How to Survive is an action RPG game set on a string of islands off of the coast of Columbia. While attempting to assess your surroundings and make it back to safety, you encounter other survivors working to escape and defend themselves from the monsters inhabiting the islands. A decently fleshed out crafting system, hunger and survival mechanics, character progression and a mixture of typical zombie type enemies lurking in the night, combine for some high and low points.
The game controls similarly to other 3rd person, isometric games. WSAD and mouse cursor aiming is standard, and while the game settings show gamepad support, it never fully recognized my Xbox 360 controller. Aiming with the mouse was satisfying, so I never really missed the controller support. While targeting enemies, holding your aim on them for a few seconds allows you to score critical hits. This increases the XP you gain from kills. Along the way you pick up various crafting ingredients. Healing plants can be mixed with fabric to craft bandages. Gun parts mixed with compression tanks and scopes can be combined to form rudimentary handguns and rifles.
Along with the typical combat / crafting system, there is also a realistic take on survival. As well as keeping an eye on your health meter, your character needs food, water, and rest to maintain those respective meters. There are a variety of food ingredients that can be combined in the crafting system to provide greater benefits. Some of the combined items replenish both hunger and thirst. Safe houses dot the islands, and once they’ve been cleared of zombies, can be used as a resting place, so long as your character is tired enough. These added survival mechanics make the game more interesting and realistic - instead of loading your pack with only guns and ammo, you also need to keep some food and water bottles handy.
While the game has solid crafting and realistic survival mechanics, it’s not all great. The early parts of the game have pages from “Kovac’s How to Survive” manual. Once a page is found, it launches a video to explain various gameplay, such as combat, crafting, health and survival meters. The first time it pops up, it’s kind of interesting. The 6th time it pops up, the over-the-top voice acting and animations are annoying - just let me get back to the game!
As you collect more and more pages, you can check the survival guide from the pause menu. The survival guide displays the same info from the videos along with crafting recipes you’ve found. The only problem with the crafting recipe section is that it doesn’t actually spell out what you need! There are images of items, but no text to explain what that picture is, making the recipes somewhat obtuse.
Because so many of the survivors you encounter send you on fetch quests, there is a fair bit of backtracking. Each island is configured in a maze-like arrangement, with various paths blocked off by fences and barricades. Jumping from island to island requires you to find the jumping-off point. These can be boats or lightweight aircraft, and going from one point to the other can be a slog. Call it realistic or whatever, but it detracts from the enjoyment of the game.
How to Survive isn’t revolutionary - a lot of the things it does have been done elsewhere, and sometimes have been done better. It does offer a somewhat compelling storyline with interesting crafting and survival mechanics, and the combat system is satisfying. Some of the shortcomings in the inventory management and crafting recipes are nagging issues, but any game with a limited inventory and the need to gather ingredients suffer some of these same issues. I enjoyed my time with How to Survive, and keeping in mind it’s relatively low cost of entry, I recommend anyone who enjoys zombies, action RPGs or survival games to check it out on Steam.