Is it done yet?
Let me get this out of the way first. Ever since I first watched George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, I’ve loved zombies. I love zombie movies, I love zombie comics, I love zombie TV shows, and I absolutely love zombie video games. Even though the zombie genre as a whole has been done to death (pun intended), I still continue to be fascinated with the living dead. Maybe it’s the fact that knowing these decaying monsters used to be human beings that drove to work, enjoyed weekends off, and had families or perhaps it’s just the way these shambling shells of their former selves are being controlled by something that’s not them, being driven on by pure instinct. Either way, I’m one of the few gamers that hasn’t been bored to death of the zombie genre, and I don’t see myself becoming disinterested any time soon.
Another thing I really love besides zombies is the Fallout series. The aspect of digging through old houses and discovering items that were left behind by the previous tenants has always intrigued me. Searching through closets and locked safes to discover old letters, and sometimes even weaponry, kept pushing me to complete the series‘ 40 hour-plus adventures. On top of all the looting and searching was a post apocalyptic world that just begged to be explored. The dream game for me would be to replace the Mirelurks and Radroaches we’d come to expect from the Fallout franchise with the shambling undead and forgo the single player campaign and replace it with an online multiplayer component. Eventually a developer had to mix the two together and create a masterpiece!
When I first heard about 7 Days to Die, a game described as a mix of survival horror, crafting, and looting, I almost immediately clicked on the button to purchase it on Steam…until I saw those dreaded words, “Early Access Game”. I, for one, am not a big fan of paying to play test video games, so I decided to wait until the game had a full retail release with all of the bugs ironed out. So I waited and waited and after two years I’ve completely forgot about the game; that is until I saw it was getting a retail release on PS4 and Xbox One. Finally, it’s finished!
7 Days to Die is nowhere near finished. You are paying $30 for an early access console game and that is a concept that completely surprises me. However, this should be expected. After all, it had to happen sooner or later considering how many games are being pushed onto store shelves that require updates and day one patches, but this completely surpassed the day one patch process and landed on consoles broken without a fix in sight. With that issue going against it, and that’s a really big glaring issue, I find myself fascinated with this damn game! Maybe I’m a bit blinded by the fact this is the game I’ve been awaiting for so long, or maybe it is just playable enough to get some sort of enjoyment out of it, but one thing that I’m completely sure of: I’m having an enormous amount of fun with 7 Days to Die.
When you first start off in the console version of the game you will be greeted with a pretty sizable amount of options to tailor the game to your liking. If you decide to start a single player game to familiarize yourself with the world the first thing you will be asked to do is pick one of several different characters that cannot be edited. Seven difficulty options are available, with “Scavenger” being the easiest and “Insane” being the hardest. I thought I’d play it safe and go with the “Adventurer” option, which is the step up of from Scavenger, but I would find that too difficult (more on that later). It’s here that you can also set the zombies to either always or never run and also how aggressive they are. There are a handful of other options that you will definitely be tweaking after a few deaths, as it took me several before I finally felt comfortable with my settings.
After I began my first journey in the world of 7 Days to Die, I learned very quickly that the game wants you to figure out everything on your own. It will teach you how to build a few basic things like clothes made out of plants (since you start the game naked) and also how to make the all-important stone axe, but it wants you to figure out how to survive in its harsh, apocalyptic world on your own. It’s during this introduction period that you’ll realize that 7 Days to Die was obviously designed to be played with a mouse and keyboard, as the menu system is very cluttered and confusing. I was able to get used to it after several hours of playtime, but it’s not very intuitive, especially in a game like this, where a a step-by-step guide is lacking. The first few minutes of gameplay will also clue you in that this game isn’t very polished at all. The landscape is jarringly blurry looking and highly reminiscent of those muddy Nintendo 64 textures of yesteryear, and most of the foliage is laughably rendered in 2D. Once you’re a bit deeper into your journey the framerate will drop into the single digits when several zombies are present. Clipping is also a persistent issue, as tree branches will frequently bypass walls and zombie arms and legs will magically be able to strike you through the walls of a sturdy cobblestone home. Freezing is also a common hassle, and at times will undoubtedly lead you to believe the game crashed, but in a few seconds it’ll be back up and running again. It’s unbelievable that this is a retail release.
I was able to get through my first day on the “Scavenger” difficulty with ease. I only stumbled across one zombie that I simply avoided by calmly walking away. It’s always smart to just avoid any and all conflict in this game, as the zombies are pretty powerful. They can be taken down with a handful of blows from a wooden club, a couple of arrows from the bow that you will be instructed to make during the intro, and bullets from the guns you will eventually find in the world. Everything was fine, until the sun went down. It’s at this time the zombies become really aggressive and will chase you down until you either kill them or they kill you. It’s best to hunker down and lay low during the night near a campfire or bedding. Once morning rolls around some cheery music will play and alert you that the zombies are back to their normal lumbering selves again and it’s safe to explore. It’s here that the Adventurer difficulty decided I needed a case of heat stroke. This happened in 6 different playthroughs on this difficulty. Once daybreak hit on the 2nd day my body would just heat up for no apparent reason. I drank plenty of water, removed my clothes, and even sat in a puddle of water that was located outside of my safehouse. And still, I just couldn’t find a way to cool down and would die once again. Dying isn’t the end of the world however, as you can just respawn at or around your sleeping bag, but you do lose all of your items (unless you turned that off in the options). This happened time and time again until I just gave up and lowered the difficulty to Scavenger so I didn’t have the issue anymore. I’m not sure if this was a bug or something I was doing wrong in the game, but it was frustrating having to go through the introductory sequence time and time again.
Now that my difficulty setting is the easiest it can be I can get past the all-important second morning and get to exploring. It’s here that the game shines. The maps can either be random or hand-crafted to start your game. I picked hand-crafted for most of my games and each time it seemed the map was completely different. I scavenged police stations, schools, and what seemed like generator buildings that used to power whole towns and I had a whole lot of fun doing it. Most of these buildings are boarded up, so it’s up to you to break the doors and windows down using the tools you craft. Everything in the world has a HP meter and as you bash, say, a window, it’s will slowly degrade and finally break once it’s HP is drained. The crafting system in the game is remarkable and will let you build several home materials such as walls and doors all the way to weapons such as guns if you’ve found the schematics. Water can be found in toilets and lakes and food can be hunted by shooting wild game in the vast environment. Towns can be built if that’s your thing and the game actually makes it pretty easy to do so. 7 Days to Die truly leaves everything up to the player and their imagination.
The sound design in the game is a mixed bag. It’s genuinely frightening to hear the zombies growling and banging on your house during the night. I sat next to my campfire for hours just crafting and preparing for the next day as zombies desperately tried to smash through my shelter and eat my flesh. It’s moments like this that I really wanted to like this game, but at the same time I had to hear the same zombie groan over and over again. It’s like the developers only recorded 3 or 4 zombie voice actors, and the same old howls and groans get really old really fast. Thunderstorms, on the other hand, sound amazing and add to the freighting experience – especially during the night cycle when mixed in with the zombie noises and a wolf’s howl. The cheery music that plays at daybreak is very nice and will make you feel good about surviving another horrific night.
I jumped into a few online games but each time the host would drop out after an hour or so and I’d get booted back to the intro screen. I can imagine if you had a friend and plenty of time that a good multiplayer experience can be achieved, but randomly jumping into games seems like wasted time. Thankfully, the console versions do offer split screen couch co-op but it doesn’t really tell you how to use this feature. I had to actually turn on the in-game cheat system to allow me to add in a second player instead of just having that option in the front end menu screen. It was confusing to say the least, and hopefully something that can be fixed in a future update. Once I did figure out the cheat system it did add a whole new layer to the game, and to have a buddy play along side you with unlimited weapons is quite a riot.
Considering the source material, I believe that I enjoyed this game a lot more than most gamers would. In a world where zombies have been shoved down our throats through what seems like almost a decade now, I do still have quite the soft spot for the undead ghouls. Even though I had a tremendous amount of fun with the game I do recognize it’s downfalls and unfortunately those are big enough to drop the rating significantly. Bugs, clipping, freezing, and framerate drops are just a few of the many issues with this game. I do have hope that Telltale and The Fun Pimps will continue to work on and eventually finish 7 Days to Die and at that time I can to a follow up review, but in it’s current state the game just doesn’t seem fully cooked.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC ; Publisher: Telltale Publishing ; Developer: The Fun Pimps/Iron Galaxy; Players: 1-4 ; Released: June 28, 2016 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of 7 Days To Die given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.