How To Survive Review (XBLA)

An Open World Zombie Survival Game With A Twist

At first glace you might think How to Survive is a cash in on the success of State of Decay - they are both survival-focused open world zombie games, after all.  How to Survive has its own identity, however, thanks to Diablo-style gameplay, co-op, and a fascinating crafting system that has you utilizing everything you find to survive.  How to Survive is a darn good zombie game that no zed fan should pass up.

Game Details

  • Publisher:  505 Games
  • Developer: Eko Software
  • ESRB Rating: “M" for Mature
  • Genre: Action RPG
  • Pros:  Fun gameplay; neat crafting mechanic; lots to do; challenges are awesome
  • Cons:  Controls take some getting used to; inventory management

Features and Modes

How to Survive is a zombie survival game where you choose one of three characters - each with different strengths and weaknesses - and then have to survive and ultimately try to escape from a series of islands infested with zombies and other monsters.  Survival isn't just about killing zombies, though, as you also need to find food, clean water, and safe shelter for your character to rest at.  There is a day / night cycle you have to be mindful of as well, because a new set of creepy enemies will come out at night (mostly).

You find a multitude of items scattered around the islands that you can combine to make new weapons and armor and other useful items as well.  There is also an XP system in place where you earn new perks and abilities as you level up.  As you level up, however, new and more powerful enemy types are added to the world to keep the difficulty in balance.

In addition to the story mode, there is also a series of challenges where you start on one side of an island with no equipment and have to fight your way to a plane waiting somewhere on the other side of the island.  It is very cool to break away from the more structured progression of the story mode and get a chance to apply everything you've learned without the story interruptions. 

The best part is that you can play the story and challenges in local 2-player co-op and the challenges in online co-op.  Surviving with a friend is always more fun.


The gameplay in How to Survive is actually quite a bit like the console versions of Diablo and other similar action RPGs.  Enemies come at you and you just sort of hammer the attack button until they're all dead.  Different weapons obviously do different damage, and different enemies pose different challenges on how to defeat them.  You can swap instantly between a melee and projectile weapon, which is really important when facing the many enemy types you'll encounter. 

There are a couple of quirky things about the game, but you do get used to them.  Your attack button is the right bumper, which is just strange.  You run (though your stamina is very limited) with the right trigger.  You use items / turn on your flashlight with the left trigger.  And you swap weapons with the left bumper.  For projectile weapons, you have to aim with the right stick, while shooting with the right bumper, while also moving around with the left stick and keeping your finger on the left bumper to quickly swap back to a melee weapon.  It is kind of a lot to manage, to be honest.  Like I said, though, you do get used to it.

Inventory management can also be a bit of a bother because you only have limited slots and everything you pick up, including mission critical items, take up a slot.  You end up having to either combine items to clear a slot or simply drop things and leave them behind just to finish missions, which is a pain.  I do suppose it is more realistic this way, though.

When you do finally figure out the controls and get into the rhythm of inventory management, How to Survive is a lot of fun.  The combat is really satisfying, and seeing the green "A" button icon appear over an enemy's head (which means you can insta-kill it with really cool automatic combos) never gets old.  The survival aspect is also really well done.  You have to eat, so you find roots or fruit or have to go hunting or fishing.  And then you have to cook the meat or it makes you sick.  You have to drink clean water.  And you have to sleep, which means finding special shelters to take refuge in.  It is all cool as heck.  Crafting new items from all of the junk you find is also just really, really neat.  For all of the jank, it is still a lot of fun.

Graphics & Sound

The presentation definitely won't wow you.  The environments are pretty repetitive, despite there being several islands, and you'll see the same zombie designs used over and over and over again.  The performance stays rock solid no matter what is happening, though I suppose that should be expected since the visuals aren't pushing the Xbox 360 very hard.

The sound is similarly acceptably mediocre.  Okay sound effects.  Okay music.  Okay voice acting. 

Bottom Line

All in all, How to Survive is a really solid, really fun zombie game that takes a slightly different angle on the zombie apocalypse than you're probably used to.  Honestly, the zombies aren't even all that much of a threat compared to simply keeping your character fed and hydrated, but that aspect of real survival is what makes the experience interesting.  There are some gameplay quirks, and the presentation won't impress you, but, darn it, it is fun.  There is also a decent amount of content available for the $15 asking price on XBLA.  Give the demo a try first, as always, but we had a good time with it and give How to Survive a firm recommendation.  It is yet another great XBLA title from 505 Games (play Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons if you haven't already), which is always good to see as well.  How to Survive is also available on Xbox One, and it is even better on that platform.

Disclosure:  A review copy was provided by the publisher.  For more information, please see our ethics policy.