Roughly a month ago a friend of mine hooked me up with a copy of How to Survive 2, because she knew I was a fan of the whole zombie apocalypse genre and it was a game she was enjoying. I had all of these plans to write up a proper impressions piece, but got sidetracked by all things The Division. This game was a whole lot of the reason why I survived the lead up to the launch of that title, because it gave me something fresh to piddle around with. The basics of the game are that you are a survivor in a world long after everything went to shit thanks to the zombie outbreak. Since I did not play the first title, I feel like there is probably some background story there that I am missing. What I do know however is that this title is set in the coastal region of Louisiana. There are no real recognizable landmarks however, but instead the world simply borrows a swampy feeling Tileset. The game has both single player and multiplayer game modes, but I have largely spent my time playing single player.
Within moments of starting a new game you are introduced to the character of Kovac, a man that at first you only know as a voice coming through some sort of a speaker system. He serves as your guide as he attempts to teach you the basics of surviving in this world. The game itself is divided into two basic chunks, the large open world area that allows you to freely roam and explore, and very tight and controlled missions with specific objectives. The missions themselves are repeatable and you can crank up the difficulty to give you better rewards and experience. One thing of note, and why I am doing an impressions piece is that the game is in early access, and there are a lot of things that are simply not in the game yet. Much of the tutorial that walks the players through how the world works is simply missing, so I had to rely on my friend and what I could google to figure out a few things.
Level Your Camp
One of the big things that I was missing was how one actually levels up. The game has two parallel systems that are designed to level up together, that is your “camp” that you are building in the open world and your character itself. Both of these have levels associated with them that are purchased through the spending of experience gained through doing activities. The fastest way to gain this experience for me at least, seemed to be to repeat one of the early missions with the difficulty slider cranked up as far as I was allowed to. The reason the whole camp leveling thing was a bit confusing at first, was that the character level is locked to the camp level. So in order to level up your character you have to first level the camp, and you will continue to stair step the two progressions from that point on. In addition to raw level however there are numerous perks that you can unlock… some of which are absolutely must haves like the ability to open lock picks. Others are improve the efficiency of using weapons or items, and I assume are also really important once you get a good idea for how you want to build out your character.
The thing I have noticed is that the difficulty of encounters ramps up pretty quickly, especially in the open world. For quite a while all I encountered were the generic slow zombies, however once I got to around level three or four the game started to throw in those “track star” zombies that have become popular in the more modern and edgy zombie films. Around level five I encountered this games version of the boomer… the fat bloated corpse that explodes when you get it low on health. I am sure as the levels continue to ramp up I will keep encountering other mixes of bad guys each one with their own way of dealing with it. The only real problem is that in the bit I have been playing my only ranged option so far is a crafted bow. I am wondering when exactly I will encounter guns, because while I have found a small bit of ammunition.. I have yet to find anything to use it with.
There is a certain nostalgic feeling to playing this game that I have a hard time really putting into words. In many ways the game reminds me of the original Fallout games, in that much of your interaction is happening in smaller closed maps that are tightly designed around a single mission. There is a big of fog of war going on as well as you explore because you can only actually see a small section of the screen at a time. This is magnified as you go into buildings because there is a forced zoom that happens allowing you to see finer detail inside. This also makes it much easier for a zombie to sneak up on you and there have been a few moments especially on the night missions where I genuinely jumped when something lumbered out of a corner that I had not been looking yet. Wandering a cityscape with only your flashlight to see with… is unexpectedly tense given that this is a top down isometric game. I definitely had moments of trying really hard to bait everything out of buildings before actually going in to explore them for the fear of getting overrun especially on higher difficulties.
The game is very much not finished, but what is there was really enjoyable to play and helped to get me through those Division withdrawals. I would really like to play this game with friends because I think it would be extremely awesome to explore larger cities together. The game is targeting PC, PS4, and Xbox One, and I could absolutely see this being an enjoyable console co-op experience because the movement feels like it would translate well to a twin-stick controller setup. The big thing to remember about this game is that it comes with the same early access concerns as always. The game is not finished, but they seem to be updating pretty regularly. They have a beta branch that has more frequent updates, but also likely is in a less polished state… and then the normal branch is largely stable. I had quite a bit of fun playing the game, and I intend to pick it back up again. It is the perfect thing to pop into do a mission, and then exit feeling like you accomplished something or at least moved the experience bar forward. While going through all of my recent home renovations there were many occasions where I simply did not have the time to get into something terribly detailed. Instead I booted up How To Survive 2, and poked around for a bit and got my quick gaming fix before returning to the fray. I liked it and look forward to seeing how this evolves. At some point I feel like I really need to poke my head into the original game since this one doesn’t really provide much backstory.