Wander a voxel-based postapocalyptia in search of respite from zombies.
PC Release: Early Access
By Ian Coppock
It may surprise some of you to know that I play a lot of survival games. I just never write about them because the overwhelming majority are in early access, and more often than not, narrative is not a feature found in a game’s alpha build. I’ve maintained a never-buy-early-access policy ever since learning that only 25% of early access games are actually finished, but every so often I find an alpha build that looks intriguing enough to warrant a try. 7 Days to Die, a genre-mashing zombie survivor, is one of those games.
7 Days to Die is an open-world survival game incorporating FPS, RPG, and FUBAR elements of gameplay. A fictitious World War III has left most of the earth devastated, and its dead risen again as flesh-eating monsters. You, a lone survivor, are stranded somewhere in rural Arizona, and must contend against zombies, hunger, thirst and the elements in order to survive. The Arizona setting is 7DtD’s canonical setting, but you can also play in a custom map.
7 Days to Die is voxel-based, so there’s really no part of the environment that you can’t destroy or manipulate. Though the devs have hinted at a possible storyline in future updates, the current build of 7DtD encompasses no narrative beyond your own survival story. In order to make it in postapocalyptia, you have to strike a delicate balance between slaying zombies, gathering supplies, building a base, and not crying like a child during any of those three processes.
7 Days to Die doesn’t bother with any sort of coddling or guidance, which is only a good thing to a certain extent. I was dropped into the Arizona desert with nary a clue as to what to do… and none ever came. This is one of those games where there’s no shame in consulting the wiki, since 7DtD doesn’t provide shit in terms of a tutorial. I get that exploring the world and figuring things out for yourself is a vital part of the survival process, but at least tell me how to make a weapon or where I might find a candy bar. At one point I had holed up for the night in an old hospital, only for a zombie horde to immediately find me once the sun had gone down. At first I thought it was just Oblivion-style AI gone too hard in the paint, but I learned from the wiki that zombies can smell your food.
That would’ve been handy to know. It’s dumb for a game to not include such crucial details.
Anyway, after learning that punching zombies in the face was a one-way-ticket to my quick death instead of theirs, I respawned on the other side of the map and made an axe out of rocks and grass clippings. Supplies can be looted from a wide variety of different containers and the environment itself. Before long I was hauling around everything from discarded baseball trophies to household cleaning supplies. To 7DtD‘s credit, the game does tell you what you can make with certain assortments of items once you lay them out on your crafting mat, but again, you have no way of knowing how to get to that point.
My next task after having fashioned a weapon was to find food and shelter. 7DtD is rather conventional in that the more urbanized of an area you visit, the more likely it is to be overrun by zombies. Of course, these are also the only areas with supplies. You can hang out in the forest all damn day if you’re prepared to starve for it, which, when you think about it, might be preferable to getting torn apart by your reanimated friends and family.
With not one, but two, axes in hand, I ventured into a suburban area ready to kick some ass, and promptly ran away like a little bitch before the mighty horde swarming the houses. In addition to the fact that this game is brutal on single-player mode, 7 Days to Die‘s combat is pure asshole. Trying to strike a zombie with a melee weapon is like trying to play Whack-a-Mole with a flimsy dildo. The hitboxes are so messed up that two strikes in the exact same area with the exact same weapon may not both land. By that point, the zombie that you’d normally have given a concussion is now giving you a frontal lobotomy, causing no small amount of frustration.
Even on easy mode, the longest I lasted by myself in 7DtD was two days. I don’t know what exactly the title 7 Days to Die refers to; maybe the zombies get angrier with each day of the week. Either way, I didn’t live long enough to find out, so I recruited two of my buddies to help me out and we made quite the killing team. Between the numbers of zombies you face and the physical challenge of breaking into buildings for corn flakes and apple juice, it’s clear that this game’s balance favors multiple players. That’s a design facet I should’ve gone into this game expecting, but I’m a fan of the lone-wolf survival experience even more than the multiplayer. 7 Days to Die is not kind to the former play style.
7 Days to Die does present a massive, fascinating world to explore. The engine’s visuals are steadily improving as the game develops, with sharper textures and a wider palette of environments to travel to. These biomes are absolutely massive and chock full of places to explore, so you’ll not hurt for wanderlust while playing 7DtD. Though initially bleak and uninteresting in their design, 7 Days to Die‘s environments now pack lots of different colors and textures. Some of the character models look prehistoric and the combat animations are stiff, to put it politely, but I will give the devs credit for producing a steady stream of improvements.
The crafting system in 7 Days to Die is also the most in-depth I’ve ever seen. There are hundreds of salvageable items throughout the game world, and almost all of them can be combined in some way. You can make the expected melee weapons and put together the occasional gun, but you can also build landmines, light posts, furniture, fortifications, all kinds of crazy stuff. The ultimate goal of the game at this point, I think, is to invest those skills and salvage operations into the most kickass anti-zombie fort in existence. Though I’ve yet to build one myself, I’ve seen screenshots of mighty citadels surrounded by moats and walls of spikes. Certainly more imposing than the combination of cinder blocks and prayers favored by noobs like me.
Hand-in-hand with 7DtD‘s creativity is its destructability. You can use tools to mine tunnels, construct buildings and alter the landscape in whatever way you wish, ravenous zombie hordes permitting, of course. Mining for resources can give you a leg-up when constructing fortifications, since buildings can only be salvaged for so many materials and contain undead residents more often than not.
7 Days to Die procures a good old zombie romp that I found some fun with. It produces a tense atmosphere that is more reminiscent of The Walking Dead adventure game than Amnesia. It’s not meant to be a hardcore horror game, but a suspenseful co-op adventure in a land of the dead. In my time with the game I found almost no bugs (unless the crawling zombies being able to jump over things is not a bug), but the game does a disservice by being prohibitively difficult for single players looking to play the lone survivor tale. The lack of any sort of tips or tutorials is also very irritating. Devs, if you have time to add a scooter-buggy to your video game, you have the time to add some goddamn pointers to save me pausing the game and surfing my phone. Even a flashing line of Times New Roman text would be better than nothing.
7 Days to Die, despite some basic design flaws, does have a lot of potential. It’s an early-access product, so I wouldn’t recommend buying it yet, but I would recommend hitting that “follow” button on its Steam store page to track its progress. Hopefully some of the issues I faced will have been rectified by the time the full release comes out. The community is helpful and the developers’ updates are released regularly, which are promising rarities in the early access world.
You can buy 7 Days to Die here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.