horror, review, survival horror, ps4, zombie, apocalypse, guide, crafting, minecraft, dying light, walking dead, No Man's Sky, games

Review: 7 Days to Die... and many more ways too

IN-DEPTH REVIEW (Reviewed on the PS4)

POSSIBLE SPOILERS

I was never aware that this game had existed before. My radar had not been particularly sending signals out for zombie apocalypse games for many years. As a matter of fact, I’d been bored for some time by the idea of fighting zombies.

And then the ‘Walking Dead’ TV series awoke the love of it within me, as I am sure it did for so many. From the rebirth of this passion, I discovered ‘Dying Light’, a zombie apocalypse game created by Techland that I instantly adored. When I completed it, my hunger for killing zombies was left unsated, so I set out to find another game like it. My eyes caught sight of ‘7 Days to Die’, and when I read the back cover, I knew I couldn’t possibly ever look back….

• Explore & Craft - Huge, unique and rich environments, offering the freedom to play the game any way you want while you craft and repair weapons, clothes, armor, tools, vehicles, and more.

• Build - Take over a ruin, or build from the ground-up. Design your fortress to include traps and defensive positions to survive the undead - the world is fully destructible and moldable.

• Cooperate or Compete - Includes two player split screen mode, with additional online multiplayer modes and features to be revealed in the near future.

• Create - Unleash your creativity and build the ultimate world by yourself friends. Enjoy unlimited access to nearly 400 in-game items and 1,200 unique building blocks in creative mode.

• Improve - Increase your skills in a multitude of active and passive disciplines. 7 to Die is the only true survival RPG with nearly 50 multi-tiered skill and perk groups.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

When purchasing a game, there’s always this primal fear inside of me that I will be wasting my money on a game that I won’t enjoy. Returning a game based on a poor choice is a bad excuse to return a game in my opinion; you made the mistake, and the retailer shouldn’t have to pay for that. So even though I eagerly took the game off the shelf, I was still hesitant when I got to the counter. The imagery on the front of the cover looked great, but the in-game snapshots had me slightly concerned that this game’s graphics and gameplay is not on par with what is available today.

Nevertheless, I decided to ignore that voice in my head (and the bad reviews I quickly researched on my phone while standing in queue) and bought it. I rushed home, put in the disc, installed it on my PS4 and started it up.

At first, I was horribly appalled by the graphics, despite having been warned. I had to remind myself that I had been playing Resident Evil 7: Biohazard every day that week, and so I had become accustomed to superb, first-rate graphics. I had also discovered, from my previous idle research, that it was originally released on Steam and then ported to the current generation of consoles. Just like the port of ‘Silent Hill: Origins’ from the PSP to the PS2, the graphics were ported as is.

Deciding not to let myself be daunted by this, I strived to continue… and then discovered I had no idea what the heck was going on.

THE STORYLINE

I’m sure many who have played the game would laugh at me calling anything in this game a storyline. Simply, it really has none. Seriously. This plays out very much like Minecraft. You build, find nourishment, and survive. Further research, after I had played the game for days on end, revealed that this is not so surprising after all. There’s a video by the creators of the game, Fun Pimps, where they clearly state that they took their inspiration from zombie and survival entertainment available today, such as Minecraft and the Walking Dead.

And both are evident in abundance. From the whacking of trees and plants to get crafting supplies, to hunger and water levels dropping until you eat or drink, to the zombies being more active at night. And then there are the runs through the land and towns to scavenge for supplies, very much like in the Walking Dead. I could pretend I was Darryl, hunting with my bow and arrow (and later crossbow) to get meat from the local fauna.

But everything leads to the title of the game: 7 days. That’s how long you have before the first red blood moon rises. Basically, the blood moon sends the zombies into full adrenaline mode. Like the newbies in Dying Light that have freshly been turned, hordes and hordes of zombies descend upon you on that night, and suddenly the small house you had decided to settle into isn’t secure enough. They trash everything in their path to get to you, and your goal is to survive that night. For, if you do, you will have another 7 days to resupply and prepare for the next blood moon.

GAMEPLAY

So before this amalgamation of confusion and initial disappointment reigned, I was introduced to the game by having to choose between various settings for the game. Thankfully, there is a sidebar on the right of the screen which explains what each setting means. The various settings and modes can almost be equated to Minecraft: you can set it so that you can play survival mode, creative mode and adventure mode basically. They even allow you to choose the type of map you would like to play in.

Even though the game explains what each setting means, I still had trouble deciding what would be the best to start with. I began with zombies on default, but only running during the night. Let me give you all some advice: if this is your first time, switch zombie spawning off.

After you are done fiddling with the settings, you get to pick a character from a pre-set list of characters. Oddly enough, many of them look like characters from Walking Dead. There are no special attributes for whom you pick, and it is all down to preference really.

I died very much near the beginning. I had not understood the severity and importance of collecting supplies, making tools and creating weapons. There is an eight-part tutorial at the start that teaches you how to create things, but then you are left on your own. It took me a second play-through (and some more research) to discover where feathers were to create arrows for my bow, and that made the game slightly easier.

Each play makes it easier to understand the game and what needs to be done to survive. The second time I died from starvation and thirst, as I was more focussed on shelters, security and weapons. By the time I realised where to look to see my starvation levels, it was too late.

Playing the game is very much learning how the game works, what the different menu screens mean, and what skills and upgrades are essential. Once you can flip through menus and inventory items and skill bars with the blink of an eye, you’re all set to play in full zombie mode.

SURVIVAL & SHELTER

This is at its heart a survival game. There are so many elements in the environment that can kill you and not only zombies. Everything leads to the 7th day, and by then you need to have fortified yourself in a base that not only protects you but stops the zombies from getting in.

If you’re a beginner, there’s no shame in putting zombie spawning off until you have built yourself a base and have ample supplies. You can switch zombies back on at a later stage when you feel you are more prepared. For the die-hards, you can face the zombies and all the elements head on from the start and get your heart racing as you attempt to build a sufficiently strong base by the 7th day.

Sounds easy, right? Wrong. Only once I got the hang of the game and could do things at a much faster pace did I restart with zombies in full mode. I got too frustrated with trying to understand the game while dying at the same time, and so tried it without them at first.

The first thing you have to focus on while scrounging for supplies is getting ample food and water. Until you have levelled up enough and upgraded certain skills, your character will get hungry and thirsty so often that your supplies will quickly run out. I was lucky enough to discover early on that you could melt snow to make water, so I created a base in the snowy areas.

Which leads to my next point: the climate. If the zombies, starvation or thirst don’t kill you, the weather will. I learnt at a very late stage that your heat levels also need to be managed. There are radiation and burnt zones, which you cannot enter without some form of protection. I‘ve treated radiation zones as the edges of the map.

In the really cold climates, you need to wear a full set of clothes to prevent various levels of hypothermia kicking in. Then you enter a desert area with extremely high temperatures and you need to strip down to your undies. There are also moderate climate forests, specifically the nature reserve, where wearing pants will suffice. Fortunately, there is a menu screen after the inventory where you can monitor your body’s thermal levels. And when it dips dangerously into high or low modes, a warning will pop up above the health and stamina bars.

Finally, you need shelter. At first, the two story house you find looks very secure, like nothing can get through it. Yet, when the red moon rises, you quickly learn just how adept the infected are at taking out doors, windows and even walls. They would make the Enderman from Minecraft very proud.

And when you are surrounded by the hordes, your supply of ammo suddenly runs out and your melee weapons break from overuse. The proper way to survive this is to learn from the Walking Dead… build up a fortress. Create your own Alexandria or prison. There is an assortment of walls and spikes you can craft, creating a boundary wall that will stop zombies from entering. You can then stand on your fortified walls and fire down on them. When the wave is over, a courtesy walk-around would suffice in repairing any damage they had done.

CRAFTING & SUPPLIES

This is probably the foundation of the game. Although I appreciate that this very much leans on the crafting mechanism of Minecraft, I feel it has far surpassed it and Minecraft could learn a thing or two from 7 Days to Die. The same method of collecting resources applies. Bashing a tree with your fist and you get wood. Use proper tools, like an iron axe, and you collect much faster.

What I rather enjoyed, and maybe too much, was that you could take a wrench to household appliances and abandoned vehicles and obtain further supplies to create more advanced items for your fortress. Iron and clay is in abundance if you know where to look, and become the cornerstone of the more rare items you can create. Once you have created a forge, you are set to craft some of the best items the game has to offer.

Crafted items can also be upgraded. If you put a timber wall down, but later decided it is not strong enough and would rather have a steel wall, have no fear. You can upgrade it with a stone axe and place steel over the wood. Further upgrades make it even stronger, and the best part is that the infected will have to break through each upgraded level before it can get through. All of my doors have been upgraded to vault doors, which means the zombies have to break through something like 5 layers of upgrades to get in. By that time, you have jumped out the back door, run around the house, and shotgunned his head into the nether world. Or simply opened the door to welcome it with the tip of your sniper.

Crafted tools and weapons degrade with time though. They can be repaired with the supplies used to create them, or allowed to break in order to craft stronger tools. As you level up, you have the ability to craft items that last longer and have a greater impact on resources or the infected.

One of the key items you need to obtain or craft early on: medical supplies. Medical kits are useful to return your health to its former glory, while antibiotics help clear an infection. Getting enough of these can actually never be enough; I have five full medical storage containers.

COMBAT & WEAPONS

Being so used to aided-aiming systems, I was alarmed when I realised this game had none. This is real life, son. If you don’t accurately aim that bow or wooden axe at the zombie, you will miss it completely. And, just like our favourite walkers on our beloved television show, your best bet is to aim for the head. Striking other body parts will help but will take much longer than a crossbow bolt straight to the head.

I don’t feel the non-aided system is a poor decision; on the contrary, I believe it adds to the excitement of the game. The most frightening aspect is when a zombie latches onto you, and you have to break it off. And when you are surrounded by a horde of them, this can happen very quickly and frequently. When it comes to fight or flight, I have discovered the wisdom in flight in some situations.

One of my pure pleasures in this game was the vast array of weapons. This not only includes what is available but the fact that you can craft them. Once you have discovered the specific book that teaches you how to craft an item, you only need to find the supplies in order to make them. Weapons are available between melee (axe, club, fist, wrench, spade, etc), ranged (bow, crossbow), and firearms (pistol, shotgun, SMG, rocket launcher, sniper, etc). Each ranged weapon and firearm come with its own ammunition that can be crafted or collected. My favourites from each category were the chainsaw, crossbow, and sniper because they do such a great job of taking the heads off the first time.

OH, THAT INVENTORY

Oh man, the bane of my gaming existence. Don’t get me wrong. I understand the need to have a limited inventory. In real life, we would probably carry much less than the game allows. Also, too many items would probably crash the game or server. Just like Resident Evil 7, and so many other games, that inventory space can be a curse.

This is especially true when you go on a supply run. You enter a new multi-storey building you haven’t been in and you kill and scavenge. Pretty soon, you’re full up on medical supplies, ammo and crafting resources, and you really can’t throw them down as you need them. If the building is close enough to your base, it’s alright to head back, drop off your supplies in your storage units, and then go back to the building for the rest. When you’ve travelled for 5 - 10 minutes to find a town full of buildings… it becomes such a pain.

Fortunately, the game developers were kind enough to supply us with the best present ever. By dismantling appliances and vehicles you will eventually be able to craft a mini-bike reminiscent of Darryl’s bike from Walking Dead. Even better, you are able to stock it with a shopping basket that holds the second inventory. This makes supply runs much more fruitful and shortens the number of trips needed to empty a town.

And don’t fret taking it all… I’ve learnt that, should you stay out of an area for a number of days, everything respawns as if you were never there.

FORMER CIVILISATION

One aspect I dearly loved about this game was the whispers of the people that had gone before. When you enter offices, homes and vacant timber mills, you can see the life that had existed before the outbreak. Someone had lived in that home once, and left those supplies in their fridge. People had worked in that office block or hospital, and their offices are just as they had left it before they boarded it up with timber or metal sheeting.

It is very clear that the developers put some thought into the town creation. Each town is fitted with similar types of buildings, from the gas stations to the hospitals, from resident houses with garages to those with empty pools. When you open up a door and an infected jump out at you, you can pelt their brains with bullets before you wonder who they were before they had turned. Some are wearing police uniforms and others firemen’s’ uniforms. There is an eerie sense of realism around this that is very haunting.

Another nice touch is the airdrops that the military or some form of civilisation keeps dropping into your area. These contain ammo and supplies necessary for survival that can be usually rare to find. They also provide a sign of hope that humanity is not quite yet doomed.

THE ZOMBIES

So let’s spare a moment for the real reason behind the game: the infected. Drawing back on my comparison with Minecraft and Walking Dead, this is one area where I felt the game excels. The variations in the different types of zombies are more akin to Dying Light than any of the aforementioned games. At first, I thought I would just be treated to the standard type of zombie. Yet, as the game progressed, I was introduced to other forms, such as canine, bears, lumberjacks and crawlers. The worst one I encountered was the bloated policeman, who would propel infectious vomit through the air at a great distance.

As the game progresses and you level up your abilities, so too do the infected become more common and active. Each wave of the red moon not only increases the number of zombies that attack your settlement, but also the types that assail you. Suddenly crawling zombies, like the spiders in Minecraft, are ignoring your walls and simply climbing up them into your property.

And that’s basically the point of the game. Each wave of the red moon preceded with a red mist or fog that flows over your settlement with the smell of blood in it, brings with it greater hordes intent on killing you. And your objective… is to survive.

BRING A FRIEND

The absolute BEST feature that they could have brought from Minecraft is the local multiplayer mode. I couldn’t care less about the online multiplayer, as players online can be brutal, anti-social and destructive. Imagine building a heavily fortified shelter, going out on a run, and coming back to your home being destroyed and looted, not from the infected, but from another human.

Alright, fair enough, that’s what you do when you go scavenge the town. Yet, the AI doesn’t retaliate and steal your items. So this is where my love for local multiplayer comes in. And just like Minecraft, you can play up to 4 players on the same screen! Yes, you read right. On the same screen. Not only does this make the game more fun, but getting supplies on runs and surviving is just that much easier. The downfall to this is that whatever supplies are found needs to be either even divided among the group, or what you find is yours. You could of course fight for it, but who are the real enemies here? You would think the infected….

In any event, this multiplayer ability is a superb addition to the game and probably the reason why I am still replaying it so often. It answered the question, why do you need to pick a character when everything is in the first-person view. The answer: so you have someone to look at in multiplayer mode, and surprisingly to see yourself riding your awesome new mini-bike, which pans out for third-person view mode.

INSOMNIA

The strangest feature absent in the game, despite the fact that you create a bedroll or bed at your base, is that you never sleep. As in ever. This functionality is completely removed from the game. Granted, who would be able to sleep knowing there are zombies out there, but let’s face it… your body will just collapse from exhaustion, so finding the time to sleep is probably a good idea.

The bedroll or bed’s function in the game is to create a savepoint. So, if you die, that is where you will respawn. All your items will remain in the place where you died, as the infected only ate your body and left everything kindly behind for you. Yet, you only have a certain amount of time to claim it before it vanishes.

I can certainly appreciate that the day is used for scavenging and the night used to craft items and protect yourself and your shelter, but the sleep functionality would have been appreciated. It would have created an ‘exhaustion’ element to an already hard balance to contain between nourishment and thermal control and would have been more realistic in a sense. Yet, for some reason, this was one Minecraft feature that was decided to be left out of the game.

MORE WAYS TO DIE

As hinted at so many times in this review, there are more ways to die than by the infected. If you don’t cover up in the cold, you can die from hypothermia. Obversely, you can die of a fever or hyperthermia in high temperatures. Hunger and thirst are more obvious ways to die while being infected and not obtaining antibiotics or cure is another. You can burn yourself up in a fire or in the fire zones, or become a victim to the radiation zones. If you’re not careful, you can fall on the spikes you’ve littered around your base walls, or you could explode from land mines planted around military camps. Playing with terrible friends or strangers online, they can maul you just for the fun of it.

Even the wildlife is a danger. Normal bears will attack you in defence or out of hunger. You can drown in a river, although this would have to be really intentional since the rivers are quite shallow. Falling from a large height could sprain your ankles, break your leg or kill you altogether, depending on how high you are.

And these are just the ways that I have accidentally discovered you can die. I am sure there are many more ways to die that I have yet to come across.

CONCLUSION

All in all, 7 Days to Die is pretty addictive. Even after your base is heavily fortified, there is always something more to explore or to discover. It sits comfortably among my never-ending games that I love to play, namely Minecraft and No Man’s Sky.

Once I got used to the graphics, I realised that it is not as bad as I originally thought. There are some realistic motions among the trees, reeds and rivers. I would have given this review a higher rating, though, if the graphics were on par with current high-res games like Resident Evil 7 or Dying Light. If it were up to those standards in terms of graphics alone, it would have made for a truly terrifying experience.

A small element of a story would have been nice too, coming from the perspective of a writer. There were nice small touches, such as finding buried treasure from a map or killing a certain type of zombie for a reward. If they had included some story elements to please my writer intellect, this would have further enhanced the game. Like solving a zombie murder mystery or something. Minecraft has the Ender Dragon, and No Man’s Sky has the centre of the galaxy and now Atlas. Not having the main story or small stories doesn’t take away from its enjoyment, but it would be a welcome, adventurous addition.

RATING: 7/10

Review by: Shaun M Jooste
Author of the Celenic Earth Chronicles and Silent Hill: Betrayal
https://celenicearth.wordpress.com