Every once in a while, the PS4 gets a game that takes everyone by surprise. Every once in a while, the PS4 gets a game that divides the community. Every once in a while, the PS4 gets a rough diamond that, despite its jagged and dirty appearance, still gleams like Elizabeth Taylor’s ring finger. 7 Days to Die is buggy, looks terribly old and has more lagging than your gran’s knackered boiler, but it’s just about the most riveting and engaging games of the year.
7 Days to Die sort of crept up on us. We all kinda knew it was coming but there wasn’t that much online chatter until it actually hit the stores. I guess we were all too busy shrugging and pointing out that it looked like a port of a very below average PC game. Meh. But then someone said the word “survival” and then “Minecraft”, and that certainly made my ears prick up like a German Shepherd suddenly noticing an unattended ham sandwich. 7 Days to Die is an open world, open ended survival sim. Think a really ugly Dying Light coupled with the crafting capabilities of Minecraft, and you’ll have a good idea what to expect from this game.
You’ll start by being unceremoniously dumped in a completely random spot in nothing but your underoos. There are no fancy cut scenes, no voice-overs and certainly no friendly faces. You are merely tasked with finding some essentials to make yourself some basic clothes, a couple of weapons and a tool. Enjoy this guidance because it’s all you’re going to get. Your success at these initial tasks will depend very much on where the game has plonked you down. I was lucky enough to wake up in the National Forest. This is one of the more pleasant biomes to find yourself in. Plenty of plant fibres to gather, trees to cut down and stones to crack and collect. You’ll also find animals to hunt and, if you’re lucky, a natural water source. If you happen to emerge in the snowy biome, you risk freezing your bits off. If you awake in the burned forest or the desert you might feel a tad flushed, and if you wake in the wasteland you might find a whole load of nothing.
By the end of your first day you should have a very basic understanding of how the game works. You’ll have learned to make a campfire and a wooden frame that can be upgraded to make a building block. Hopefully you’ll have also found yourself a secure shelter, because once night falls those lumbering zombies that were so easy to run away from or clonk on the head with a freshly made wooden club suddenly become very fast and very dangerous. I was lucky enough to find a nice little house without too many holes in it, and although I didn’t chop up enough wood to upgrade my frames and couldn’t seal myself in properly, I cowered in the corner and the zombies left me alone and I wasn’t attacked.
If you haven’t had a drink or found food, it will quickly become a problem. I was very near a campsite that I cleared out of walkers and found some yummy stew, and then a quick peek into a ruined house on the very edge of the burned forest turned up a cooking pot. I chopped wood like my life depended on it (and it did) and spent the next night safe and secure (ish), listening to the growls of the zombies outside and learning how to cure my nasty case of the runs that was caused by the accidental consumption of something rotten.
In 7 Days to Die you make your own adventure. You can go where you want whenever you want and do whatever you want. Trial and error will play a major part in getting to grips with both the controls and the crafting aspects. Of course, this game has been on PC for a while now and the internet is full of helpful information including copies of the fixed map with all the points of interest marked. That’s handy for orientating yourself, but nothing quite beats marching out into the unknown. It’s also good to know that you don’t have to take on this march alone. You can invite your friends into your private game or you can join or start a more random and risky MP game. Together or alone you can build yourself a base from scratch or take over a ready-built property. Burrow underground, barricade windows or find a handy flat roof – do what you want. Later you can dig moats and fashion traps.
The game is made even better due to its wealth of options. You can tailor the game to be as easy or as hard as you want. How much loot do you want to spawn? How many zombies? How many “safe” daylight hours do you need? Do you want to turn of friendly fire from other players? Not only can you tweak the game at any time to suit your skill level, but these options also really help to ease you into the game. I’m a lover, not a fighter (translation: I get scared) so after an initial bit of experimentation to see what I was dealing with on default settings I turned the zombies off completely while I learned the art of post-apocalyptic survival. I’ve heard a few Twitter folks call the zombieless option a camping sim, and while I don’t remember building booby traps on my Duke of Edinburgh Award, that’s still pretty accurate, and it by no means takes all the challenge out of the game. What it does do is give you some breathing room while you get your bearings, learn how to hunt, how to find materials and how to stay on top of your thirst and hunger levels (by far the trickiest part of the game!). Even without the zombies, this mode is a game in itself because survival is still dodgy and there is so much to explore, learn and build.
Graphically, 7 Days to Die fell down a time tunnel and got a bit banged up along the way. It’s a bit blocky, it’s a bit rough and it’s a bit PS2. However, it’s not long before you don’t see its graphical faults. There are actually some lovely details. The draw distance could certainly use a kick up the rump, but the plant life, houses, hillsides and burnings embers look pretty good. The buildings and points of interest are a little empty of anything epic. Don’t expect the thoughtful details of Fallout 4. What you have got seems very much like the start of something. It’s a basic 3D world with the mechanics in place. There is a lot of scope for future updates.
The way I understand it is that this game is still in Alpha stage. Yes, we’ve apparently all just paid £30 to test a game. While this sort of early access affair is common on PC, console users are less in the know. Alpha means unfinished. There will be bugs, there will be issues and it’s also likely you’re getting more of a framework of a game rather than a polished AAA. Is this right? Well that’s probably a whole discussion in itself. I would say it isn’t fair on the people who simply plucked this game off a shelf thinking it looked pretty awesome only to find it littered with bugs. When you buy console games, you expect completion. However, for those of us who knew exactly what we were buying, it’s pretty awesome – although a lighter price tag might have been nice considering some of the game’s reported issues.
Myself, I’ve suffered nothing more than a disappearing torch, some terrible lag at a few inconvenient moments and a psychotic chicken repeatedly nutting a maple tree. Unfortunately some of my friends have lost whole save files and, while on the run from the Horde, they arrived back at base to find the locked door they chopped down had been helpfully put back up. Whoops. There are all manner of weird and not so wonderful bugs present in the game’s coding, several of which absolutely should have been tackled before launch. My co-op partner went as far a rage-quitting his game with another player, vowing not to return until a decent patch was installed. Me? I’m alright, Jack. My fellow Punk and Lizard lover of all things zombie? He’s alright too. No big problems, and certainly no game-breaking glitches that have affected others.
The game is obviously very unfished and its current state can be described as a bit ramshackle, but even despite this the gameplay shines through. If you’ve played and loved Minecraft you’ll adore 7 Days to Die. It’s got that same self-motivating hook that doesn’t require a story or fancy graphics to keep you playing. You’re building your own world and writing your own story. The delight of discovering something new to help you survive pushes you forward. You’ll be writing shopping lists of items you want to scavenge. You’ll be planning your base, your house, your traps, your farm, your fortress. Live how you want. Your survival strictly depends on designing your own tactics and following them through. Not only is it addictive but it’s exciting to think that, wow, this game is still being developed, just think what else we’re going to get!
7 Days to Die is an open world, open ended survival sim. It’s a darker Minecraft with more teeth but a little less stability. While there are certainly many bugs crawling through this game’s coding, the gameplay still shines through. Scavenge, craft and build – only these things will save you. 7 Days to Die absolutely nails the crafting and survival genre, and with the game only in its Alpha state, I highly suspect we have fantastic things to look forward to and that we will still be playing this underrated gem many years down the line.
S J Hollis Rating – 8/10