Developer: Undead Labs
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Genre: Action-adventure, survival horror
Platform(s): Xbox 360 (XBLA)
State of Decay starts you off similarly to most zombie filled games, dead smack in the middle of things. You begin your venture as a survivor named Marcus and are soon introduced to a world ravaged by the undead. The game makes quick work of introducing you to other characters, the nature of banding together, and working to survive.
To be honest, the amount of things you are immediately introduced to can be a bit overwhelming. I know I sure was. You learn quickly that fighting zombies isn’t necessarily your best option. Although zombies may be slow-moving and won’t make you turn on the first bite, getting battered up as you run around the map can have deathly consequences.
In the first twenty minutes or so, you collect a small band of survivors and make your way to a small Church. You meet up with a few new friends and are immediately shoved out the door to find medicine and supplies to keep everyone alive. In essence, you are forced to learn the complicated balance of necessity in the land of State of Decay. Home bases only have so much building space for beds, workbenches, and gardens. You’ll also learn that you need to get a good stash of supplies, food, and other goods to keep that base running. If you don’t, well, like I said earlier, there could be deathly consequences.
Characters are guaranteed survival up until they’ve served their plot purpose. After their little bit in the plot comes the inescapable prospect of perma-death. That’s right. If you don’t take care of your characters, they will die. I, personally, have had to come back to base to give a mercy shot or two to those who grew to ill to mend. Your characters will grow tired and weak, so if you have a favorite, you won’t be able to use them as often as you’d like. You’ll be forced to switch to another healthy, more available survivor; otherwise, your favorite little character won’t make it very long.
There’s also one of the most impressive factors in State of Decay being the sense of humanity in each character. Certain people may have skills to pay the bills but it’s their personality you also need to watch out for. Fights, disagreements, and even breakdowns can erupt forcing you to come back and deal with the groups morale. Let it fall too low or neglect your group members and people might start heading out on their own or, in extreme/desperate cases, committing suicide.
In most cases, gaining in numbers is your best option; however, it can also be trialing one too. The more survivors you gain, the stronger your group becomes but also the most cost-worthy. More people means more mouths to feed and more beds are needed to sleep in. It’s often wise to gather your supplies and your base elsewhere to a more hospitable and productive location… but that’s not necessarily easy.
You’ll have to rummage from house to house looking for supplies while being as quite as possible. Balancing stealth and action is key when you sound becomes a huge factor. Busting down a locked door, breaking a window, shooting, or even fighting zombies could create enough noise to bring a horde or worse… and yes, there is much worse than a horde of zombies.
You can swing your weapons, jump fences, and run for your life but the harder you work, the faster your stamina runs out and you’re going to need that stamina. Zombies are slow up until they spot you and Undead Labs made damn sure to have them running just as fast as you. Having a big backpack may grant you more carrying capacity but it will also make you heavier and use more stamina. This tension between fight, flight, and necessity makes even the most trivial and tedious acts (such as, rummaging through houses for supplies) all the more heart pounding and dangerous.
It all comes down to your survivors and the relationships you build with them. You need to gather your supplies, keep things fortified, and strengthen your bonds; otherwise, it’s downhill from there.
The game itself does well tying all those systems together with the constant danger of death looming over them and manages to deliver on of the most collective, terrifying, and interactive open-world games to date. Despite the praise though, State of Decay doesn’t come without flaws.
At first glance, you’ll notice that the game isn’t exactly ‘pretty.’ The controls are easy to get a handle on but the actions/combat is clunky and poorly formed. The menu/journal screens are also filled with clutter and difficult to navigate. In all honesty, the menu will confuse you more than what’s required by the game. The voice acting isn’t half bad and the amount of dialogue is impressive but it gets irritating when the radio person mutters the same line about shooting ponies (… it’s not as bad as it sounds).
Needless to say, you’re never informed that the supplies you bring home to earn reputation may be lost forever or that prolonged absence from the game (literally meaning, not playing it) will cause survivors to lose morale, supplies to be used, and prior to the recent patch, cause some survivors to commit suicide. In fact, there is little told to the player to inform them on how to keep everything in check. Although that may be a realistic depiction of some people during an apocalypse, it can be a frustratingly overwhelming experience for gamers.
In the beginning, the game misleads you into thinking you’ll be paired with an NPC or AI. You start with a party of two but eventually you learn that you’re almost always on your own. Personally, in a zombie apocalypse, being alone probably isn’t the best idea. I would think I would be able to send groups of people out to search buildings or have an NPC buddy tag along with me so we cane watch out for another but evidently, that’s not happening just yet.
For a game that emphasizes heavily on relationships and group building, it’s strange to see no cooperative mode or online capabilities added to State of Decay. The game is built like an MMORPG and almost plays like one but, evidently, lacks the MMO aspect. Undead Labs does have an MMO with similarities to State of Decay drawn on the horizon but for now, this game is nothing more than their awkward transitional period.
Even as an awkward transitional period, State of Decay is still a terrifyingly bleak survival adventure game. If zombie survival were a job, I’d call this game a damn good simulation. It may not be the best in the business for most zombie games but the survival aspect of it certainly brings new things to the table. It stands in comparison to games like Day Z, Dead Island, and Dead Rising but it’s certainly no carbon copy of those possible titles. Despite the flaws, it was a fun, tense, and exciting experience and I’m definitely excited to see what Undead Labs has for us on the horizon.
- Open world drenched in danger and suspense
- Perma-death for characters brings a careful tension
- State driven survival system
- Focus on interpersonal relationship
- Lack of information and player guidance
- Repetitive dialogue
- Overlapping real time consequences for lack of play
- Underwhelming story driven experience