Heading into this review I knew very little about 7 Days to Die, a game from developer The Fun Pimps that’s been kicking around PCs in various stages of completion since 2014, but what I’d read seemed promising: Minecraft meets The Walking Dead in a open-world, first-person survival horror title. Add TellTale’s involvement, and I was officially intrigued heading in…
…and then I started playing. Much of your early time is spent punching shrubs and chopping down trees, which isn’t bad, but once the zombies start showing up it gets dicey in a hurry. Movement feels stilted and choppy, and both melee and ranged action are serviceable (and repetitive) at best. There’s no viable feedback to pounding the undead with a club, and it makes it wholly unsatisfying.
More than just being uninteresting, however, combat frequently just doesn’t work well. Zombies tend to clip through you, especially when they’re of the “running” variety, and one that you were just working over with a sledgehammer is suddenly behind you and doing damage. Given how easy it is to expire in this game — and how much time you can potentially spend preparing — it’s pretty annoying.
Speaking of annoying, the crafting and inventory screens are painful to navigate as the developers seem to have put little effort into moving from the mouse-based PC to controller-based consoles. Everything is a chore, endlessly selecting an item from one area and dragging it to another or tabbing through all the various submenus just to build a frame or change your clothes.
Making it even worse, 7 Days to Die doesn’t pause while you do this, so you’ll be in the process of trying to sort through options and all of a sudden you’re getting smacked around by zombies. If you’re going to make such a key piece of the game so cumbersome, don’t punish gamers by leaving them vulnerable against foes that seem to materialize out of nowhere.
Although the generated world isn’t devoid of interest, it lacks depth. No matter how many abandoned cars I searched or hovels I ransacked, it never seemed to amount to much. It also lacks substance as huge expanses of land can be traversed with nary an interesting landmark to break up the monotony. So while the size of the map is impressive, the world ends up feeling rather empty. Persistent frame rate issues are also present.
There’s a decent soundtrack that does most of its work in the background, allowing the ambient sound of the world itself to tip you off to incoming zombies and critters. It’s fine for what it is.
With no storyline to uncover, the objective is straightforward: survive as long as possible. Doing so will require building shelter, gathering supplies (food, water, medicine) and fending off threats. On a purely conceptual level, 7 Days to Die has a lot going for it. Where the game runs into major problems is with the implementation.
For starters, the game does a poor job of explaining how things work. Granted, there’s an initial survival guide that walks you through a few of the basics, but even that seems to get aborted midstream when you’re tasked with “upgrading” a structure without being told how. I had to look it up online to equip the axe and use the secondary trigger.
Another annoyance came when I was stricken with heat stroke. The game kept telling me to rest, drink and so on to cool down. So I went and stood motionless in a pond of some kind and drank water until it said I wasn’t thirsty anymore, but my temperature never dipped and I dropped dead of heat stroke while fully hydrated, undressed and standing in cold water. That’s just fantastic.
It’s all very frustrating because underneath all the jittery graphics and half-baked execution is plenty of good ideas that need to be fleshed out. It’s pretty awesome when you finish that first decent structure to call your home or bring down a buck with your handmade bow and arrow.
Those moments create genuine excitement, and 7 Days has a lengthy list of weapons, tools, building materials and more that can be crafted. The more you craft the higher your skills get and, as a result, the better/sturdier your items come out. You’ll also gain additional skill points that can be applied to any number of attributes as you keep building toward longer survival.
Sadly, however, you ultimately end up coming back to the same conclusion: this game shouldn’t have been a retail release. It belongs in the same Games Preview area that Ark: Survival Evolved, another semi-obtuse survival game (albeit one that’s more enjoyable), inhabits. Instead, it’s likely to see months of patches and, if we’re lucky, a reasonably finished version will emerge.
I had high hopes for 7 Days to Die, but the inescapable fact is that it simply doesn’t feel ready for public consumption. There are too many kinks to iron out, and while the game won’t outright bomb on you, it routinely kills you off via ambiguous methods that are every bit as frustrating.