As one of the few living survivors of a zombie outbreak, it’s up to me to scrounge up supplies and live as long as I can. In my first night I holed up in an abandoned house, only to be seen in the darkness by a zombie that spotted me through holes in the broken down wood. The lumberjack zombie broke down the door and worked his way upstairs, leading to an awkward fight that I managed to win. Before long I was starving and managed to shoot a deer with an arrow. I followed the blood trail to my prized dinner, and just as I arrived to collect my harvest, I dropped dead due to starvation. There are ideas at play in 7 Days to Die that sound appealing, but they don’t tell the whole story about this bug-riddled, ugly, and most importantly, incomplete product.
The first thing you will notice in 7 Days to Die is that everything is ugly, and not just in a zombie apocalypse kind of way. The landscape is never quite as smooth looking as it should be. Flora consists of pairs of low-resolution, intersecting flat textures, which stand out in the worst way possible. In a lot of ways it looks like something from the days of PS2 and Gamecube. I’m sure sacrifices had to be made visually to facilitate the Minecraft-like grid-based world that allows players to dig and build or tear down everything on the map, but when a new release looks as dated as this does from the very start, it’s hard to want to continue playing.
The frame rate consistently dips and hiccups when moving at anything more than the unbearably slow default walking pace. Pop-in can be noticed in every direction as trees load into the map in a jerky manner.
Even wearing headphones it was impossible for me to pinpoint where an approaching zombie was coming from. Zombies that are still nearly 20 feet away sound like they’re breathing down my character’s neck.
Good ideas, poor execution
There are good concepts at work, but enjoying them is constantly a struggle. The crafting and building systems are quite robust. Building structures requires first framing it out, then upgrading the frames to walls. Those walls can be further reinforced to protect from attacks. Unfortunately, it’s a slog to do any of this. Crafting requires materials, a concept we’re all familiar with by now, and those materials will have you doing things like chopping down trees for extended periods of time. Then you need to navigate the clumsy menus to actually create your items. The interface is clearly designed for mouse and keyboard, as it requires you to use the sticks to move a cursor on screen. There are some d-pad shortcuts available, but they do little to improve usability.
The menus are tedious, requiring near pinpoint accuracy with a thumb stick cursor to sift through menus and select items, don’t expect to use the d-pad to quickly jump from item to item. You’ll have to click on an arrow to move through pages and pages of items sorted alphabetically to get an idea of the materials you need for any item.
7 Days to Die’s combat rewards aiming for the head, and I like that for a zombie outbreak “simulator.” However, combat is frustratingly difficult at low levels. Maybe it gets better with a stockpiled arsenal, but I was never so fortunate. I’m not sure if any first person game has effectively pulled off melee combat, and this is no different. Early on zombie encounters result in an annoying dance of swinging a wooden club and circling around trying to dodge attacks, hoping for a headshot that stuns your foe. If you manage to knock one to the ground, your attacks will do more damage.
Projectile combat is a lot better than hand to hand, but still not great. Ammunition is scarce, which really punishes missed shots. Even the process of “reloading” a basic wooden bow with arrows is cumbersome. The combat is tense and makes it feel difficult to survive in this world, but it lacks agency and I never felt in full control of my actions.
Not even in betaThe most egregious aspect of this release is that it is a console port of a PC title that is currently in Early Access on Steam, and is considered by the PC developers to be “currently in alpha stage development.” Nothing whatsoever is mentioned in any location about that on the store pages for PlayStation and Xbox. Xbox even has a preview section designed for this type of release, but you won’t find it there, only in the regular storefront with no warning about it’s alpha stage development. It’s actually advertised as including DLC. Come on now, focus on finishing the base game first!
There is no reason that 7 Days to Die needed to be ported to console in its current state. It’s in alpha development, available on Steam in Early Access. Calling this a “full game” is disturbingly misleading, and it’s disappointing to see Telltale attach their name to this as their first entry into publishing work from outside developers.
Find some friends
If there’s any fun to be found, it’s probably if a group of your friends are all unfortunate enough to own 7 Days to Die together. Up to four players can inhabit a world, so you’ll want to work together to find each other, as it’s very easy to be in a full server and never actually run into another human player. Teaming up helps in every way imaginable. From fighting a lone zombie to fending off hordes, more humans give you a better chance for survival. You can cover more ground in scavenging, and pool resources to help keep your vital stats topped off. Constructing a home base will take far less time if you have a group with a plan. Of course, just talking with friends will help distract you from the huge number of technical problems that persist.
If you still want to try this out, I suggest looking into the PC release. It will receive updates faster and more consistently, and costs less at $24.99 vs. $29.99. The console release, while possessing some good ideas, is an absolute mess. Combat, crafting, and constructing are all chores to accomplish, all the while you have health, thirst, hunger, and heat meters that are slowly killing you. And at every point you are staring at a world that looks as impressive as any Gamecube game I could randomly pull off my shelf. Sony shouldn’t even allow this on the store in its present state. By the time the PC version is finished, there will probably be a lot of enjoyment to be had, and that’s when it should have been ported to consoles. Doing it now destroys the reputation of the 7 Days to Die brand in exchange for the hopes of a short-term cash influx by rushing it to consoles. Save yourself the trouble and avoid this one even when it hits the $5 bargain bin in a couple months.