Spooktober 2018 Entry #8 – Previous Entry: Knee Deep // Next Entry: Sheltered
It only took eight days to mention zombies.
The original How To Survive is an underrated gem if you ask me. It was a small title that came out just before the massive zombie craze died down, but it had a powerful charm, and its robust challenges gave an enormous sense of catharsis once they were completed. The only thing left to see is if lightning can strike twice with How To Survive 2.
This is the latest title from French studio EKO Software, a team who have been making way too much shovelware since their inception. Game after game of theirs looks like something cobbled up quickly for the Nintendo Wii, and it’s rare that they get a chance to truly flex their muscles. Aside from the Handball series, How To Survive is the only game of theirs that seems to have some production value behind it, and you know what? Fair enough.
If you played the original How to Survive, then you already know the deal on what’s happening. You play a random schmuck who’s abandoned on these desolate lands filled with the undead, and you need to simply survive. You’re not alone, however! Thanks to questionably-Slavic zombie hunter Kovacs, you gain a few new ways to survive this unending apocalypse, and maybe– Just maybe– You might be able to return home.
Survival games are a double-edged sword. On one hand, you’ve got the generic stuff, the titles with crafting, base-building, a minor challenge that escalates over time, and the other? Insane micro-managements on all fronts, from your buildings to hunger and thirst, to broken limbs, to how many tea bags you have left for tea breaks, and thankfully the first How to Survive was a perfect balance in the middle.
How to Survive 2 however, has started taking things in a more realistic manner. You’re still playing in an isometric perspective, bumming around wastelands for items and crafting materials, but now they go towards more and more things, specifically base-building first and foremost. Instead of the odd wave defense in the first How to Survive, the zombies are now taking the fight to yours and Kovac’s base.
This takes a while though. Before you can get into the meaty sections of the game, you’re going to be lead by the nose to do various tasks of such trivial magnitudes. Finding random sticks, helping people find their cats or some shit, it truly does take some time before you’re facing anything other than a cakewalk, and it’s weird because it wasn’t always like this.
The original How to Survive— Don’t worry, there’s a reason why I keep comparing them– Was structured around the players pacing and not the pacing of the quests, meaning that it didn’t necessarily feel sluggish or dull at any points. The only reasons why you weren’t making any progress were because you chose to not make any. Now, the reason why you’re not making any progress is that you’re not impressing the NPCs enough.
This is where all of your progress will come from random NPCs who are dotted sparsely throughout the game’s base map, which is terrifyingly huge. Thankfully fast travel is available to you immediately upon arriving, along with a few other added bonuses, like storage off of your persons counting towards storage on your persons. What I mean is that if you have a few crafting materials in a trunk, then those can be used along with the items currently available in your inventory.
Other than that, there are quests where Kovac and Co. will tell you to inspect a random area outside of the base world, in order to find supplies and other people. Here is where you can see the main upgrade from the original How to Survive. All that was present was several abandoned islands with barely any signs of civilisation. Now you have cities to explore, which are unbelievably daunting.
The hunger & thirst meters are still brilliantly balanced. It’s not a case of your character metabolising like an oil spill whenever you so much as cough in the wrong direction, EKO is aware that this sort of stuff takes time. Food and water isn’t a massive ballache to find and because of that, it’s admittedly kind of easy to overstock with an unending supply of corned beef and soda.
So that’s nice, but what isn’t ideal is the gameplay after a long playthrough. It’s still the same from before, which is neat and all that, but How to Survive 2 is a much, much larger game now, supposedly quadrupled in size, which isn’t good considering that the original How to Survive was always a bite-sized adventure. With a helluva lot more time on your hands in this game, you begin to notice more flaws, and you also begin to notice that EKO may have overshot what they’re capable of.
Take the isometric perspective, for example. It’s fine in its own way, but now that cities are thrown into the mix, and the fact that you can’t change the camera angles at all, you’ll start to find gameplay and arenas massively cluttered when they shouldn’t be. The only way EKO thought to remedy this would be via removing obscurities within the small space you occupy, which only serves to confuse matters.
Why didn’t they just go third person? I ask this because they did make a third person standalone expansion for the first How to Survive, and even though it was a bit rough around the edges, it was an entirely different way to experience the game. If you really wanted to make a sequel, then using this third-person perspective would’ve been a great idea, because as it stands, How to Survive 2 is not worthy of being called an improvement.
It’s retreading the same ground, the same ideas and the same problems that the original had. Combat becomes a breeze as soon as you equip something ranged, some of the more exotic zombies can either be easily exploited or an absolute ballache to come up against, and dying is unheard of. You get so much health items and good weapons before the first challenge arrives, that it doesn’t even matter.
One thing I will give How to Survive and its sequel credit for is its fantastic execution of horror, and even more, a large credit goes to making zombies a threat. When you’re not taking them out one by one, you can screw yourself over and be surrounded by tens of zombies. The ranged tactic doesn’t work so you can’t kite them, and you don’t have enough time to heal. You make a last stand and start slamming the undead down one by one by one. It’s a great feeling, and terrifying.
Combat, despite being isometric, feels great, it feels visceral, and ranged weapons do take some skill to use. Using one of the pre-determined takedown moves feels satisfying, causing a bloated zombie to explode with a few arrow shots is gratifying, it’s all fine and dandy. The other varied zombies, like the undead pelicans, are humorous, and they’re also quite scary to fight in the darkness as well.
That being said, it takes too long to happen, and when the mood is right, it’s sometimes hard to see, and not just because of the isometric workaround with the camera. The color palette is a disgusting spectrum of brown, and almost all of the areas you scavenge in are muddy and uninspired by any other game previously. Take a page from the first few hours of Dead Island. We know we’re in a tropical land, make the game look like it.
In the end, How to Survive 2 is more How to Survive, and while that’s mostly fine, the game needed more than base-building to be called a worthy sequel. A change of scenery beyond looking like a level from CoD: WWII would’ve been a great start, along with the gameplay having a massive overhaul. If How to Survive 2 ever gets that third person update, I cannot wait to eagerly play it.
This review of How To Survive 2 is based on the Xbox One version of the game.
While it's nice to have more of the same, How to Survive 2 is in desperate need of a change sooner rather than later.
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