Last October How To Survive snuck up on us out of nowhere like a shambling zombie. Billed as a cross between Diablo and Dead Island it had us intrigued. Now, like so many other last-gen games, How To Survive has made the jump to next-gen consoles as the Storm Warning Edition. We’ve been checking out the Xbox One version to see if it’s a game worth revisiting.
The Storm Warning addition benefits from including the previous six DLC packs – Heat Wave, Kovac’s Way, Hello, my name is Nina, El Diablo Islands, One Shot Escape and Barricade. These give you more options such as a fourth playable character, Nina, new areas to explore, new equipment and game modes. The graphics have been improved over the original and weather and environmental effects have been added such as rain, fog, thunderstorms, lava and toxic clouds.
The game puts players in the role of a shipwrecked survivor who finds themselves washed up on a group of mysterious isolated islands. If that wasn’t bad enough the islands are overrun with undead zombies and other monstrosities. Your task is to learn how to survive until you can find a way off the island or die trying.
At the start of your survival adventure you meet another stranded chap called Andrew who is in need of help. He’s been attacked and bitten by the zombies and needs you to find him a healing plant. After performing this simple task he tells you of a friend with a boat on the other side of the island. Before you leave him he gives you a stick that you can use to help fight off the zombies which is enough to get you started.
As you begin to explore you uncover animated chapters from a book called How To Survive which is full of survival rules written by a crazy Russian called Kovac. He’s been surviving on the islands before you arrived and you’ll come across him during your adventure. Kovac and his rules bring a lot of humour to the game and you’ll find yourself sat smiling each time you uncover a new chapter. Each chapter covers a different aspect of survival and learning them all is essential if you want to survive long enough to get off the islands.
Apart from the perspective the game isn’t a great deal like Diablo. However it does play a bit like a mash-up of Dead Island and the Sims. Staying alive isn’t just about keeping away from the undead you also need to look after your health, hunger, thirst and sleep. This means healing yourself, eating food, drinking water and finding safe places to rest. Keeping in tip top shape is essential for keeping your stamina up so that you can run like hell when needed.
Your character has an inventory that you can fill with all the different items you find. These items can be combined in different ways to craft new items. For example a healing plant will give you a little more health but combining it with fabric creates a poultice for more. Using a machete with sticks can create basic arrows and these can be enhanced by adding feathers. Discovering weapon blueprints helps you learn how to create the more exotic items such as guns and chainsaws.
When you get hungry you must eat. Scavenged fruit and roots can help a little but meat is better. It’s possible to hunt deer and boar to obtain meat which you must then cook to make it safe for consumption. Water pools provide drinking water that you drink right away or take with you in bottles.
Getting sleep is a little tougher as it requires finding safehouses. Each of these features a mechanical door that can be opened and closed. When you first discover one you need to clear it out of zombies before you can use it. Once empty you can lock the door and settle down for a good night’s rest. Ideally you want to try and sleep when night falls as this is the most dangerous time to be roaming the islands.
When night falls the nastier monsters appear and you need to ensure you have a light source if you want to make it through the night. Night-time monsters sneak up on you and can cause a lot of damage. However you can scare them away with a simple flashlight or even better just set them on fire with a burning torch.
Combat with melee weapons is as simple as mashing RT to attack but killing wave after wave of nasties is incredibly satisfying. Holding the trigger down charges up your attack for more damage and there’s a nice risk/reward element if you get your timing right. When you have done enough damage you can tap A when prompted for an instant kill. This treats you to a variety of gruesome death animations as your survivor takes care of the enemy.
Ranged weapons are a little more interesting though as you need to make use of both sticks on the game pad to use them. Left stick moves you while right stick aims your ranged weapon. If you get your aim spot on then a large white circle appears around your target. If you can hold your nerve and keep them in your sights long enough the circle will shrink down and become red. When this happens you inflict a lot more damage and often a one-shot kill.
The further you get into the game the more varied the enemies become. There are slow walking zombies, fast moving ones that rush you, crawling monsters that evade you and large fat zombies that explode causing heavy splash damage. There are also some larger boss style enemies which require a lot more effort to take down.
The game is great fun solo but you can also team up with another player to tackle it co-operatively. This adds little to the game but zombie slaying with friends is always fun. In addition to the story mode and the tougher difficulty there are also a selection of challenge maps. These drop you on a map with a specific theme and task you with surviving until you can find a plane to escape.
For those looking for an even greater challenge the Storm Warning edition features extra difficulty plus One-Shot Escape and Barricade modes. One-Shot Escape introduces permadeath meaning you have a single life to escape the island. This adds a lot more tension to the game knowing that a single mistake means restarting. In Barricade you must defend your camp and its survivors. This means collecting resources and building traps and barricades to help keep the zombies at bay.
How To Survive: Storm Warning edition remains a fun zombie slaying adventure. It’s still a little rough around the edges but there’s an addictive quality to the gameplay. This is definitely the best edition of the game thanks to the included expanded content but it’s hard to recommend it to those who own the original. If you missed out on it first time around and enjoy zombie and survival games then be sure to check it out.