Neopolitan ice cream is ice cream everyone likes. The ice cream that suits all tastes, caters to everyone and yet impresses no one. If Neopolitan ice cream were a person, it’d be that friend you have that says things like “I think it’s important to consider both sides” or “I appreciate your point of view”. Neopolitan ice cream does everything well enough… but it doesn’t do anything new, different or inventive. Compared to Ben and Jerry’s Karamel Sutra ice cream or Cookie Dough ice cream, Neapolitan ice cream is boring, stale and tries to please everyone without satisfying anyone. Neopolitan ice cream is simply a mesh of elements that everyone likes, but that no one loves. It tries to do everything at once and ends up worse for it.
With that in mind, let’s start this review for 7 Days to Die.
7 Days to Die: PlayStation 4, Xbox One [Reviewed], PC
Developer: The Fun Pimps
Publisher: Telltale Games
Release Date: 28 June 2016
Price: £27.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
Very much the product of a casual glance at the current gaming zeitgeist, the unambitious developers behind 7 Days to Die have injected yet another crafting-survival-horror-RPG game into the market, with all the originality you’d expect from a game that emerged from the stagnant waters of Steam Early Access, and has been published by the cream of the unoriginal crop, Telltale Games. From the outset, 7 Days is unmistakably PC, with a plethora of options that can be customised and ‘modded’ in order to tailor your survival experience. If you are wanting a relatively easy walk in the zombie-infested park, options can be changed that result in zombies being less aggressive, day cycles being lengthened and supply drops becoming more and more regular. Additionally, zombie spawn rates can be tampered with, speed can be altered to disable the zombies’ ability to run, and you can even make your zombies as pleasant as can be by making them not feral: because those darn tootin’ zombies shouldn’t be interfering with you while you’re building your second castle. I mean, who do they think there are? Oh, that’s right, they are mindless killing machines who want to consume every inch of your tender flesh.
These options can be dialled up as well as down, allowing for shorter days, more aggressive zombies and generally more intense play sessions, and the modded options menu does allow you to tinker with some interesting aspects of the game, resulting in a customisable experience that will undoubtedly appeal to fans of the crafting/survival genre. Contemporary gamers who are used to the comfortability and control that PC gaming and the crafting genre has developed will take to these options and eagerly utilise such options in order to create and explore to their hearts content. More conventional, console gamers may not appreciate the somewhat overwhelming choices on offer here. Having been subjected to some truly classic survival horror games on console – Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Zombie U and even the recent The Evil Within – the idea of tailoring the experience to suit my wants and demands seems to contradict the very nature of the survival horror genre. I’d much rather the odds were against me from the start than have the odds be adjusted and even stacked in my favour. Of course, these options are exactly that: options. They can be invoked and reset at any time, and allow for players of all skill levels to enjoy their 7 Days experience.
7 Days to Die’s ‘campaign’ and overall design are clearly aimed towards contemporary, ‘generation Minecraft’ gamers. For starters, the single player is split into a ‘hand-crafted campaign world’ and a randomly generated map. The campaign world and the randomly generated world are indistinguishable. There is no campaign to speak of, period. The map is just given a name, a central city and nothing else. The ‘hand-crafted’ world on offer in the campaign is virtually identical to the randomly-generated one, and simply slapping the now worthless title ‘campaign’ onto a menu screen does not give 7 Days depth or enhanced build quality just because of the associated connotations with the word.
As a result of this misappropriation of the term ‘campaign’, this game immediately suffers from a sore lack of one. With no other incentive given to players other than the immediate concerns of your worthless, mute avatar and their need to survive because not surviving is bad, it’s up to you to Minecraft your way through the world, making sure you live to see another day, simply because you are told to. This ‘incentive’ may be compelling enough to a contemporary, post-Gary’s mod gamer who enjoys their games with less game, but for those looking to be compelled by a survival horror experience, 7 Days certainly falls short. This is no The Walking Dead, and no reason or rhyme is ever produced to enhance the experience or facilitate any depth to the gameplay.
With that being said, the overworld is as characterless as you’d expect from this title. The assets used in the game to create the map are nearly identical to those you’ll find in Ark: Survival Evolved, albeit rendered in a subtle, trademark Telltale cel-shaded style. Architecture in the game is endlessly replicated so no two areas look meaningfully different, and the map is crudely split into several different regions that don’t so much gradually spill into one another in order to form some semblance of a realistic world, but rather just cease to be once you get to the borderline of two environments. The map is split into different environments that yield different resources, meaning that players cannot simply hunker down in the Winchester and wait for all this to blow over. With avatars experiencing heatstroke upon the burnt forest areas of the map, hypothermia in the snow area, and general hunger, fatigue, thirst and other ailments that are standard within the genre, navigating the world and braving the zombie-infested settlements poses great risks and potentially game-altering rewards.
These rewards can range from candlesticks to medical kits, so journeying into the open world is essential and nearly everything you loot along the way has some use later on, meaning that even more time is spent in menu screens as you weigh up what to take and what to toss. Tumbling further down the rabbit-hole of menus, a tacked-on RPG mechanic allows you to level up various aspects of your character. Enhancing your avatars traits and weapon handling may seem vital, but this portion of the game can be overlooked entirely when you’re roaming the map in search of your next meal, or something clean to drink. That being said, all the standard options are here – and then some – and with four pages of traits to read through, and certain traits requiring lump sums of points in order to purchase them, levelling up quickly becomes an afterthought in the face of your immediate survival needs.
From the humble beginnings of the game, where stone axes and iron clubs are your go-to weapons, you’ll spend a worrying amount of time in menus, crafting implements and duplicating resources in order to fashion makeshift camps and bases as you prepare to venture further across the map in order to secure food, clean water and even firearms. Base building, which is virtually identical to Minecraft, requires you to collect the necessary materials and press the corresponding button once said materials have been gathered. The process is wholly unintuitive and boring, and erecting elaborate bases in the survival mode is frankly superficial since pre-existing structures can be covered with defences and fortified, with larger towers being accessed by mass-producing ladders and securing high ground while you rest and consider your next move. Movement is key to survival in 7 Days, so it seems somewhat tragic that the developers, in their eagerness to garner sales from the lowest-common-denominator of gamers, have invested so much in the crafting and base-building aspect of the game.
Sitting in a field and pressing the same button over and over again does – shockingly enough – become hazardously boring. Furthermore, with menus accessed in real time, looking for that specific iron frame you need to craft becomes an unnecessary labour that will likely get you killed, so most crafting decisions boil down to either building a rudimentary wooden hut or not building a rudimentary wooden hut. I am pleased to see that the developers have borrowed at least one good idea from the sample platter of genres they are stuffing their faces with. The real-time menu navigation adds suspense and a sense of haste to your decision-making and takes me back to the brilliant Zombie U, which also had elements of management and survival. However superficial base building is, leaving settlements does render moments of genuine heartbreak, as you have to press on in order to find snow to boil into fresh water, or leave your planned utopia due to a hyper-intelligent, ruthless bear that has somehow developed tactical awareness and is camping your bedrolls.
For all the crafting and survival elements that have been rammed into this game, 7 Days does lack a genuine ‘horror’ aspect that the game seems intent on promising. The overworld is characterless and practically a Minecraft Unity re-skin, and zombies look cartoonishly un-horrifying. Plenty of zombie games have managed to integrate crafting elements into their games while still maintaining a palpable sense of horror. Dying Light, Zombie U, even the old Resident Evil games required item and resource management in the face of tense, nerve-wracking horror, carefully designed spaces that enhanced the claustrophobic nature of the horror experience and an intriguing story that gave players a greater impetuous to carry on playing besides limp-wristed ‘survive because SHUT UP AND PLAY’ mechanics that 7 Days to Die has almost shamelessly borrowed from its contemporaries.
This game is just Ark: Survival Evolved but with zombies. There is nothing here that cannot be experienced in Ark, or even Minecraft. The developers have made 7 Days so contemporary, so immediately palatable to current, youtube-generation gamers, that the experience depreciates the minute you load the game up. The longevity of 7 Days is ultimately determined by the player and just how quickly they become aware of the fact that there is nothing to play for – a fact that hits you hardest when 7 Days is played alone. This wholly unattractive venture is something I would recommend against, since the lack of music, spontaneity, NPCs and campaign results in a lonesome experience devoid of reward. As I’m writing this review, my controller is disconnected besides me, and I’m stood in a field as the fourth day begins and I have nothing to show for it. I literally stood in a field for an entire day and nothing happened. Do not play this game alone.
7 Days is playing the game for the game’s sake, and nothing more. Interactions with other players in the game’s online mode can have their moments – three naked men huddled around a campfire eating eggs while hiding from wolves was certainly new for me – but with no in-game means of communication and an inconsistent online service that randomly killed me several times and failed to spawn any zombies at all, the hours me and my fellow survivors spent wandering through the woods punching lumps of grass really took their toll., with the game being regularly hampered by the inconsistent framerate that seizes the screen on a regular basis, meaning that a zombie that was at arms length a moment ago is now slapping your avatar upside the head.
Further technical difficulties included looping sound effects that made the game nauseatingly uncomfortable to play, especially when the soundscape is hijacked by the quaint, sweet chirping of a chainsaw mechanically gargling ad infinitum. Even with other players, the combat is just as lacklustre, with teams of players simply developing repetitive strain injury as they hammer their right triggers in order to statically beat a zombie to death. The combat is poor and entirely unengaging, and zombies soon become chores to deal with, as opposed to threats that need to be overcome or tactically avoided. These shortcomings might be welcomed by the low-standard crowd on Steam Early Access, but when you slap a price tag on your game and get Telltale Games to put their name to it, you had better come to market correct.
With every aspect having been pilfered from more successful games, there really isn’t a remotely compelling reason to invest in 7 Days to Die. If you enjoy building for the sake of building, crafting for the sake of crafting, foraging for foraging’s sake and do not appreciate games that aim to be ambitious and engaging, then chances are you already own Minecraft, so this would just be a waste of your money. 7 Days to Die – an eerily prophetic namesake the more I say it – is a tepid, lazy appropriation of populist mechanics and concepts that have infested Steam in recent years, and comes to console shores with nothing to offer but an open space that you can build on and die in. Certainly, the Neopolitan of gaming, 7 Days to Die has something for everyone, and while the quantity is here, the quality certainly is not.
7 Days to Die
- Open-ended, player-generated experience that will appeal to fans of the crafting/survival genre
- Real-time interaction with menus adds haste and tension to every decision you make
- Steep difficulty curve that will test fans of the genre
- Bland, empty overworld
- Several technical difficulties, despite the prolonged alpha testing on PC
- No campaign or remotely compelling reason to play
- Superficial crafting dimension to the game