It’s not always the case, but you can often tell a lot by a game’s main menu screen. With EKO Software’s How To Survive, that initial impression is left to a bird pierced by an arrow, a chainsaw, a decaying moose, and swathes of blood. Morbid indeed, although casts this Nintendo eShop release far too deeply into the realms of survival horror than it ever dares to go.
As either Kenji, Abby or Jack, players will first discover their chosen character awaken on unknown archipelago after the vessel that they were sailing on collides with a reef. Said to be the only survivor, the beach on which you find yourself is littered with decapitated zombie corpses and an injured man that just about managed to flee from them. You’ll forage for a healing plant to treat his wounds before he reveals that he, and a group of other survivors, have been stranded on the island for more than a week, so far unsuccessful in their attempts to escape. Handing you a wooden stick, he warns of monsters that wander the island and sends you to search for a fellow survivor, Ramon. Those monsters are, of course, zombies, and you will be grateful that your arsenal eventually expands to ranged weapons such as bows, pistols, shotguns and spiked boomerangs.
It isn’t long before it becomes clear that How To Survive doesn’t necessarily take the dire predicament in which you find yourself all too seriously. Within minutes you’ll collect your first copy of “Kovac’s Rules” – an interactive survival guide penned by mysterious Russian, Kovac. Early on, this talks the player through mechanics that they must overcome, whether that be crafting items from junk to aid your survival, or making sure that your character’s nourished, their thirst quenched, and that their exhaustion is dealt with by catching forty winks when needed.
That may sound like there’s a lot to consider, but it never becomes overbearingly complicated. You’ll bottle water from wells, track deer through overgrown foliage by pools of blood it leaves once injured, and sleep safely in the security of makeshift shelters. Aside from attending to your own needs, you’ll largely run fetch quests for the survivors that you stumble upon to gain their trust and help in aiding your eventual escape.
Every island that you traverse is infested with zombies, decayed animals, and piranhas that will look to nibble away your health to non-existence. Explosive Boomers that later appear can be targeted to deal damage to the larger swarms of zombies that will eventually come your way too. The day will regularly turn to night, and more threatening foes will stalk you from the shadows – although they have an aversion to the flashlight that you’re given early on. Enemies that you fell and quests that you complete reward you with experience, levelling your character and allowing you to benefit from unlocking skills – whether that be improving weapon aim, to craft new weapons and projectiles, or letting you see wild animals and herbs with your nearby vicinity. All help in their own way, and you can unlock whichever cater toward your own style of play.
Local multiplayer allows a second player to join you in your quest for survival, although teaming up online has been mercilessly cut on Wii U which comes as a disappointment. Thankfully attention has been spent elsewhere, notably integrating the Wii U GamePad beyond purely supporting Off-TV Play. Players will be able to cast their gaze down to see a map detailing their surroundings and key places of note such as campfires, wells and their objectives. This is accompanied by an overview of the inventory that you’re carrying in your backpack – quickly letting you combine items, equip weaponry with ease, and throw anything aside that you no longer need.
There’s a separate Challenge Mode that puts you to task across eight themed missions, rating your performance throughout their duration, but How To Survive is an adventure that ends all too shortly. With the separate characters as the only way to vary the experience, it is replayability that becomes the game’s Achilles heel. That’s an inevitable shame because there are plenty of missed opportunities to extend your time with the game. Whether limiting the number of days you have to escape or staggering the difficulty to escalate as each day passes. An Iron Man difficulty level threatens to have you cursing at every turn, a welcome challenge although one that evidently sides heavily with the undead hordes that you face.
How To Survive lays a solid foundation despite the central Story Mode feeling as if it ends just as everything’s falling into place. There are plenty of thrills as larger zombie hordes snap at your heels, and EKO Software should be commended for taking a unique approach to survival – even if it only scrapes the depths of its potential.