Once in awhile there’s a game that comes along that sounds too good to be true on paper, and 7 Days to Die is one of those. An open world survival crafting game with randomly generated environments and zombies to fend off, it pretty much ticks all the boxes of gaming trends over the last couple of years and should be a sure fire hit. Does the premise deliver on the promise?
I’ve been looking forward to 7 Days to Die since I saw that it was coming to console, could this be the Minecraft meets Dead Rising game I’ve long dreamed of? Well, no. It is very Minecraft, it’s not at all Dead Rising. After wading through the plethora of options that allow customising the game to your liking, and choosing whether you want the predefined landscape or a randomly generated one, it’s time to get busy surviving or get busy dying. Which is code for getting used to spending your time in a non-alive state because this game is brutal. After the initial 8 tutorial missions that just cover the bare minimum, you’re in at the deep end and left to your own devices figuring out how best to construct shelter, find food, keep warm, and fend of the horde that will inevitably find out where you’re hiding. There’s also the local wildlife and environment to keep an eye out for. Lastly, there’s a real battle on your hands for the most important skills you’ll have to master – coping with stuttering performance, reading tiny writing in complex menus, and not cursing the floaty imprecise controls.
Not getting the full information on the crafting mechanics isn’t really a problem. A deep dive through the in-depth menus means you can find out how to craft most things from new clothing to explosive weapons, even if you will have to apply some logic to how you’ll get the ingredients from the scrap, rubbish and scenery around you. Carefully exploring the environment isn’t an issue either as you learn very early that creeping quietly and slowly is the only way to not draw the attention of the local zombies, of which there are plenty no matter what setting you put it on (except turning them off of course). In fact, you’ll never really want to move at speed anywhere for fear of being chased and attacked because early on you’ve not much of a defense against the walking dead. This terror quadruples on a night where they get stronger, faster and much more aggressive. Pretty much the only option is to hide in your shelter (if you’ve had time to build one) and not move. Seriously, movement will draw them in and your sturdy wooden shack suddenly feels like it’s made out of tissue paper.
If you’re going to provide a zombie survival horror experience what would be the main thing you’d want to include? How about the ability to kill the attacking undead in less than 10 hits? Maybe a precise attack mechanic that means when you target a swing at a head it connects, or body shots slow their movement for a few moments? Sadly, these are not present in your early encounters, or at any point after for that matter. There’s a chance to take them out one-on-one with a bit of patience and some avoiding action, but come across more than that and you’re stuck dealing with a relentless pursuit and attack until the red curtain of failure descends and it’s time to respawn near your bedroll if you made one. What should be the cornerstone of this game – fighting for your life proving to be a challenge yet achievable – seems to be missing. Combat in 7 Days to Die is frustrating and unfair, and to compound the situation you’ll have your health and stamina docked for respawning.
You’d hope then that the exploring and building side of things would counteract the lack of ability to physically defend yourself, and there’s a glimmer of hope here that it can. Only a glimmer mind, you have to venture out into the wilderness and the perils of zombie country first, and you know how that’s going to turn out. If you do manage to find what you need to build a wall, a pit of spikes and some decent arrows for your obligatory bow, there’s just the fiddly pointer system and bizarre choice of not being able to align your block building in the way you want to contend with. There’s a lot of depth to the crafting, though it’s just not user friendly, and if I’m being fair it’s possibly because it’s had to port to a controller. That said, someone must have figured out that not having the ability to pause whilst perusing the small font size in the highly detailed menus was surely going to cause a headache or two as the player gets pummelled by a zombie that’s snuck up behind them. Did I forget to mention that the sound is glitchy and effects sometimes don’t get played?
Graphically there’s nothing to redeem the game, with pop-in ever present whilst you’re travelling despite there not really being anything taxing for the game engine (Unity in this case) to deal with; and it still causes and stuttering and hanging every 10 seconds or so. There’s potential with patching to improve the performance, and the co-op could well provide a distraction for a while even if it’s just to share the pain with others. However, all of the issues combined make this a game that is very difficult to recommend, and was equally difficult to make myself persevere with. It’s slow, annoying, difficult to get into and sometimes actually plain boring. It might have done well on PC, but it hasn’t translated to console well at all, and it’s not clear if it’s Iron Galaxy’s conversion work or simply the game mechanics to blame.
A PS4 review copy of the game was provided for this review by Telltale’s PR team, and 7 Days to Die is available now on Xbox One and PS4.
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Some of your points are valid. For a first time player the game can seem difficult. The menus have a lot in them, more than Minecraft. Zombies are a threat, as they should be. Sorry to say but the game makes a realization very clear, some people will die in a zombie apoc. The fact that this is a game, and we are all gamers playing it makes people generally good at it. I disagree with the statement on how hard it is to kill something though. 10 hits? Where did you get that from? A wooden bow 2-4 shots everything when you craft your first one on Nomad difficulty if you hit in the head, which is where you should be aiming anyways. The wooden club, which is the weakest melee weapon takes a few solid hits but they go down in 4-5 hits or so with the first craft-able one you have.
Mechanics that allow you to win over the zombies are there as well. Prone sneak damage is a 2X multiplier, head shots deal like 4X more damage than body shots. You can cripple the zombies by shooting the arms or legs. Yes, the combat is different. You get the hang of it.
The game isn’t perfect, but hey, that’s what happens when TellTale Games decides they want a console port when the game is in Alpha 14.6. I do not blame Iron Galaxy. They did a solid job on this port. But they have no direction and would love to have input from The Fun Pimps on what to do, whereas TellTale act like they have no idea who published the game on consoles. TellTale made a terrible decision with this, they are trying to push the negativity onto Iron Galaxy and TFP. TFP have their player base on PC. They are independent from any actions or negativity that takes place on the consoles. Could they fix it and make everyone love them even more? Yes. Should they work with Iron Galaxy to port over the PC updates? I think so, because TellTale sure as heck doesn’t seem like they will do anything worthwhile and Iron Galaxy were just the people who ported the game.
Cheers Wil, appreciate the comments. I’ll clarify the 10 hits reference – on a number of occasions it took between 6 and 12 swings to stop a zombie, probably a combination of poor hit detection and impact site on the body. The bow does work, but during those times you’re being chased and cannot stop to craft new arrows, melee is the only option. You’re right on the expectation that people will die, and I had no problem with that, I took issue with the constant application of a penalty for dying. In a game that expects you to die regularly, this just adds insult to injury. 7 Days to Die will be enjoyed by some, but for me it’s inaccessible and frustrating on console.