7 Days To Die is an open-world survival horror game developed by Fun Pimps in association with TellTale Games’ publishing division. Emphasis is very much on survival – the sole aim being to stay alive in a world populated by the living dead. Gameplay centres on crafting items to aid in your continued existence in an otherwise desolate world.
7 Days To Die is set sometime after an apocalyptic third world war, where radiation zones have turned the majority of the general populous into bloodthirsty zombies. The nameless protagonist awakens in the county of Navezgane, Arizona – which has been largely untouched by the catastrophe, and must quickly adapt to his or her surroundings. The character spawns into a randomly generated part of the environment, with nothing but their underwear and a backpack (your inventory). The first thing you’ll notice is how eerily quiet the world is, the only noise you’ll hear is the wind whistling or the pitter-patter of rain hitting the ground.
The playing area is massive, with distinctly different areas; from dry, arid deserts to lush, verdant grassland. A map of the overall area is accessible via the in-game menu and gives you the option to set waypoints to aid navigation to any points of interest that you stumble upon throughout your travels (along with an on-screen compass). It won’t take a lot exploration to come across the first remnants of humanity – a dilapidated farmhouse, with embers dying in the fireplace or an abandoned vehicle in the middle of the road, the rotting corpse of its owner by its side.
Crafting is the core gameplay element, with a menu system used to assemble certain gathered items into something much more useful. The game helps you to get to grips with crafting by telling what items are needed in order to craft some essentials – makeshift clothing, tools and shelter. Be aware that whilst scavenging or crafting you’re unable to do anything else until an on-screen timer finishes, which of course leaves you open to attack. You’ll also need to be constantly aware of your character’s health and well-being, which means making sure you have the necessities that everyone needs to survive – food, water, warmth and shelter. You’re free to loot whatever you come across, scavenging random items that may or may not be of some use – an empty tin can may appear to be nothing more than trash, but could actually be used to gather drinking water. Keep an eye on the skies, planes piloted by who-knows drop supply crates, usually chock full of the hotter commodities.
After gathering essentials and hiding out in ramshackle houses, you’ll come to the realisation that you can only truly be safe from harm by constructing a secure base. You can, in theory, build an impregnable lair, complete with rudimentary zombie security systems and traps – spike pits, barbed wire fences and trenches serve as adequate ways of keeping the undead at bay. Combat comes as an absolute last resort, as it obviously could result in death. Encounters are inevitable, so it’s worth having at least a basic melee weapon to hand at all times. There are firearms dotted around, although complete ones are scarce, and ammo even more so. You can find gun components, but crafting them requires the right schematic. There are more basic ranged weapons – like bows and arrows, which are more readily available as they can be crafted from basics like wood, stones and feathers.
What the game doesn’t explain is that it’s not only zombies you need to be wary of; as there are a number of different forces that can end your character’s life. Over my initial four days, I kicked the bucket more times than I dare to count; largely due to how fragile human life becomes when the world as we know it has ended. Once I accidentally ventured into a radiation zone, giving my guy radiation poisoning. Another time I bled out after catching my arm on someone else’s improvised zombie trap. Even something as mundane as drinking contaminated water can spell death. Frustration set in early on, but with each death, I learned more about the world and its perils, and steadily progressed and levelled up my skills as my knowledge grew.
Be warned, you will lose all acquired items such your character meet their demise; although you do retain their crafting skills, uncovered areas of the map and any waypoint markers that you’ve set – handy should you come across somewhere packed with goodies that you left as a cache for later.
7 Day To Die operates on a continual day / night cycle, mixing in random weather cycles to add to your woes. Get caught in a sudden rainstorm and you’ll need to seek warmth and shelter to dry out. The undead act differently dependent on the time – in daylight they shuffle along at a Romero-esque pace, whereas at night they bound around like the infected in 28 Days Later. Being holed up in a farmhouse in the dead of night, its door gradually caving in as a horde of zombies slam against it, making inhuman gurgling rasps whilst your character is unarmed is truly terrifying – praying that they’ll go away, or that the door will hold until daylight.
The zombie AI is well-structured, being in their line of sight or making noise draws them to your location – I found this could sometimes work to my advantage as I could lure them into a swift beating; as you also have the ability to squat and sneak around virtually undetected. Most of the time I took to giving any more than a group of three a wide berth, boxing round them to continue my exploration. In the greener areas you’ll come into contact with wildlife, which can either be yet another threat or food – If you run up on a deer, it’ll scarper; making noise which in turn will inevitably attract the undead.
Graphically 7 Days to Die is well-rendered, with the console version keeping up with a constantly generating world. The draw distance is pretty low, mainly due to hills and valleys generating on the fly. Textures are basic close up, but overall the world is fairly good looking. The only issue I found were instances of clipping, mainly during a death scene. The camera pans up to a bird’s eye view, where my characters arm would disappear into the ground. A minor grumble, but one that’s worth noting.
The game also has both a co-op and online multiplayer option. The online world is populated by devious people, so I’d recommend cutting your teeth on single-player mode, as with most games multiplayer is cut-throat. Other players are more cunning than the zombies, what with having free will and a magpie, “you’ve got something shiny and I want it” mentality. A naïve newb can soon have no shelter, no supplies and a herd of the living dead to deal with in a very short space of time.
7 Days To Die could be summed up as if some mad scientist forced Minecraft and Dying Light to make a gruesome, survivalist baby together; while also answering the question that most zombocalypse fans have – “Would I survive in a world filled with the undead?”, after all, everyone secretly has their zombie bug-out plan and delusions of being their very own version of Rick Grimes or Daryl Dixon. Whilst I’m on the subject of The Walking Dead, Telltale have lined up some DLC featuring skins for their own franchises’ characters Lee Everett and Michonne amongst others, tying the two worlds into a neat little package.