Reviewed on: PS4. Copy supplied by publisher.
Steam’s early access model has been polarising, to say the least. The idea of paying for an unfinished game is something many just can’t understand, or agree with, whilst other relish the opportunity to play upcoming titles early, perhaps even to help shape them into the eventual final release. On paper, it’s actually a pretty decent idea. In practice, though, it often falls far short of any intended goal.
We’ve seen Steam crap out duffer after duffer in its Early Access program, and the actual gems that do surface are few and far between. For every Darkest Dungeon, there’s a hundred The Slaughtering Grounds.
Sometimes games do surface on Early Access that aren’t great, but show promise. One such example is 7 Days to Die. On arrival on PC it instantly gained a following of players, and managed to compete with then blazing hot Early Access titles like DayZ and Rust. Since then it’s matured on PC to become a decent zombie survival offering that its fans enjoy. This success has lead to the game we have here – the console port, courtesy of Telltale.
I must admit, I’m pretty much done with the whole zombie survival horror genre. In my opinion, there’s just far too many similar games around, in all forms of quality thanks to Steam’s Early Access and Greenlight, and the whole formula is getting very, very stale. However, when it comes to consoles, the genre is far less saturated, with few examples. We’ve had some interesting, but flawed titles like State of Decay on Xbox, but it’s a genre that’s largely untapped on the non-PC platform. So, 7 Days to Die has a pretty good chance of shining. Well, until you fire up the game, that is.
As soon as you first spawn into your new world in 7 Days to Die you’ll instantly be met with one of the ugliest titles you’ve ever seen, as well as one of the most sluggish. Playing on PS4 where we have games like The Witcher 3, Uncharted 4, and The Order 1886, it’s shocking to see such a god-awful visual clusterfudge appear on your TV. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as far from a graphics whore as you can get, and always prioritise gameplay over graphics, but there’s a level that should be attained here.
Graphics are not all-important, but they do help draw you into a game’s world, and by extension, improve the atmosphere and overall experience. When you’re walking around barren environments strewn with low resolution textures, crudely placed objects that clip into the world, repetitive models, and some of the worst animation you’ve ever seen, it’s hard to feel invested in the game’s attempt at a zombie apocalypse. The first time you see a zombie shambling towards you horror or panic is not the emotion you feel, and instead you’ll be laughing at the fantastically crude animation and 90s modelling. It’s painfully bad. I understand online, MMO titles require a general stripping back in terms of visual quality to make them run acceptably, but there’s no excuse for this lack of effort. None at all.
The icing on the cake here is the frame rate, which is abysmal, and prone to constant, and I mean constant, freezes. The game freezes every minute or so, or more if you’re running around causing the game to struggle at loading the low-quality world around you. It’s so poor, and that it’s happening on a PS4, capable of running games far superior to this, is just unforgivable from a critical point of view. If any game should run at a full 60fps, this is it. I’d expect this to run at 60fps on a PS2, let alone a PS4.
General visual and performance issues aside, though, 7 Days does present a rather attractive premise if you can get past the aesthetics. It’s a full zombie survival with a fleshed out crafting system. This system allows you to not only craft weapons and equipment, but even build entire structures.
The world is largely yours for the taking, to the point you can even deform the land by mining rock from the very ground. You can even demolish, or fix up existing structures, as I found when I stumbled upon a mostly in-tact house. With some wood, I was able to patch up broken windows, shore up doors, and generally make a decent zombie apocalypse shelter. It’s quite impressive, actually, and it’s one of the elements of the game that deserves to be applauded. 7 Days gets the whole crafting system mostly right, and you can craft a huge number of items and building materials.
You’ll find yourself hunting around the world for elusive resources needed to make certain tools and items, and there’s a definite progression here, as you learn to craft better gear, further enhancing your chances for survival. It delivers the proper scavenging focus you expect from a survival game, and you have a definite need to venture into dangerous, zombie-infested locations. It’s the backbone of the game, and it’s quite strong in this regard.
Sadly, this system is hampered by one of the clunkiest and unfriendly UIs I’ve ever seen. It’s a total mess, and one that’s clearly not designed for console players. With a keyboard and mouse, it’d be okay, but with a controller, it’s a shambles, and just not fluid or natural. You do get used to it with a lot of perseverance, but UIs shouldn’t require a learning curve, they’re one of the most basic control elements of a game, and should always be instantly accessible.
The crafting comes hand-in-hand with the usual survival tropes of looking after your character’s hunger and thirst, as well as temperature and other elements. This is all to be expected from the genre, but it’s also an example of how not to do it. You’re character is seemingly always hungry or thirsty, and even after a short trek you’ll need to babysit your avatar’s needs. This is overshadowed, however, by the temperature, which is just plain broken, to the point where it just ruins the game. At least, it did in my experience.
I found that my character was constantly overheating, leaving me unable to do anything of note. Even by stripping off to my pants and sitting around indoors, my temperature never dropped. I eventually ran out of water, and so couldn’t even try to address it. As I was overheated, it meant I couldn’t run or fight well, and so was hampered from venturing out to find more water. Game over, basically.
This happened in multiple attempts, and I did find that this was a known issue of sorts, being addressed by the developer. At the time of writing however, this hasn’t been fixed, leaving the game a broken mess, at least in my experience.
Add to all of this some of the most unimpressive first person combat I’ve ever seen, non-existent enemy AI, the constant need to wait around for hours as you can’t sleep through the night (which is when zombies are more deadly), and you’ve got a title that, unsurprisingly, I can’t recommend to anyone but the most hardcore fan of the genre.