelters in order to properly rest. Another issue, though, is that upon opening these shelters for the first time, an alarm is triggered which attracts any and all nearby creatures. I get that zombies are going to come out from the neighboring woods, but why are tens of zombies pouring out of this tiny shelter, like it’s a clown car or something?
Of course, dealing with a rampaging herd of zombies wouldn’t be such an issue if the combat engine of How To Survive wasn’t so clumsy. Melee combat is fine enough, but unless you have plenty of health or you are dealing with only a few enemies, that’s a quick way to die. It’s trying to use long-range weapons I have a problem with, as aiming these weapons is a major chore. The targeting reticule has a tendency to get lost in the environment, which tends to be frustrating when you are being overrun and lacking ammo. Even more annoying is trying to target animals, as they are either too fast (zombie deer) or too close to the ground (alligators/spiders). This led to me dying more often at the paws of a rogue bear than a zombie, which got old fast.
While I didn’t enjoy fighting off zombies, I did enjoy crafting the weapons used to combat these creatures. The surprisingly robust crafting mechanic became one of my favorite features of How To Survive: Storm Warning Edition, as making homemade guns, items and armor was surprisingly satisfying. It’s all handled through the items menu, and while finding blueprints certainly helps, it’s just as fun to mix and match stuff to see what you can come up with. It’s a shame that this feature is tethered to such a lacklustre combat engine though.
Although this is a current-gen port, I wasn’t exactly expecting a huge difference when it came to the title’s graphics. This is a last-gen game, after all, and I’m assuming that 505 Games didn’t give it the same budget Grand Theft Auto V has, for example. With that said, I was generally pleased with how things looked. Sure, the character models aren’t the most detailed I have seen, but the environments themselves look surprisingly great. They do tend to repeat themselves, but that’s to be expected when you’re dealing with island locales. I’m not sure it looks that much different from a last-gen title, but I have certainly seen worse-looking graphics on the Xbox One and PS4.
Besides the slight graphical uptick, there are several noticeable differences between Storm Warning Edition and the original release. For starters, the port comes packed with all of the previously released DLC, such as alternate skins for each character, new modes and additional islands to explore. The game also improves upon the previously-added weather effects, as rain and lightning play a large role in your ability to survive. The additional weather systems look nice, but it’s frustrating to see how often lightning can strike you. Most of the time it’s avoidable, but sometimes I would get hit coming out of a cutscene or after being thrashed by an animal, which is completely unfair.
How To Survive: Storm Warning Edition is one of those rare titles where I like the idea of it more than the actual finished product. The idea of a true survival horror game (i.e. one that focuses just as much on taking care of yourself as it does on killing monsters) is a fresh take on a stale genre. However, EKO Software botched the actual gameplay in such a way that this wonderful premise has almost completely gone to waste. Diehard zombie killers may want to seek it out, but at $20, there are far better options out there.
This review was based on the Xbox One version of the title, which was provided to us.
Despite a wonderful premise, How To Survive: Storm Warning Edition is hampered by a forgettable plot and a lacklustre combat engine.