How to Survive 2 (H2S2) is the not-so-distant sequel to the best-selling, open-world survival title from Eko Software. On first inspection, H2S2 closely resembles the first game. It retains several mechanics from the original title, including crafting, survival meters and character enhancement. Yet, unlike its predecessor, H2S2 has a more streamlined feel to it, with individual maps that can only be accessed via quests and listed menus. Lots and lots of listed menus…
The plot continues that of the first game; now in the new location of Louisiana - you’d think that the swampland would hold back the hordes here, but alas, it does not. You begin in a forest area with no sense of where you are, until you are contacted by the masked, mystery man, Kovac. Players of the previous title will recognise this character from the ‘Kovac’s Rules’ tutorial videos; which return to a lesser degree in H2S2. Through a series of quests, Kovac will be your guide, teaching you the basics of foraging, crafting and building up your very own survival camp.
Each character you encounter is a visible caricature: The mysterious, nutty Russian, the voodoo doctor from the Bayou, the hick… The world has fallen apart and only the crazy survived! It is a shame that only Kovac gets a voice over early on as these characters have a LOT to say and sound bites would inject some additional spice into their personality.
A lot of zombie-slaying titles often tease elements of horror using the intimacy of a close-set camera. In contrast to that, H2S2 uses a top-down, isometric perspective, pulling you out of the action and pushing the focus firmly towards exploring and crafting. These mechanics turn this game into a hoarder’s wet dream; pick up everything from an old engine case to broken glass. You never know what you might use in the future, so pick it all up, just in case. Nothing goes to waste in this game.
Being a successful survivalist in H2S2 means finding food and drink, else you will start to feel the negative side-effects. In the first few hours of gameplay, there is decent pacing for the foraging and the ability to craft almost everything you need. Later, you’ll need to start rationing your beverages. Drinking water is scarce, and though there are abundant hunting and cooking opportunities to sate hunger as you progress, there is no opportunity to collect and cleanse water. Look forward to waiting for random and infrequent thirst quenching.
H2S2 introduces a number of more confined, interior areas, and to account for this, an X-ray viewport has been added. This allows players to see through anything that obscures their line of sight with their character, using a circular portal. Initially, it is an interesting way to view through objects – trees, poles and so on. When you begin fighting through buildings though, it becomes very clear that the camera viewport is not all that useful. It often clips between rooms; obscuring enemies or even your own character. Lack of visibility can quickly mean the end of you.
H2S2 will have you wading through large open swamps and enclosed city areas. The environments give you plenty of chance to explore, collect and whack the undead with your freshly crafted weapons. The quest maps are large, but quickly feel like replicas of each other. This isn’t simply due to asset reuse, but the result of bland level design, which quickly makes exploration feel dull and unsatisfying. On top of that, the lack of an ambient soundtrack continually makes the game feel empty. One level noticeably had an entire quest’s worth of collectibles dumped on the floor of a single room in the idlest choice of placement. Thankfully, the use of day/night and weather cycles go a long way to livening up the game’s atmosphere during otherwise bleak scenarios.
Sadly, the combat system cannot redeem the quests. Most of the time, you will find that the combat doesn’t know what pacing it wants to be. The system hasn’t got the dexterity for stealth, though the sluggish weapons make any encounter with a crowd of zombies lethal within close-quarters. The staggered character progression is responsible for this, leaving most weapons feeling sluggish for a long time. Meanwhile, zombies are like sponges with head shots, causing critical hits to lose any sense of gratification for the player. The level-up system really feels less like a well-structured progression system and closer to a way to prolong gameplay.
The hub area is very large, but luckily quick-travel points are provided and after completing quests you are automatically returned there to develop your camp. This area between quests, where you can spend your hardly-earned junk, is where the game really shines. Beyond its poor user interface, the crafting system is expansive and satisfying. Your materials never feel too precious to use, so making new things and unlocking new recipes is a lot of fun. There are plenty of crafting options and upgrades to keep you busy with both short term and long term goals.
Like many games of its ilk, H2S2 encourages mutually beneficial collaboration in multiplayer through exploration and joint camp development. Co-operative play allows you to easily move your local characters and inventory between local and online games. Taking your local resources into multiplayer is recommended, because shared play means sharing resources, which can make multiplayer a struggle. The payoff, though, is that difficulty doesn’t seem to scale in co-op, so prepare to become a force to be reckoned with. It is unfortunate that, you cannot see teammates’ health, so it can be difficult to know if they are in trouble when they are off-screen, but with the ability to revive and all the extra firepower you’ll be sitting pretty.
The whole world is in the throes of a zombie apocalypse and you will waste most of your survival time scrolling through menu lists. Whilst this type of menu system might work on PC, it is an ugly reminder that not all ports get the love they deserve. Fortunately, with this oversight, H2S2 brings a system to search through potential gaming partners - rather than being randomly allocated a lobby to play in. More console games could benefit from adopting this PC approach to connecting players online.
Zombie games are currently the white noise of game genres and How to Survive 2 does not provide anything bold or fresh to change that. How to Survive at least offered an interesting world to explore, so it is disappointing that this did not carry over into this sequel. Even as a port it does not hold up to the same standard of indie games on PSN that we have come to expect. Overall, the game systems feel very unhoned; relying too heavily on a saturated character development system that lacks substance.