Review | 10/23/2013 at 12:20 PM

How To Survive Co-Op Review

Do you like your deer raw or grilled?

You're stranded on an island and surrounded by unholy horrors. Can you stay alive long enough to escape? Not likely, but at least you're armed with your brain (a very hot item around here), and a How To Survive guide written by an eccentric stranger. Forage for food, find shelter, and make weapons and tools necessary to put off your inevitable end! Fight for your life...for as long as you can.

How To Survive is a guidebook that teaches one the basics of survival. It is also the name of the zombie survival game brought to us by EKO Software that puts you in control of castaways on an island off the Coast of Colombia full of infected inhabitants. How To Survive contains elements from several genres; RPG, simulation, and survival horror, but at the core it is an action adventure game. A menagerie of genres can be difficult to pull off, but How To Survive manages to keep everything contained in one flesh-heaping package.

Things begin with three different characters to choose from: Jack the typical bruiser, Kenji the assassin, and Abby the nighthawk. Each have their own strengths and abilities and specific items that they can craft. Each character acts as a separate save file and all begin at level 1. After your chosen survivor is selected, you’re treated to the heart and soul of the game - The Survival Guide.

Filled with amazing animated artwork and satire, the Survival Guide is your bible throughout the game. It serves as the vehicle for presenting every aspect of the game to you from tutorials to crafting guides, all with a generous dose of humor. Even at loading screens you’re treated to a trivia mini-game that tests survival knowledge. The best part? Experience points are rewarded for correct answers. So who do you have to thank for this life-bringing manual of enlightenment? Well that would be Kovac, the eccentric author who conveniently lives on the island that somehow has had his survival manual torn page by page and scattered throughout the environment. Now Kovac has his own set of rules, but I’m going to give you the Co-Optimus tips on How To Survive. Let’s go…

Rule 1. Zombies aren’t your enemy, you are the enemy.

The first thing you are going to learn about How To Survive is that even though there are thousands of zombies roaming around the island, eventually your body is going to give up on you. That is, if you don’t find the means to take care of yourself. Hunger, thirst, and sleep make up the trifecta of survival essentials, let one slip and your body will start to fail. Thankfully the first pages of the manual teach you how to hunt and gather for food, finding various animals and fruits scattered around the island. Freshwater wells are your best friend for staying hydrated, just be sure to refill your bottles. There are not many safe places to sleep on the island, so when you find four walls it is in your best interest to lay down and have a rest. These three basic human needs are the cornerstones of survival, so don’t go ignoring them because who knows when you will need a burst of stamina to outrun a horde of crazed zombies.

Rule 2. Strangers have that key item you need. Do your best to help them.

There are other survivors on the island that will ask you to do things for them. Some could be previous inhabitants, some could be other crash survivors, and some could be talking chimpanzees. Effectively these strangers act as your quest givers and will surely give you that engine starter or car battery back once you complete their request. It could be anything from finding a lost child, to recovering the remains of a dead cat and stuffing it full of feathers to fool an old lady. These people do their best to lose things across the island, and they send you (like a sucker) on a scavenger hunt. After the hassle you go through to do these things for people, I began to wonder why I didn’t forcefully take what I needed. You’re the one getting all the experience and cool gear while scavenging your surroundings while they mope around for lost loved ones.

Rule 3. Become handy and learn to live off the land. You’re going to be here awhile.

How to Survive boasts a robust crafting system that allows you to combine items into various weapons, tools, and food. Need to make arrows for your bow? Use a machete on a wooden stick. Use those newly crafted arrows to shoot a bird and add the feathers to the arrows and now you have feathers that do bonus damage. Don’t just eat that raw meat you took off that deer, what are you some kind of savage? Cook the meat at a firepit and combine the cooked meat with some mushrooms to make spiced meat that will now fill your hunger meter to 100% instead of 50%. Need a refresher? Make some lemonade with the bottle of water and exotic fruits.

Armor crafting is also very important, as more armor means less damage from enemies. By combining various bones, tires, and metals a nice set of armor can be fashioned to look like something out of Mad Max. It’s crude but it works, however this knowledge doesn’t come for free. It’s all hidden within the torn pages of Kovac’s guide to survival, most of which you will stumble upon while doing missions for NPCs but some of the better crafting recipe pages are hidden in secret stashes that require specific items to open.  

Rule 4. Make yourself useful, learn to be deadly.

Experience is given for killing enemies, crafting new things, and obviously for finishing quests. This is when you will see How To Survive’s light RPG mechanics come into play with each level granting one skill point to use on your character’s skill tree. It’s not a huge skill tree, but it allows for some choice on how to develop your character. Half of the skills are common across the three characters, such as requiring half the amount of food, water and sleep. The other half are unique to each character, giving them a slightly different playstyle with these skills granting proficiency with certain weapons or the ability to craft special items for only that character.      

Rule 5. Don’t go out at night and walk with a big, fiery stick.

The typical rules for surviving a zombie apocalypse apply here. Don’t be loud, so that means use a bow instead of a gun because gunfire will attract more zombies. Don’t fight a horde without some sort of crowd control like an explosive or at least a stick to light them on fire. These rules apply to the common zombie, but you have to know these are not your only enemy. Special infected roam the island as well, and the rules don’t always apply to them. Bloaters, chargers, stickmen, even infected animals don’t play nice so use extra caution or excessive force when dealing with them. The worst is at night when the stalkers come out. Skittery little buggers that will hit you from behind. Luckily they are afraid of light so blind them with a flashlight or hang out beside a campfire until dawn.

Know your enemy, be smart in your combat actions. The controls act somewhat like a twin stick shooter with movement on the right stick and aiming on the left. Swinging power with melee weapons can be charged with a trigger, but missing these are critical errors. Chopping away with quick, weak attacks may work for regular zombies but is ineffective against armored ones, which require a headshot or a critical hit to the face.        

Rule 6.  Bring a friend.  

How To Survive is great solo, but why wouldn’t you play online or locally with a friend? Two heads are better than one, especially when you need someone to watch your back when you’re reloading. Co-op partners use separate characters, each with their own saved progress. The game will use the host’s checkpoint so keep this in mind when hopping into different people’s games. There are a couple slight changes to gameplay, but mostly these are related to screen real estate. Opening a backpack (inventory) no longer pauses the game, so while one person is rummaging for healing it is a good idea for the other to protect them. Characters are tethered to each other by the boundaries of the screen, so you can’t wander to different parts of the island and must stay fairly close to one another. The game scales very well for co-op, as more zombies will join you when partnered up. It is also nice to be able to have someone with a different skillset in say, long range weapons, while I could stick to being a pyromaniac.  

I had few complaints when playing How To Survive, most of which are minimal gripes that can be forgiven on a downloadable title. Inventory management becomes an issue, as you will quickly find your backpack is always full and there is nowhere to store your stuff. Towards the end of the game I found I had enough ammunition to fight a war, but couldn’t find healing items to save my life (literally). The backtracking through the same areas is a little tedious, and killing the same zombies over and over again becomes tiresome when you’re just trying to make it to a checkpoint. But therein lies the beauty of the game, because you may not make it to that next safe house.

How To Survive is an interesting take on zombie survival. It borrows from several different genres and manages to keep them all in harmony. The crafting is the most interesting spin on the game, and the co-op definitely heightens the experience. Combat and quests can become a little repetitive but How To Survive is a great little co-op romp. It definitely has some meat to it, and it is worth seeing how well you survive on this crazy island.


The Co-Optimus review of How to Survive is based on the XBLA version of the game. A code was provided by the publisher for review purposes.