What’s more humbling than being devoured by a swarm of bloodthirsty undead? Why, being struck with a bolt of lightning as you swing your axe at the crocodile directly opposite said swarm, who proceeds to toss you around like a ragdoll in a death-roll and in doing so, gets his own crocodile self electrocuted. So, you’re laying there dying aside this crocodile, stupefied and in awe, when a half-eaten rabid deer runs by for good measure. This, is How To Survive.
Taking place on a ring of fictional islands, How To Survive tasks the player with a great number of small goals, all in the interest of staying alive and with any hope, escaping while still in that state. You’ll start the game by choosing one of four mysteriously shipwrecked characters to follow, each having their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as a bit of backstory regarding their lives before the ill-fated nautical journey. Abby may have the stamina to cover large areas of ground and the precision to pop undead heads with less aim required, yet Jack has the strength to simply take a blunt weapon to the entire horde and the health to make it through such an encounter. Choosing a character that compliments your own style of play is key, especially on your first visit to the islands.
Collecting parts and crafting items is a huge portion of the survivalist experience. Nearly every zombie killed, shack raided or camp explored will result in many a find for the keen of eye, and these items can be combined in various manners to create some wonderful tools of destruction, such as chainsaws, handmade scrap guns, and more inventive weapons such as a bone boomerang (bonerang) augmented with exploding flint shards. Weapons and crafted devices will help you in travelling through the winding paths and open areas that make up this environment. You'll need to think. Maybe this stick that you just lit aflame will burn down that bush blocking your way? The game is full of these "Hurray, it worked!" moments.
Weapons are certainly not the only concern, as you travel the initial island and meet it’s cast of straggly survivors you’ll run into the shady character Kovac (who seems to guide the ship into wreck via radio during the first few moments of the game) and his book “How To Survive: Kovac’s Rules”, with each chapter highlighting the various attributes, food, drink, sleep ect… that a player must maintain in order to stay in tip top zombie killing shape. You will be tested on this knowledge during loading screens and countless encounters, so pay attention! For instance, the crocodile initially mentioned could be killed, his meat eaten to satisfy hunger once cooked over a fire requiring flint to ignite, his teeth may augment armor or arrows, and his skin may make great arm guards! But have you slept lately? Have you drunk fresh water? Do you have the ammo needed to take down a croc, and ultimately, will the rewards be worth the endeavour? All of these aspects play into each decision you’ll make, down to the most basic path-finding or ammo conservation choice. This isn’t simply "point A to point B" stuff, it’s that there are a whole lot of small choices to be made on the way which may make the difference between finding point B, or being turned into fish food for hungry piranhas.
Graphically, the game works very well within it’s dynamic isometric view and gunplay is harrowing at the calmest of times. Using a dual-stick shooter schematic, aiming for a headshot requires patience and with many types of zombified life inhabiting the islands, including armoured military personnel that have turned, freakish “night fiends” (a more advanced stage of Zombism that causes a fright of daylight or flashlight), infected wildlife and of course, giant hulking bosses, the conservation of ammo and preparation for encounters is required. With a persistent day and night cycle it becomes imperative to be well rested and revitalized before the sun sets, as they mostly come out at night...mostly.
Music and audio effects hark back to a theatrical sense of suspense seen in many games, yet is nearly perfected here. If one zombie is about, the music may pick up somewhat. When twenty zombies are encircling your tiny safe house and silly you spent that entire jerry-can of gasoline powering a wonderful but now fuel less chainsaw, the music score will certainly make you aware of your folly, were you not already. One noteworthy flaw we encountered regarding sound was that at more than a few times, enough certainly to notice, the forced subtitles clash against spoken dialogue. This can at times cause a sort of break in the gameplay, but never gets to the point that it actually takes away much more than that from the experience overall.
Local and online two person co-operative mode is available for all modes of play, with each participant taking control of a particular survivor. This adds a great deal of fun to the game whilst lowering the overall difficulty (unless you’re arguing over who gets to eat the roasted crocodile!) Apart from the main story (which we found to contain quite a bit of replay value) there is Challenge Mode, where you must locate a means of escaping one single island before you die! Also on hand are a permadeath mode called One Shot Escape with much more difficult circumstances, providing the extreme survive and escape scenario, and Barricade Mode where you’ll be tasked with defending a camp, searching by day to find fortifications and by night killing the not-quite-dead… yet.
The vast amount of content found within How To Survive: Storm Warning Edition, along with a mysterious story that keeps you wondering, the local and online co-op, and some very intriguing achievements, will have any fan of the survival genre hooked. It isn't perfect, but this should provide hours upon hours of gory, blunt object, rabid deer and zombie-filled entertainment.