I never thought I’d use the words “projectile-vomiting zombie pelican” in any piece of writing.
Yet, having played How to Survive 2, I’ve had the dubious honour of being pursued by a cornucopia of undead fauna. During my time with this zombie-themed action-RPG, I also encountered undead deer, infected rabbits and rabid hens. If it once possessed a pulse, it wanted to kill me and feast upon my entrails.
How to Survive 2‘s premise is that, under the direction of the mysterious Kovac, you must weather a zombie apocalypse. You’ve chosen to follow his radio signal to deepest Louisiana, which must have been one hell of a road trip. He tasks you with completing several missions, with the ultimate purpose of establishing a new refuge for humanity. This, unsurprisingly, means slaughtering a lot of zombies.
How to Survive 2 is at its best when you’re knee-deep in the dead. It has the good grace not to pitch you against the whole animal kingdom right away but instead lulls you into a false sense of security by introducing you to the regular humanoid shamblers. They shuffle towards you at a leisurely pace and are fairly easy to dispatch with basic melee weaponry. It’s still possible to get overwhelmed though the game expects you to have the common sense to know when to back off.
Levelling up allows you to adopt a more nuanced range of tactics, particularly when you get your hands on a weapon. The longer you remain still when aiming a weapon, the more lethal your shot will be. This in turn, adds an air of tension to the game. Do you stand your ground, knowing that doing so will bring your foe further within striking range? Or instead, will you take the safe option and back off, even though doing so will require you to expend more ammunition?
Making a headshot and seeing your foe’s cranium splatter is disturbingly satisfying. Equally enjoyable is the adrenaline rush you feel when you successfully survive an attack from a horde of zombies. Throw in the aforementioned zombie animals, and you’ve got enough of a challenge to keep you on your toes. Though I’ll never live down the shame of being pecked to death by a group of zombie chickens.
The game’s mission areas, separate from the opening camp area, are reasonably varied. You’ll find yourself roaming through small towns, farms, woodland and, on occasion, more specific locations. Some of these locations are open, whereas others have been designed to give you a particular path to follow. In both cases, roaming off the beaten track pays dividends in terms of collectables. It also brings you into further contact with the infected so it’s up to you whether to take the risk.
Were that the game in its entirety, How to Survive 2 would be a worthy purchase. Unfortunately, it’s mired beneath a set of clunky survival mechanics. The prime offender is the game’s requirement that you eat and drink in order to remain amongst the living. That’s not unusual for a survival game but How to Survive 2 applies the mechanic in an intrusively ham-fisted fashion. Firstly, the hunger and thirst meters deplete at an alarming rate. My character drank a carton of orange juice only for his thirst meter to hit the danger zone again ten minutes later. Furthermore, some missions take place in Louisiana’s more rural areas, meaning you’re unlikely to stumble across food and water. Instead, you’re more or less forced to revisit previous missions, grinding till you’ve gathered enough food and water not to expire within the space of half an hour.
To add insult to injury, dying due to thirst or hunger does not replenish the relevant meters. Instead, you’re brought back to life, with those meters in their precarious states, ready to bring about your demise once more. Equally forced is How to Survive 2‘s base building aspect. Rather than being optional, the game refuses to grant you access to certain quests unless you’ve levelled your base up. Nor can you level your character up beyond your base’s level. The only actual benefit I found to building a base – or parts thereof – was to be able to construct slightly more powerful weapons.
There’s certainly no compelling narrative reason to expand your base. The storyline as a whole is also curiously unmotivating. Your player has no reason to stick around and put his life in danger – no relatives to rescue, no overarching quest to fulfil. In addition, the other non-player characters in the game only ever serve to dole out quests and, during the course of my playthrough at least, never join you at your base. Despite Kovac’s initial promise of a new refuge, How to Survive 2 feels like a very solitary affair. Were the game to allow you to recruit new survivors and bring them to your base, it would be a different story. You’d likely grow attached to them and have a reason to keep them safe. But as is, the game’s base-building element feels wholly unnecessary.
How to Survive 2 has, at its core, an enjoyable twin-stick shooter. It has its moments, yet it’s stifled beneath the weight of extraneous features. Ultimately, if you’re willing to put in the time to fight your way past its flaws, then you’ll get some enjoyment out of How to Survive 2, but there are better zombie shooters and survival games out there. Unless you have a lot of patience, you’re better off letting this game shuffle on by.