Trial By Survival Review
The influence of Harlan Ellison’s “A Boy and His Dog” and its 1975 cinematic adaptation can be seen across both the movie and gaming industries. In particular, inspirations from Ellison’s novel can be seen throughout Fallout 3. Nah-Meen Studios attempts to cater to both zombie and Fallout fans by promoting a post-apocalypse scenario comprised of scrounging for supplies and killing zombies while your canine companion helps you in your journey. This is the first major release by the two man team of Nah-Meen (one being the artist and one being the coder), with their only previous work being the whimsical, but charming, Meowch! title. Does Trial By Survival meet the standards of its influences? Or is it just another carbon copy?
First and foremost, I must outright say that there is no dog in Trial By Survival, unless you are willing to pay money for it in the form of a microtransaction. That’s right, the dog, that is on the TITLE SCREEN with your character, is paid downloadable content. The trailers for Trial By Survival even feature the dog helping your character, which makes me even more disappointed in Nah-Meen’s decision to have it only available via an in-app purchase.
Trial By Survival seems to take Left 4 Dead’s formula of zombie hording, but with Hotline Miami’s method of fast-paced, top-down action. Unfortunately, Trial seems to have taken very few positives from any of its influences and boils down to being a relatively bland action experience.
Trial’s premise is rather simple: your character was exiled and, in Judge Dredd-fashion, must live out in the wastelands. But the story doesn’t really matter here; your character could have easily started out in the wilderness with zombies out and about, and the story could have just been summarized as “shoot zombies, don’t die”. You are free to move around randomized levels and explore both the indoors and outdoors as you attempt to procure supplies and scavenge whatever you can (which pretty much consists of ammo and junk). There are melee weapons, ranged weapons and grenades to help you clear multitudes of the undead, and an advertised dog if you’re willing to shell out some cash for this substandard experience.
It doesn’t matter if you put in five minutes or five hours into Trial By Survival because it is all pretty much the same. The levels are randomized in terms of what fills them and where the enemies come from. But the things that fill the levels, whether it’s the junk on the floor or wreckage of a desolate world, are all frequently repeated and become quite boring once you realize every house and street are pretty much the same. The dark-themed levels where you must aim a flashlight are a nice touch, but there just isn’t enough in Trial to keep you reeled in for more than the first hour. Expect to kill dozens of the same exact zombie models (couldn’t they have at least randomized the colors of the zombies?), have a percentage of them change into the crawling torsos and explore houses, streets and forests that all look, and feel, the same.
Trial’s sound effects are as insipid as its graphics and level design. There are no zombie groans, but Trial By Survival has your average gun-blast/melee attack sounds and absolutely no music. So while you’re going from house to boring house looking for more bullets and kill points (with no actual goals besides getting these things and clearing out zombies), the lack of music makes the tediousness of Trial By Survival even more noticeable.
Trial By Survival’s control system are what you would expect from a title of this calibur: the dual joystick control scheme. There is also a drag/tap control method of play, but the dual stick scheme is more efficient, especially for those who are fond of running while shooting. The controls were fairly tight, but there are plenty of other free-to-play iOS titles exceeded by Trial in their dual joystick utilization. There is a binocular function which simply zooms onto your character about 25% closer than the regular perspective, which made me wonder why it was even implemented in the first place. You can buy perks with your zombie kill points, and the perks are what you would expect: better melee attacks, improved shooting, etc.
While I understand that Trials By Survival is a F2P iOS title, its method of taxing its players via a timer they must sit through in-between missions is extremely annoying. There is the option to skip the timer by watching commercials for other iOS releases, but I just felt like these could have just been popups I could have X’d out instead of having to wait in order to play through two to four minute rounds of stale zombie slaying and exploration.
Ultimately, Trials By Survival feels a lot like Zombies Ate My Neighbors: with its randomized levels that are filled with dozens of the similar background objects, hundreds of zombies that all look the same, and its frenzied top-down control method. Unfortunately, Trials does not have anywhere near the charm that Neighbors had, and is just a failed attempt at trying to take bits and pieces from tried-and-true areas of both gaming and fiction in order to appeal to a specific niche of fans. As a part of this niche of fandom, I still cannot recommend Trials By Survival except to the most die hard fans of post-apocalyptic scenarios.