State of Decay
State of Decay by Undead Labs is the studio’s first attempt to make a name for themselves in an already crowded zombie game genre. There is no shortage of zombie games, or zombie modes in existing games right now. From Left for Dead, Dead Island to modes such as Zombies in Call of Duty, most zombie games follow a typical formula: find guns and weapons, wade into hordes of zombies and tear them apart. Undead Labs dares to change that formula, and take some significant chances as well. The big question is, can Undead Labs follow through with their vision and make State of Decay more than a zombie killing rinse and repeat game?
At its core, State of Decay is a third person survival game that has zombies in it. In my opinion, phrasing is very important there. Yes, there are zombies in this game, yes they pose a threat, however, the real challenge is simply surviving. You will need to manage supplies such as medicine, food, and gas, as well as housing. Then, you also have to manage a group of survivors, making sure cooler heads prevail when there are disagreements, and completing side quests to make sure individual survivors are happy and productive. And on top of all that, there are zombies.
As with other zombie games, the zombies come in different shapes and sizes. Some are stronger than others. Some are faster and more agile. The one thing they all have in common is you can most likely handle one, maybe even two, but if you are on foot and there is more than two zombies you may be best served to sneak past or avoid them all together. Anytime there is a group of three or more and you are by yourself you may be better served finding a different route. They are ruthless and unflinching in their desire to tear you apart. I can speak from experience; I let my guard down for one second and attempted to play like I was a complete badass and was quickly humbled, and killed, for my efforts.
One thing I really enjoy with State of Decay is that you don’t control a singular character. You control the survivors you have developed trust with. You start off with a few and can swap between them as they get tired so they can rest while you go out with a different one to do missions or scavenge for supplies. Each survivor has strengths and weaknesses. In order to be able to tap into the expertise of other survivors you will have to gain their trust by doing things around the settlement and doing additional missions for them. Managing your survivors and making sure they aren’t tired or injured can prove challenging.
While your settlement grows, you have to continuously upgrade it and scavenge for things that you cannot provide at the settlement. Upgrading your settlement is key to not only making sure your survivors are well supplied, but also well rested. You can add sleeping quarters, gardens to medical areas and a kitchen. It’s not a case of jamming all the upgrades into your settlement either. Each settlement can only hold a finite amount of upgrades, and there is a finite amount of resources as well. Picking and choosing to make sure you maximize the benefits of each upgrade is crucial to how your settlement can, or cannot, flourish.
Where State of Decay really shines is in the audio department. The sound is so encompassing, from footsteps and moaning zombies to incredibly loud gunshots that alert every zombie in your immediate area. Due to the consequences of firing a weapon and alerting everything, this is one of the few games where I actually appreciated the stealth approach. I think in my first six hours of the game I fired two shots, both with a shotgun, and both were as a last resort to stay alive. The accompanying music during the game adds tension and moments of peace. I will also add, having a surround sound headset or sound system will make it that much better.
Looks wise, and considering this is an Xbox Live Arcade release, the graphics look damn good. Granted, it doesn’t hold up when compared to the heavy hitters like Battlefield 3, Crysis 3, or even Dust an Elysian’s Tail but for what it is they are sharp and detailed. All the natural terrain, houses, and buildings look good. Throw in a natural day and night cycle and visually it’s a solid game. The only negative I can say about the graphics or setting would be, and it could be I simply haven’t encountered it yet, that there is no weather cycle to add to the day and night cycle. I think it would have added that extra element; trying to navigate during the night, with thunder booming overhead and not being able to hear zombie threats.
Make no mistake about it, I really enjoy this game. It’s fun, and it has taken the zombie genre and injected some much needed life into it. I can see glimpses of this game revolutionizing games of this nature down the road. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, as there are a few bugs and glitches that I encountered, such as zombies getting stuck halfway in a wall, not a door mind you, but an actual wall. A couple times it seemed like the graphics slowed down. It didn’t last long, but it was just enough to make it noticeable. Lastly, I had a couple issues with NPC characters getting stuck but again, they were able to free themselves.
One surprise that hasn’t been talked about very much prior to release is the world of State of Decay is not a static world. When you turn off your console or stop your game, the world doesn’t stop and wait for your return. It continues to live and breathe. Your settlement will continue to use resources, repair damaged weapons, and cars, and survivors have the potential to die. Before you decide to stop playing you need to put your group in the best possible state to keep fighting until you get back. It’s an amazing concept and one I was not expecting. I lost one member of my group due to this the first time I shut my Xbox off; it was a valuable lesson to learn. So, plan accordingly.
- An always living and breathing world, even when you are away.
- Finite amount of resources
- Focus on surviving versus annihilating zombies
- Moments of frame rate dropping
- NPCs getting stuck at times
For some the price point of 1600 Microsoft Points ($20 USD/$27 AUD) may seem a little high, yet when you boil it down the amount of game play and the experiences more than make up for the price. In fact, I would go so far to say I will play this more than I play some full retail releases. There is literally so much to do and so much to experience. Undead Labs has something special here, their vision not only for this game, but future updates and titles has the potential to change not only how we play games, but always what we can come to expect from games. It may not be 100% polished, but as of the writing of this review Undead Labs has already released information on the first title update addressing many of the issues I have already talked about. I am of the opinion that no game can ever truly be perfect, so we rate games based on the enjoyment we can get from them. Even with the issues I mentioned above the enjoyment from State of Decay makes it a wonderful game and one I can see myself playing for quite some time.
Written by Andy Gray