Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: Undead Labs Publisher: Microsoft
Genre: Survival Horror Platform Played: Xbox 360
State of Decay is able to make you feel weak, overwhelmed and completely out of your element. It forces you to pick your fights, sometimes running away to survive another day is the smartest choice. In the end this is a battle for survival. This is where State of Decay succeeds, video games can easily empower a player making them feel like an unstoppable force. But providing players with a feeling of vulnerability during every single battle while making the game fun, is an extremely challenging task.
Thrust into a world where zombies have taken over is far from an original plot line. We have seen this concept produced by many games before, yet State of Decay is able to provide a unique experience in a tried and true genre. Beginning the game as one playable character, you quickly establish a group of survivors. Once you become friends with certain characters you’re able to switch between these survivors to your advantage. Is your current character exhausted? Switch to another and let the other rest. This mechanic provides a strategic element when exploring the environment. Do I keep forcing my highest ranked fighter to search for supplies, even though he is extremely tired, or should I switch to someone else and risk a weaker character? These decisions can decide the fate of your survivors. With the inclusion of perma-death, if your character dies from a bad decision. they are gone forever.
The risk of losing your characters is ever-present,- after some foolish mistakes and some bad luck I lost two of my people to the undead. State of Decay doesn’t do a great job at providing a strong narrative for their playable characters, or even portraying strong personalities. Yet the sense of loss when one of my group was ripped apart was strong. Near the game’s conclusion I made the fatal error of rolling my characters car near a zombie horde. After a vicious struggle my strongest character was dead. So close to the very end, but with one mistake his life was gone. These unique stories that I experienced are what really make State of Decay something special. The game provides a handful of substantial story threads, but they don’t compare to the amazing unique stories you will experience on your own.
During State of Decay I was constantly reminded of The Walking Dead comic universe. Meeting new factions that form during the fall of society- some wanting to take control of the weak with brute force and some just wanting to survive. These elements make the world feel real, yet they never seem to make a true impact; major events seemed hushed and big plot points seemed to be swept under the rug. It was a factor that was surprising considering that stories built up over several missions during my 12 hours with the game.
The majority of your time in State of Decay will be focused on scavenging for supplies, including ammunition, food, materials and fuel. Keeping your base of operations full of these items will improve your group’s morale- you can also use these materials to upgrade your living situation. Medical tents, fitness areas and improving sleeping arrangements can improve the group’s stamina and even provide experience bonuses. All of these options are controlled through your journal, which can be quite overwhelming at first glance. There are many options presented but the game lacks the ability to explain them very clearly, allowing the player to find their own feet.
When scavenging for supplies your character is only allowed to carry a certain number of items, and a certain amount of weight. This system makes managing resources a tough task. Do I stock up on weapons incase one breaks mid-battle? Or do I leave my pack empty to allow more room for supplies? Juggling the weapon and resource management systems becomes a game in itself. Do I keep these painkillers to heal myself or throw them away to bring home a heavy firearm? It brought a realistic presence to surviving, making every decision a tough choice. Characters can also become over-encumbered if they carry too much weight, meaning their stamina will decrease faster. State of Decay forces you to think on your feet and these choices become critical to survival.
Items you find during your supply runs can be placed in your home base, increasing your Influence level. Influence allows you to use a character’s special abilities, such as calling fellow survivors to search areas you missed or helping to find a certain resource you are missing. However if you take these items out of your base, your Influence will decrease. This is another risk/reward system, as you may leave yourself with no Influence if you leave your base completely unarmed.
Scavenging for supplies however is never easy. Searching areas for items can make loud noises that attract the undead, especially if you choose to hasten your search causing even more noise. Choosing to search areas faster for whatever reason can have your area surrounded by a horde of zombies in a matter of seconds, creating a sense of tension and awareness as you search. Combat against zombies in State of Decay is kept to one main button allowing you to strike your enemy, with the added option of special instant kill attacks. Sometimes this can turn combat into a button mashing event, though it doesn’t decrease the level of tension since your enemies can overrun you with a simple mistake. The lack of combat variety becomes apparent very quickly, including many awkward combat animations as you continuously swing your weapon at the enemy.
Avoiding zombie hordes is in your best interest, as your stamina will decrease with each swing. Trying to defend yourself against more than a handful of zombies, with lack of ammo and depleting stamina, is an early death warrant. They will continue to be a challenge up until the credits roll,; even though your character’s stats will increase as you continue to fight, you always feel vulnerable against a group of enemies. Sneaking through the night around hordes of the undead, provides a great sense of tension and accomplishment- if you are able to survive.
There will be many times when you are accompanied by a fellow survivor. During combat they are able to handle their own very well. While scavenging for supplies, however, they always stood in front of doors blocking my exit. This, in-turn, meant I was constantly running into my AI partners trying to push them out of doorways if the situation got risky. You also help out fellow survivors during many of the game’s side missions, speaking to a survivor one on one to increase their morale, helping them search for a special zombie type in the area or even saving them from an attack. It provides a sense of unity amongst the group and, though these characters are never truly explored, I still found myself caring about their survival.
State of Decay offers plenty of these side missions, alongside other optional quests. Yet the game’s biggest problem came from timed structure of the main missions. Nearing the game’s conclusion my group’s morale was at its maximum, my supplies were bountiful and I had no side missions appearing on the map. Since main missions are randomly generated after a certain amount of time, I had no incentive to continue to risk my character’s lives. Thus, I was waiting around for more missions to appear for a long time. Even while completing the randomly generated side quests, nothing related to the main story would appear. It was an odd occurrence that had me questioning if there was an actual end game? Though they eventually appeared, it was definitely an issue.
There are many other issues throughout the game, which include an impressive amount of slowdown and pop-in while driving through the environment. Some poor driving features and zombies literally running through walls to attack you when inside a building. Yet even though these problems were annoying and I wish they had been ironed out before release, I still found myself completely enamoured throughout my experience. Sure there are many issues that can break the experience, but I still found myself strangely addicted to scavenging for supplies, clearing out infestations and building outposts to extend my groups presence.
State of Decay isn’t the revolution of the zombie genre, but it definitely takes many steps in the right direction. It creates an amazing sense of desperation as you continue to fight for survival, while keeping your group alive and happy. I found myself continuously left with hard choices while trying to manage my resources, alongside my chances of survival in the field. These choices are what ultimately make the experience one that won’t be easily forgotten. Fans of The Walking Dead comic will be extremely impressed at what Undead Labs has been able to accomplish, and will salivate at the potential this franchise has for the future.
+ Resource management creates a risk/reward system
+ Creates a sense of vulnerability
+ Surviving is addictive
+ Unique stories the game provides
– Suffers from many technical issues
– Timed main missions structure
– Plain main narrative