The explosive popularity of zombies within popular media is having a little bit of a malaise at the moment. The Walking Dead TV show is still trucking along admirably, Telltale’s excellent narrative-driven The Walking Dead adventure games (based off of the same comic-book source material as the TV series) have been a welcome breath of fresh air, and the Zombies mode within each annual Call of Duty instalment is somehow, against all odds, a consistently enjoyable couch coop experience. On face value, this all just sounds like the zombie craze is just as strong as ever, however, the truth is it’s hard to get too excited by zombies when they have been constantly shoved down our throats for the past 10 years. Nevertheless, developer The Fun Pimps have stepped up to the plate to deliver yet another slice of zombie action with their new title 7 Days to Die. Have they managed to do the inconceivable and breathe new life into the tired zombie formula? Or is this just an empty undead cadaver ready to suck out the life and cash of any foolish would-be-gamers? Let’s find out.
7 Days to Die is a first-person, open-world, procedurally-generated survival-horror RPG, with a heavy emphasis on the survival, crafting and leveling elements you’ve come to expect in games of this ilk. Surprisingly, it takes many cues from a rather unlikely source of inspiration… Minecraft. The fact that you can break objects, plants and…well — pretty much everything — down into their constituent parts and piece them back together, through a deep crafting system, is undeniably Minecraft-esque. Couple this with the fact 7 Days to Die is also a first-person, open-world, procedurally-generated survival game, the comparisons start to become a little more obvious. Despite this, 7 Days to Die somehow feels like it has a personality of its own thanks to its more mature, realistic tone. It’s pretty incredible how effective two disparate ingredients can be, when interweaved together. Because that’s what 7 Days to Die is: Minecraft fused to a horror template.
When you first boot up 7 Days to Die, you are given the choice of playing online, split screen or solo. You are also given the choice to play a procedurally generated level, or a hand-made level created by the developers. You start 7 Days to Die very much like the aforementioned blocky game phenomenon and are dropped into the world and tasked to survive for as long as you can. The items you begin with are procedurally generated, so if you are in luck you may begin with a couple of bandages and a piece of armour — however, most of the time, you won’t be so lucky. This begins your adventure into a post-apocalyptic zombie world.
Now, I want to get some of the negative aspects of the game out-of-the-way. The first issue may well be the kiss of death for many of you: it’s a bit of a technical mess. For those who prize technical achievement first and foremost, it may be best for you to give this game a miss, or maybe wait for a sale, as 7 Days to Die is far from being a technical showcase for the PS4. 7 Days to Die is more akin to a low-budget, B-movie horror escapade than a AAA Hollywood blockbuster and you know what… I kind’ve admire that about it. Framerate stutters are sadly quite frequent, the draw distance is pretty poor, textures look like they’ve been ripped straight out of a PS2 game and the audio can at times be jarring and inconsistent. Long story short; the presentation of 7 Days to Die is mediocre at best, and sorely lacking at worst.
Another issue that rears its head, particularly when players first boot up the game, is the game’s complicated and finicky menu systems. Menu icons and fonts are quite small and hard to decipher as there’s just so much there, which sadly results in it all being a little overwhelming. The good thing, however, is that when you do finally get accustomed to the game’s overly complex menu layouts and systems, this issue does begin to diminish and controlling the menus thankfully begins to feel much more instinctual. Every cloud, I guess.
Now, with the bad stuff out-of-the-way, onto the good stuff. 7 Days to Die is actually a very atmospheric, immersive horror game that feels authentically unique. I just haven’t played anything quite like it on the PS4. When you’ve gathered some materials, crafted some armour and a couple of axes and turned that creepy derelict house on the top of the hill into a makeshift home-base, it can be surprisingly thrilling stuff.
7 Days to Die’s RPG systems come into play when you level up. Leveling is a very deep and rewarding rabbit hole. There is Oblivion-style leveling, where the more you do something, the more you are rewarded. A good example for this is your Athletics skill increases the more you run, jump and move around the world. There is also traditional leveling, where you earn skill points and distribute them into different perk systems. This gives you the flexibility to build the character the way you want. Nice!
Combat is totally serviceable and again reminds me of first-person RPG Oblivion, and I guess this is a key element of 7 Days to Die: the zombies are actually scary. They are scarier and a little more dangerous than the zombies in the excellent Dying Light and the janky but fun Dead Island. Zombies can soak up a fair few hits and refuse to go down easily. They can kill you. They will kill you. And that adds a welcome layer of tension and fear into the mix. This resulted in me wanting to craft new, better weapons and gear and really motivated me to loot as many derelict houses I could find. This is to be very much commended.
Zombies aren’t the only enemies that can kill you. Early on, on my second playthrough, I was merrily looting some long forgotten filing cabinets only to be cordially greeted by a grizzly bear. I sure put up a fight, but yeah, that playthrough didn’t last long. But, I was pretty damn compelled to hit that restart button! I guess, that is what 7 Days to Die is all about. It’s all about the individual stories you make for yourself, which is very powerful stuff indeed. Moment-to-moment gameplay within 7 Days to Die is impressively emergent and dynamic stuff: this is a game that can become infinitely replayable, if you can look past its presentational blemishes.
7 Days to Die is a lo-fi, budget survival-horror sandbox that surprisingly breathes some new life into the tired zombie template. It’s a powerful example of how a game, even when executed without the technical wizardry of big AAA publishers, can become a canvas for your own personal stories. It’s arrestingly compelling and, in the right hands, infinitely replayable. It’s a diamond in the zombie-infested rough.
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