Written by Derrick Smith
Once again, developer Eko Studios drops players into a zombie infested reality, where teamwork and survival are key, only this time territorial cultivation has added some major changes to the experience, for the better.
Set 15 years after the first game, players find themselves in Louisiana. Initially there are limited options to create your own character; male or female. However, as you begin to level up your character and your camp in particular, you will learn new and different skills to specialize as you level up and equip with scavenged and handcrafted armor, tools and weapons.
Unlike the original title, How to Survive 2 does not offer a narrative campaign or an open world approach. Instead players become entrenched in the games empowering system, supported by camp constructions and defense, the evolution of their character, crafting newer more powerful weapons and armor and most importantly the games seamless teamwork features.
Back to give you a few laughs as he assists your efforts in this zombie-apocalypse, Kovac with his entertaining voice of reason decorates the affair with colorful expression and increasingly challenging quests to test your skills. While playing HTS2 alone can be fun, especially for those lonewolf types, there is a caveat to those attempts. With modest size gameplay environments of exploration, developer Eko has placed an emphasis on offering multiple and varying locales, which are filled with useful resources, which can be yours only after curb stomping a few zombies in your path. In your attempt to go it alone, while a great time as a seemingly sole survivor despite your runs with the games occasional NPC’s and their many requests, as you level up your camp alongside your character progression tree, the zombie horde also becomes more formidable. Tackling quest with increased difficulty for more XP and rewards can and will sometimes cost you your life, along with your valuable resources. However, please don’t be discouraged by this insight, as I am still having a blast playing alone within the ‘Local Game’ settings. Yet, the majority of my time in HTS2 is spent playing with my team, which is where the game shines bright.
Gathering and scavenging resources of all types is vital in this universe. Now players must pay attention to their health, hunger, thirst and ammunition before going on certain quest missions because you may not make it back. Interestingly, when your character becomes hungry and or thirsty it effects their survival performance. For example, while aiming to gain an accurate shot on a zombie, if your character is too hungry or thirsty it takes much longer to land an effective kill shot, all the while several of the undead are quickly bairing down on you. In addition, resource gathering also has its disadvantages. Kovac early on makes it clear that by carrying to many items it can and will slow you down, making you more ineffective as a survivor, so it is encouraged to visit your trunk regularly.
Thankfully, this is where teamwork plays a critical role in the experience. Having played more than 25 hours with a team of 4 players, we managed to level up our characters and construct several highly defensive base camps all filled with several key department such as a chemistry lab, foundry, an accessories depot, kitchen, an armory where we craft an assortment powerful weapons, and lets not forget the the lookout pylon, wood watchtower, high wooden fence, lanterns and so on. All of this was made possible in a reasonable amount of time because as a team we collectively shared all of resources, which made the experience fun and constructive.
Taking on quests within a team has been streamlined quite well as each player in the group is never forced or pulled into a quest he or she does not want to take part in. While some of the members of your team may be taking on one quest, you and another member of your team can tackle another, all in the name of making your camp more sustainable for the complete group. I also enjoyed the flexibility of joining my teammates on the fly within their chosen quest by simply tapping up on the directional pad, which opens the UI where I can quickly click ‘Join’ and I’m in. Again, this applies to each member of the team. When a fellow team members is wounded simply get close to them and begin healing them and they are back in the action.
Within a camp there will be someone in charge of turning on or off certain camp options depending on the established relationship of the players. Multiplayer impressively allows you to invite up to 16 players to join your camp, while 4 players can play simultaneously. If your camp in open to all players and someone comes in and begins using up your teams resources from within the camps trunk and then leaves, those items are gone forever unless you replenish it yourself, oftentimes meaning, ‘lets go kill more zombie’. So, it important that players get to know their teammates before giving them full range of their hard earned and established camp.
Initially starting out, while Kovac does offer some pointers and instructions, players might still be confused by the unfamiliar UI if you are new to the series. Because there is no tutorial on where to go to level up your character and or camp, you may find yourself lost, running around trying to discover where to place your trunk. While players are made fully aware of how the game is to be played through Kovac’s cartoon instructional video, maneuvering the UI might be tricky at first, but once you understand it, you are golden.
Presented as a top-down experience, HTS2 is much improved over the original game, as the camera now follows the character, allowing you to zoom in and out on the fly. Even the games new night and day cycle and weather conditions adds an impressive layer of immersion over its predecessor. The sound quality is great an also much improved as you can hear a variety of birds chirping in the distance through wind blown trees which are occasionally interrupted by the growls of hungry zombies lurking throughout. Players will often hear and then discover rabbits and deer which make for some good eating back at the kitchen within your base camp.
Speaking more to the sound quality of the game, I found the game to offer a better and more consistent sound experience while playing with a pair of headphones, over playing the game through a robust audio speaker system. Through the speaker system for some odd reason the sound while shooting or running or performing melees, seemed to get lost before catching up again. This however, was never the case while playing with headphones.
Visually HTS2 offers a rather rugged looks to its canvas. Sure, the game will not be winning any graphics contests in the near future, however it appears Eko’s ambitions were more geared towards offering an entertaining gameplay experience over eye-candy. Though the game can sometime feel a bit generic and repetitive at time, the gameplay is certainly solid as it has an attractive way of pulling you back into Kovac’s clutches in an effort to maximize the team play.
As I have made it very clear, HTS2 is a much improved experience to the series. Now with a newer deeper crafting system, allowing you to use items and materials to create hundreds of items, tools and weapons to upgrade your character and your base camp, once you find the right group of people to play with you will be spending hours in this new zombie-apocalypse.