(Wii U eShop)

How to Survive (Wii U eShop)

Game Review

How to Survive Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Conor McMahon

Island-hopping and head-popping

Zombies used to be so underground, man. Years ago the very mention of these rotted ghouls would have people scratching their heads in blissful ignorance, but now they’re shuffling, walking and running around like they own the place. The genre has been utterly exhausted to the point where now their inclusion in media ends up feeling like a joke, rather than the creeping death they once were. Arriving on the Wii U eShop almost a year after its original console and PC release, How To Survive tries to avoid the trappings of its zombie shooter bed-follows by adding in a core element of survival gameplay; unfortunately that's done with all the grace of a shambling corpse.

Dumped unceremoniously on a cluster of isolated islands after a nasty shipwreck, the player's character is forced into a hostile environment where they’ll need to hunt for food, scavenge for supplies and find shelter to wait out the long, dangerous nights. There’s an element of exploration to it all, with story progress doled out by interacting with other survivors and regularly teaming up to plan your escape. This all might sound great on paper, but in practice How To Survive makes frustratingly little use of its stock of good ideas.

Things play out similarly to a pretty competent Diablo clone, or a twin stick arcade shooter with some RPG elements. You’ll have a choice of three characters to select from upon starting — the nimble archer, the chunky brawler and the plain all-rounder, who boast just one unique skill each and a few minor stat changes to help differentiate between them. Enemy designs are similarly lacking in originality, with the usual selection — fat zombies that explode when you get close, thin zombies that run fast, bigger zombies that charge at you — all marched out as fodder for both melee and ranged combat. In small doses it's fun, and overall the combat manages to provide that satisfying bubblewrap-style catharsis when smashing skulls.

The major focus here is clearly on survival elements, however, framed by a series of guides found scattered around the islands by a Russian eccentric named Kovac. These are essentially mini-tutorials that explain the basic mechanics that will keep you alive, conveniently categorized into four self-explanatory meters – Health, Hunger, Tiredness, and Thirst. When you aren't moving from mission to mission and clearing out zombie hordes, these meters will need to be kept under control by gathering resources and finding safe places to spend the night, in order to (all-together now) survive your time on the island.

The hunt for water or food rarely lasts more than a minute however, as you'll be tripping over sources of both more often than you'll ever need to collect them. Freshwater wells and patches of edible plants all replenish, and there's no time limit on anything; this removes any sense of urgency from your daily routine. Levelling up your character grants access to a new skill each time, and many of these actually lower your need to consume food and drink, further rendering what should be a constant concern into an occasional nuisance. Pikmin 3 this ain't.

The crafting system is fairly robust, allowing for experimentation that can have some genuinely interesting results, but there's almost no incentive to try out new combinations of scrap and scavenged material once you've crafted just one weapon that works. A shotgun will smash through zombie ranks just as efficiently as anything else, and there is so much ammo lying around that managing resources becomes even more of a non-issue. Sure, it's fun to try out a chainsaw or something more non-traditional for a while, but before long you'll simply switch back to what works best. In ZombiU, sorting through your items was a frantic experience in and of itself, making great use of the GamePad to show enemies creep up from behind. In How To Survive, time freezes whenever you enter the menu, and you'll almost always have enough supplies to heal your way through any encounter. Displaying menus on the GamePad screen seems like a natural choice, but when the game pauses itself anyway, it removes any sense of that tension 505 Games seems to crave.

One of Kovak's guides focuses entirely on the dangers of travelling at night, hinting at a sub-species of zombie that thrives in the dark and poses much more of a threat. Like all the other tutorials it sets this up as a major factor to keep in mind, but when the time comes and these creatures make their first appearance, the torch you picked up earlier free of charge has already turned itself on to cast a beam of protective light straight at them. They cower, retreating backwards as you go about your business with unlimited battery life. These beasts end up evenless troublesome than standard zombies, turning what could have been a fearsome threat into a glorified Boo from Super Mario. This is no minor complaint, it's a prime example of the problem at large here — for a game about staying alive, everything is far too easy.

Checkpoints are frequent, to the point where even death itself is hardly punished at all. You keep all your items and spawn a few minutes away from where you were, making for an easy transition back into the latest fetch-quest. Other islanders will give you missions that usually boil down to collecting certain items or moving from one place to another, made all the more monotonous once the veil of survival gameplay has long since slipped away. What's left is essentially a shooter in which every mission feels like padding and misplaced humour comes out of nowhere in an attempt to inject some personality into an increasingly lifeless experience.

The main campaign lasts about 4 - 5 hours, but this brief experience is supplemented by some dedicated challenge scenarios to complete. These condense gameplay into bite-sized chunks, whether you're tasked with reaching a boat as quickly as possible or taking out a large horde. Sadly, co-op can only be played offline in the Wii U version, and your partner will need a pro controller to join. There doesn't seem to be much in the way of compensation for this removal of online, but there are a host of smaller technical problems that will kick the remaining sense of atmosphere while it's down. Aesthetically the four islands look very similar, and music seems to cut in and out without context. On one occasion we even managed to find a completely white area of negative space, where the island's boundary had been reached but our view continued on too far. It's a shame to see these problems persist so long after the initial release on other consoles, especially when the Wii U version is already lacking an online element. With a friend, local multiplayer may help to justify the asking price, assuming that you're both prepared for an unfortunately shallow campaign.

Conclusion

How To Survive could be applauded for attempting to revitalize a tired genre with an island full of new ideas, but the end result is a disappointing mess that quickly dissolves into just another shooter. It's a functional experience, but combines so many different elements that none of them feel fleshed out enough to justify their inclusion. It's not a tense, open-world survival game and it's not a zany, action-packed zombie kill-a-thon. How To Survive falls somewhere in between the two, and will likely appeal only to die-hard fans of the genre, or anyone willing to spend cash on a cheap thrill or two.

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User Comments (47)

Emblem

#3

Emblem said:

Totally disagree with the score, played through this both solo and co-op and it was a blast. Miiverse comments are also mostly good, only complaint is lack of online.

Hy8ogen

#4

Hy8ogen said:

@mr_moobs Well everyone has their own taste and opinion. As long as you enjoy and like the game, this review should not mean anything to you at all ;)

odd69

#5

odd69 said:

Zombies that act like Boos are probably not very interesting. The graphics are kinda nice. Isnt this already on PSN? I think I'll need a demo for this one.

RedRocBoy

#6

RedRocBoy said:

Can't wait to play this game. Been wanting it since last year. The Wii U definitely needs more zombie and survival horror games.

Shambo

#7

Shambo said:

I don't get 505 games... Do they plan on keeping this up, bringing games I look forward too/enjoyed earlier on other systems to Wii U without online or DLC, full priced? I mean, I picked up Sniper Elite 2 for €15, getting rid of it on PS3, just because I enjoy Wii U more... Now Sniper Elite 3 has not even been mentioned for Wii U... I'd really have liked it to come to Nintendo's latest though, I love the games, and the gamepad.

But the scenario is so absurd. Buy it, and you support late, half ports for full price, and you'll keep getting just that. Don't buy it, and you'll stop getting even that, but what you WILL get is the blame for it...

MrCharles77

#8

MrCharles77 said:

This review is wrong, the game is good and I don't understand how it could have such a low score. I would give it a solid 8 and this type of game is very welcome in nintendo platforms, and guess what?! They used the gamepad...
(maybe if it was Mario Killing zombies it would anchieve a better score)

JarredBuzzo

#9

JarredBuzzo said:

I might get it cheaper once I get $5 on my DDP, which I usually keep spending right away, anyway.

Stu13

#10

Stu13 said:

Alright, then. Looks like I'm waiting for a sale on this. I love the concept, but would only pay full price if it were well executed.

brandonbwii

#13

brandonbwii said:

@MrCharles77
It's not like this is the ONLY site that gave How to Survive a low score. It wasn't well received on the other platforms either, and those actually HAVE online play.

Shambo

#14

Shambo said:

@faint the 'no dlc' part was about Sniper Elite V2, which they released as a bare single player game for €60, while releasing the GOTY edition on other formats for €40.

@Nintendojuenger I know, they did great things in the past, pretty risky moves also, all the more reason I don't get what they're doing NOW. I kinda liked them, but that doesn't mean they can't do anything wrong anymore.

Action51

#15

Action51 said:

Does this game have multiple difficulty settings? I may have missed that in the review. I love the Diablo-style look and atmosphere and if there was a mode that limited resources and upped the overall difficulty I'm more likely to try this.

arnoldlayne83

#16

arnoldlayne83 said:

Havin a blast in co op with this game with my girlfriend.... Totally disagree with the score and the overall tone of the review... I find well worth the price and very enjoyable playing together, friendly fire is allowed, so tons of yelling and laughing by our mistakes...

Bliquid

#18

Bliquid said:

The fact this type of game is rare on WiiU doesn't mean it should get special treatment.
The review is spot on, this game has potential but never really delivers.

Action51

#19

Action51 said:

@arnoldlayne83 - sweet! I'm considering buying this right now, and although I could get it cheaper on Steam, I'm looking forward to playing this on the gamepad and local multiplayer.

BTW...Nintendo REALLY should think about setting up some rudimentary online server setup for these indie games!

Emblem

#20

Emblem said:

@Action51 There is also a Challenge mode consisting of 8 different challenges that can be played co-op. They are essentially remixes of the four islands with crazy themes like Zombie Zoo (All Animals) or Chainsaw combat. Each can be played on normal or iron man mode which is very hard.

Its far from perfect but imo its alot better than alot of the Eshop games that have been reviewed higher by this site. Check out Miiverse before you take the plunge and see what people are saying about it and make sure its for you.

Action51

#21

Action51 said:

@Emblem - Thanks.

I'm a big fan of isometric view dungoen crawler/action RPGs like Diablo, Sacred, Dungeon Siege, Divine Divinity, Torchlight etc...and I like them to be tough, or at least have a tough mode.

Few more questions:
Are the areas big and open, medium, or fairly cramped?
Is there any random loot, enemy respawning, or random map generation?

Thanks!

WYLD-WOO

#22

WYLD-WOO said:

This review score is so very wrong. Been playing with my brother have found it loads of fun. Missed the chance of playing this a year ago and really glad I purchased this top game.

andregurov

#23

andregurov said:

It's great to see it finally pop up on the Wii U eShop, but it is rather disappointing - although entirely understood why - that it is 75% off on Steam right now. If the choice is to pay $4 or $15 to play what is basically the same game, why would I volunteer to pay more?

midnafanboy

#24

midnafanboy said:

I was looking forward to this and now i dont know if i should buy it. Sad that this game doesn't delivers, what i thought was going to be great.

Zodiak13

#25

Zodiak13 said:

@andregurov I for one will spend more money always to buy something on a Nintendo platform because I want to support the company that has done nothing but make games I love for nearly 30 years. I do the same in many other aspects of doing business. Quality of product or in some business treatment, along with past track record earns my money regardless of cost. No, I am not rich but, I will cut out other thing I don't need or care about to help keep the things I care about in business, what little I can.

Action51

#26

Action51 said:

@andregurov - Well...It's always cool to play things on the pad.

However...

I just wish games like these would toss in some little bonus to Wii U owners to buy it later and more expensive then on other platforms.

whanvee

#27

whanvee said:

It always bugs me to get half assed ports that are late to the party. At least when they are rated E and they are crappy it won't affect the future releases on the console. But when they are rated M and crappy you stop getting M rated games. Why? because they don't sell on the wii u. I'm sure the lack of sales are not due to the quality of the tittles but rather the audience on wii u.

So say goodbye to almost all M rated indie games unless this crappy late port sells, which it won't.

andregurov

#28

andregurov said:

@Action51 I agree, the Gamepad alone can swing my purchase from a different console to the Wii U (love the off-TV play!); I also wish that devs spent a little more effort differentiating their game for Wii U and utilizing its unique features more thoroughly. It sounds as if these devs tried but I fear - as the review score indicates - they came up a bit short.

ricklongo

#29

ricklongo said:

Depending on how much this costs, I could see myselft getting it at some point. I'm not a huge fan of shooters OR zombies, but I liked the trailers I saw, and it seems like a kind of experience I don't really have on my Wii U right now.

ToniK

#30

ToniK said:

The price seems a bit steep but I'd really like to give this a chance. It somehow seems really charming to me, don't know why. Half off the price and I'm sold. I'm still quite deep in the MK8 vortex but in a few weeks I might check this out.

Emblem

#32

Emblem said:

@Action51 sorry different timezone :) . Medium and cramped area's depending where on the islands you are. Zombies, plants & animals (for food) repawn normal if you leave the area for about 10mins but on iron man only zombies do. Some loot is randon but key items are always in the same place. Its also a persistent world so if you drop a gun somewhere on an island its going to stay there until you pick it up again.

ULTRA-64

#33

ULTRA-64 said:

Wow, I never expected such a low score! Know it's not perfect but other reviews have been allot more positive. I love zombie games so I'm biased and will buy this regardless but a 5 seems harsh. Anyone know of Wii u features - off screen play etc?

Anguspuss

#34

Anguspuss said:

this has off screen play & a map & stuff on the wii u pad.

Its a fun zombie romp. Plus its not as if we have a huge amount of this type of game on the wii u

clvr

#35

clvr said:

Anyone else noticed how similar this game's logo and the cover of Rise Against's Appeal To Reason look? :)

ULTRA-64

#36

ULTRA-64 said:

@Anguspuss cheers for that. 100% agree, there is a lack of this type of game on Wii u. I like twin stick shooters and feel this will have allot more on offer than say ,nano assault neo, a great looking game with almost zero depth. Maybe it's just me but the zombie games always appeal, the reviewer here talked about the genre being played out but imo the most overdone thing on Wii u is 2d platform games and they don't get trashed in the same way here. It's all opinions of course ;)

Anguspuss

#39

Anguspuss said:

@Action51 steam evil sale. I now will only get stuff from humble bundle. And free apps for my kindle fire hdx.
My wii u HDD has a heap of games on it as well. I will never probablly play half of them.

SKTTR

#40

SKTTR said:

Today NinendoLife reviewed 3 games with a 5/10.

5/10 Pac-Land, deserves nothing more than a 3/10 for the old frustrating game, and cheap NES port it is. It not only looks worse than the C64 version, in fact it looks like a C64 version programmed in BASIC.

5/10 GEOM, bland one-of-a-thousand puzzler only got a 5/10 because it's 0.99$ and made by a one-man-studio.

5/10 How To Survive - A game with graphics, story, innovation, content, co-op, voice acting, and all-round effort... leaps generations above Pac-Land and GEOM but somehow managed to get the same score.

So many different tastes.

Mrclaycoat

#41

Mrclaycoat said:

I'm on the fence about this one. If it drops in price I'll get it for sure. It's only $3.74 on steam so me playing full price seems off.

Emblem

#42

Emblem said:

@Action51 Tell me about it those steam sales are ruthless, i picked up Divinity OS (awesome btw) already after promising myself i wouldn't buy anymore games for a while since i already have One Piece & Transformers pre-ordered for next Friday.

BarryDunne

#43

BarryDunne said:

@mr_moobs Yeh. I'd def. give it a 8 out of 10. I have gameplay footage on my YouTube channel if you want to it check it out :) Apparently, the Wii U version is the best overall thanks to the wii u gamepad :)

AshFoxX

#44

AshFoxX said:

My favorite part of this review is the terminology for "satisfying bubblewrap-style catharsis". I'm going to have to write that one down.

Donutman

#46

Donutman said:

I am loving this on Wii U. Don't agree with score at all. Get this game if you like B video games. That after about 20 hours now.

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