If you’ve been following my writing for awhile you know that I was asked to review How to Survive on the PC back in November of 2013. You can read that review here. It’s safe to say that I wasn’t a huge fan of the game. I felt it was clunky, and that it lacked the balance needed for survival games. Years have gone by, new systems have come out, and How to Survive is on the Xbox One. So the question becomes, is the game better?
The short answer is yes. The long answer is yes, but not really by much. The graphics are improved, controls feel more polished, and the overall experience feels like it got a fresh coat of paint. The problem is that underneath it all it’s still the same game. One of my biggest problems with the PC version of the game is that it felt less like “how to survive” and more like “how to die over and over and over”.
I like challenging games, without challenge the hobby of gaming can get pretty boring. So it’s not being “hard” that makes me dislike a game. It’s when a game is hard because it’s designed poorly that makes me angry. How to Survive wants to be a survival horror game so badly, but it’s just really not. It purposely gives you way too little so that situations are not hard, but actually completely impossible without sidetracking and going back and starting over again and again. You might argue “well that’s what survival horror games do”. No intense survival horror games like the early Silent Hill games don’t give you too little to the beat the game, they give you just enough. Just enough that you have to be smart, patient, and prioritize. Giving too little is adding difficulty, but not in the right way. It’s ensuring that the game lasts longer only because the player will constantly die and probably have to restart the game multiple times to level characters. One is challenging and difficult, one is impossible and frustrating.
You get healing plants (in limited amounts), but don’t learn how to utilize them to the best of your ability until much much later. You stumble upon a safe house on the first island, but can’t actually use it for it’s purpose. You have to go from point a to point b with no tutorial, no weapon, and tons of enemies following you, good luck and run fast. This is all very annoying and is something that keeps coming up in the game. You basically are always about 5 levels behind what you should be. So what do you do? You obsessively and slowly level your character in order to help face the challenge. Only then the game still manages to make sure you don’t have the right information. It doesn’t matter how high level you are, you are going to have to wait and wait and wait to get the weapons, and equipment, you need to keep moving forward.
It’s not good and it’s not fun. But that’s the problem, its the foundation of the game is fun. The console version of the game did a great job with the polish. It controls better, looks nice, and the core of what’s happening is really cool. So why did they have to ruin it with their own poor balance choices? The game provides a bit of fun, and I do find myself thinking, “Well, I can deal with an hour of frustration today” in order to play a bit, but I just wish they had made better choices in order to make the game still challenging but a bit more fun.
So I would again say the console version is better than PC, but I still won’t call it more than a mediocre game.