7 Days to Die: If Minecraft and DayZ had a baby and then that baby attacked you
“I Am Legend.” That’s the first thing I thought when I found myself crouched in an air duct above an abandoned auto garage, clutching an old hunting rifle and listening to the angered shrieks of the zombies outside who had gone into overdrive the moment the sun had set. I had barely made it in here, and even then, I wasn’t sure if I was going to last the entire night since the zombies knew I was in here somewhere.
And that’s the moment I knew 7 Days to Die was going to be a gem.
7 Days to Die is a post-apocalyptic sandbox game by the aptly-named indie-developer The Fun Pimps. Part role-playing, part crafting, and part base-defense, the overall game takes place in the area surrounding Navazgane County, Arizona, some years after a third World War took place. Whether due to the radiation or some bio weapon, no one knows, but the resulting virus transformed most of the surviving population into the re-animated dead. And, much like the monsters in Stephen King’s Cell, they act as a single-minded being.
Your automatic and understandable thought in looking at this game for the first time is that it looks a great deal like an upgraded Minecraft. In a way, you’re not wrong, and that’s what makes it play so well. The genius of this game is that the creators took what they knew already worked and built on top of it with new features and twists. So, the voxel-based world is built temporarily in a “block” form, though it’s cleverly designed in a way that buildings and roads look much more complex that the “Q-Bert-esque” world you see in most sandbox games.
Naturally, crafting is where you’ll create the tools and weapons you’ll need to survive this post-nuclear world. The crafting is done via a recipe matrix, just as Minecraft is, but it’s been expanded to a 5×5 grid and has been designed so that now you won’t feel a constant need to keep a wiki page open in a side-browser to remember a recipe. Depending on the resources in your inventory, the possible recipes you can build, with what you currently have, will show up on a list next to the crafting grid. It’s still up to you to lay them out in the correct configuration, but once you create the recipe once, you can then simply click on the name of the recipe and it will automatically pull the ingredients out of your inventory. It’s a simple, and yet very welcome feature.
The scavenging and resource system in the game fits perfectly with its post-apocalyptic theme. You also have a hunger and thirst meter so you’ll need to be mindful of where you can find water or food, and it’s done in a way to be interesting but not annoying. Resources in the world come in the appropriate form of scrap metal, wood planks, pieces of cloth, etc. Some resources can be picked by hand or dug up like certain plants or mineral resources, but the majority of the resources you collect will come from scavenging with tools. With a fire-ax, you can cut down a tree or a telephone pole. A pick-ax can break concrete walls or break up iron plating . Scattered randomly around the world are broken metal panels, steel beams, and piles of old garbage. From these, you’ll find all kinds of things you’ll use to build other items. Some can even be broken down further. At one point, I searched an old rusted car and found some hubcaps which could be broken down into scrap metal pieces, which could then either be used to create reinforced plating for my walls or used to create iron ingots for making tools or to craft the game’s vast assortment of booby-traps and explosives.
Exploration has to be approached very carefully, since you are having to watch the safety of your surroundings as well as how many hours you’ll have to explore before the sun goes down and all Hades breaks loose. This goes doubly for when you venture into one of the towns where the urban ruins are surrounded by many more zombies and the dark narrow hallways and stairwells in the multi-story buildings introduce new tactical challenges. But all of these things make for exactly the kind of gameplay you want in a post-apocalyptic title.
A great main feature is the way the game approaches structure integrity and physics. All building materials have different strengths and weaknesses and weight comes into play with that. Just as in the real world, you can’t just keep attaching block after block of wood horizontally in the air and expect it to hold. At some point it’s going to tip over and crash down without support. Wood, however, can be built further out than dirt, and metal much further than either of them — especially if it’s reinforced with truss work. Step too far out on a decaying roof and your body weight will cause you to collapse the chunk your standing on and bring you down with it. I learned this the hard way when I got on a warehouse roof, thinking I had outwitted the zombies below, and smashed right through the ceiling and into the auto repair shop below where they were waiting. Eventually, you’ll catch yourself actually thinking like a true scavenger when you approach a ruined building, quickly assessing how it’s built and if it’s safe. It’s one of those moments that really adds to the immersion. And the physics really shine for those crazy I-wonder-if-this-will-work moments, as it did when I blew up a line of gasoline cans at the base of a broken apartment complex and watched in amusement and shock as the building started to tip and then completely collapsed.
The game is surprisingly complex and if it does have a weakness at all (assuming you consider it a weakness), it’s a realization that there is a lot under the hood and the game isn’t going to tell you what it is. It’s the same initial learning-curve that Minecraft players experience the first time, and one where you’ll want to at least give a quick-glance to a wiki site at the very beginning and get at least SOME idea of what tools do what. I was dead multiple times before I realized the sleeping bag I had crafted served as a selectable re-spawn point, and that I could actually have more than one if I clicked on the “tent” symbol on my map. I also struggled to find certain resources to build common tools, only to realize that I was simply in an area where the dead trees didn’t have the wood necessary for it. Or the fact that when you die, you lose the items in your hot-bar but keep the items in your backpack so the balance between “what you use” and “what you protect” becomes much more important. And then there’s the zombies.
Ohhhh mercy. The zombies.
Everyone recalls their own memory of “How to Survive Your First Night” in Minecraft, when you hid in a make-shift shelter while bad things moved around in the dark? This game takes that memory, tears it out of your chest, and then invites its friends to laugh at you. The zombies in 7 Days to Die aren’t just lumbering hulks that walk around with no real goal. There are 15 different types: the shrieking spider zombie, the huge acid-vomiting Infected Policeman, the ground-crawling and the vicious and fast-moving Infected Dog just to name a few. Each one with its own attack, movement, and discernible noises. The zombies are affected by light (with the exception of the dogs) and so you find them in the daytime moving slower and much less intelligently. But when the sun goes down… well… that’s when everything changes. You recall that scene in I Am Legend where Will Smith sits in a bathtub, clutching his rifle in fear, as the shrieking infected move around outside looking for him? That exact scene is what struck me while I sat crouching in an air duct with the zombie horde below, thinking that I now knew what Will Smith must have felt like. When the sun is down and the light is no longer inhibiting them, the zombies go from lumbering undead to ultra-fast monsters to begin hunting you down. Torches and campfires can temporarily slow them, but only as long as they are in the light, and if you haven’t prepared you’ll be dead before you realize you screwed up.
As the developers explain, zombies can hear you, smell you, and see you. I learned this firsthand when the zombie horde, standing below the air duct I was hiding in, were slashing furiously at the walls to get to where they thought I was hiding. After a few moments, they lost track of me and began to quiet down slightly. At that point I made the mistake of moving. The metal bang my knee made as I crawled actually caused the zombie to suddenly look upward at me, and I recall the comical look of disbelief on my son’s face who had been watching me play this and remarked “Wait… they actually figured out you were UP there!!”
And you can’t simply throw together a quick stone wall around you and call that a shelter. The zombies will try to come through the wall, and if you use cheap materials they will tear through that wall in a matter of minutes. If you simply dig a cave and block it off, there’s a good chance they may try to dig down till they find you. Again and again, you will find yourself quickly throwing out everything you know about sandbox game logic and realize that you will have to start thinking like a survivor.
At one point, I hadn’t been paying attention to what time it was in-game and had realized I was in trouble only when the world took on its orange-hue of sunset. I ran as fast as I could to a nearby warehouse, and as I heard the roar of the zombies trying to intercept, I used some chairs stacked onto an air conditioner to jump quickly onto the roof before the attacking horde was on me, the whole time praying I was high enough they wouldn’t try to smash through the walls and possibly bring the whole roof section down. I was surprised how much my adrenaline raced during the whole experience. And I can only imagine the experience would have been amplified even more so if I’d been playing it co-op with friends.
All in all, 7 Days to Die achieves exactly what it sets out to be. It’s a fun and intense post-apocalyptic sandbox with all the right mix of base-defense, scavenging, and exploration.
There are an incredibly large amount of things to do in it, and though it’s still considered an early-release game, it feels surprisingly feature-complete even with what it has in its current state. Developers The Fun Pimps mention they still have a large road-map of features they are going to add, including new biomes, new zombies, and new points of interest which include an overall story revolving around the truth behind the zombie outbreak. After what I’ve seen, I can’t wait to see what the future holds. Even if I am watching from inside an air duct.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I think my next step when I play the game tonight is to bring this full-circle by reenacting that final scene in I Am Legend when Will Smith blows up that entire square block, by surrounding my entire camp with gasoline tanks and blowing the entire place up with the zombies all trapped inside.
It’s not every day you get to play a game that lets you say that.