State of the Decay is the open-world zombie game that you’ve been asking for, for years, plain and simple. We’ve covered State of Decay since I did a Google search on zombie games and found an interesting project called Class3. From that point on, every little detail about the game we could find was covered. For an arcade game, State of Decay made some huge promises that most would find overly ambitious for a title on the Xbox Live Arcade store, but I’m here to tell you to pull out your cash. This is an experience you don’t want to miss.
State of Decay is simply about survival. As I found out quite early in the game, if you try to play the game like you would any other zombie game, you’re in for a rude awakening. State of Decay offers open-world survival like no other game before it. Players will have a home base to manage and take care of, making sure on a consistent basis that the residents of the town have enough food to keep them from starving, medicine to prevent disease, ammunition to protect themselves and most importantly, morale to make sure everyone stays calm.
To do this you must consistently leave your home base to make supply runs in which you can only carry a certain amount of supplies in a loot sack back to your home base. Supplies is very limited in the world of State of Decay and finding something like a case of medicine feels like an achievement all its own. There is no health regeneration unless you find a bottle of painkillers or actematophen, and perma-death is a real threat in the game. To make matters worse, supplies in the world are limited in quantity, as well. Once you empty out a house, it’s empty and that’s it. Luckily 90% of the buildings in the game are accessible so don’t worry about your playtime being cut short. There is plenty to find.
Returning to the base with supplies, or new survivors that will take residency at your home base, builds influence, acting as the game’s currency. It’s a system that’s perfectly designed for a survival game and other developers should take note of. The system creates a perfect balance in the game, forcing the player to make choices on what gear they will take with them once they venture out of the safe zone. You can stock up your supply locker with as much ammunition, weapons, food, medicine as you want, but taking something out of the locker removes influence. Putting stuff back in adds influence.
To give you an example of how the influence system works, lets say I find a rifle that’s worth 66 points of influence. I started out with 50 influence, so I add the rifle to the locker, which now gives me 116 points of influence. From there I have to decide what supplies I really need for the mission I’m planning to do. I also want to make sure I have enough influence points to make calls for supply runs, or set up an outpost if I clear out a building. The worst part of it all is that I have a great machete I really want to use, but as weapons degrade quickly in the game, I decide to use just enough influence points to equip myself with a hockey stick, one bottle of painkillers, a snack and fire crackers in case I get in trouble.
Influence points are also used to for activities and upgrades on your home base. These upgrades range from adding tool sheds to build supplies on the base, gardens, infirmaries, watch towers and more that I will let you find out for yourself. The only problem with this is that there’s a learning curve to understand what’s going on and how everything you find is useful. The game doesn’t do a well enough job describing how all the base building concepts work, but after some tinkering you’ll figure it out quickly enough.
Along with being a hardcore survival game, State of Decay is also an RPG. Each character you play levels up a set of skills while your exploring and fighting off zombies, which is what I’m going to touch on next and will probably scare you the most about the game.
Fighting zombies in State of Decay isn’t just about running and gunning or mashing the X button to kill everything in sight. As with everything else in the game, it’s a thinking man’s fight. Health doesn’t regenerate, stamina depletes quickly and supplies are limited. As with everything else in the game, combat still offers you choices. You can take the stealth route and instantly kill a zombie- if you can get behind it without it hearing you or seeing you. You can create distractions by setting alarm clocks, throwing fire crackers, activating talking dolls or driving a car down the street and jumping out, letting it roll a ways down the road.
There is no human vs human combat in State of Decay, so you don’t have to worry about getting shot by anyone, but you’ll certainly have your hands full with fighting even one zombie at a time. More than once I had a weapon break, leaving me with no other option but to use hand to hand combat, and at that point, even just one zombie can be deadly. Accidently alerting a horde when you’re in that position is almost asking for death unless you have something to either distract them with or find a way to get away.
Guns are relevant in State of Decay, but are just as deadly for you to use as they are against your enemies. Headshots are the only way to take down an enemy and zombies like to move a lot and will continue coming at you until their brain is destroyed. Guns are quite literally a last resort weapon in State of Decay as the developers made sure it’s quite the challenge to nail the headshot.
As I mentioned before in an earlier paragraph, perma-death is a real threat in State of Decay and it’s also a feature that, while playing, I’ve come to fully respect in a survival game. The first character you play as in the game is a guy named Marcus. While he’s a somewhat generic character, I quickly came to care about his survival in the world. My main reason about caring for this character is because after a few hours of running around the world scavenging and leveling up my character, he was a pretty formidable foe. Or so I thought. To my surprise there are quite a few zombie variations in the world, and I don’t plan on spoiling those for you.
During my final mission with Marcus I was tasked with defending a character while a doctor took care of him on the second floor of the home. After a fellow survivor and I finished boarding up the windows, the attack came. There was a supply locker behind me chock full of ammunition so I should be in a good position right? WRONG. After clearing out one wave of zombies, a second came and I quickly ran out of ammunition from the supply locker. The zombies were finally getting through the defenses. Desperately fighting for my life with the only weapon I had left ( a stick) , my stamina continued to run low which kept leaving me vulnerable to attacks.
At this point I’m already in a panic because I don’t want to lose this character, so I do everything I can to stay alive, throwing fire bombs and whatever else I have to give myself a second to catch my breath. Finally, it all came to an end when I was pummeled down by a much larger zombie, who gruesomely grabbed my character, lifted him up into the air and ripped him in two, then continued to feast on his flesh. The reality of perma-death hits you like a truck once you lose your first character, and returning to the base knowing that character will never return is a bit disheartening for you as a player, and your in-game community’s morale, too.
From that point on, if you have a surviving friend you will switch to that character whereas if you don’t have any surviving friends you will start as a whole new character. From there you have to find new supplies and rebuild influence points. Anything that was in your supply locker stays. Events do occur in the game while you aren’t playing however. Characters may die, morale may raise or lower and other random occurrences may happen.
The game features day and night cycles so scavenging during the day and surviving night is the main theme. These cycles last quite a while though, and running around at night trying to get anything accomplished is nerve racking. There’s no electricity obviously, so scavenging a house in almost complete darkness, only using your flashlight to see ahead of you turns the game into what feels like survival horror.
The overall presentation of the game is the one flaw that brings the game down a notch. Lots of framerate drops, pop-in, zombies banging their heads on invisible walls (actually funny to see)and other little hitches can be annoying, but doesn’t take much away from the overall experience. The game is running on CryEngine 3 so the environments are varied and fun to explore. Character models aren’t of the highest quality but get the job done. Gore however, that’s a whole other story. Zombies bear the full extent of the damage you cause to them with severed limbs, chunks of meat missing from where bullets hit and of course, decapitation.
The audio of the game is the high point of the presentation aspects. The voice acting is surprisingly very well done and the soundtrack fits in perfectly with the mood of the game, which was in fact composed by Jesper Kyd (Assassin’s Creed, Darksiders II). The crushing of skulls, the firing of weapons and so on all sound great on a quality sound system.
There’s also a main plotline to follow in the game as well as side missions and all the usual jazz that you get from an open-world game. The main story is actually quite good, and takes a look at how regular citizens learn to live together while the people with power either abandon their posts, or even set up their own little societies. None of the characters are really all that interesting however, and the choices that have to be made aren’t that engaging either.
One example of a choice that I made involved helping a sheriff clear out some zombies who promised to put in a good word to the leader of the town for me and my group of survivors. I respectfully declined because I didn’t want to put my character in danger as I had no clue what might lie ahead. Making that decision, however, didn’t really provide much effect aside from not being able to reengage the character to choose the other option. The choices you make in the game that matter come from your own decisions about how to survive.
State of Decay is a hardcore game and offers little to no hand-holding from the get go. You’re on your own in this dangerous world, it’s up to you to decide how you want to handle it.
State of Decay is quite simply the open world zombie survival game that you’ve been asking for, for years. We had our doubts that Undead Labs, a brand new developer, could live up to the big promises they made when discussing the game and telling us about the features it included, but they managed to provide almost the exact product they described. It’s a surprise to me that Microsoft didn’t take the game a step further and make it a full retail release. Undead Lab’s deserves your time and money for a project that’s much too ambitious for the $20 price tag it currently holds. If you’re an Xbox fan that’s been waiting for new exclusive IP worth sinking your time and money into, this is it.
(Reviewed on Xbox 360. Review code supplied by Undead Labs. Thanks!)
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Story – 8/10
Gameplay/Design – 10/10
Visuals – 8/10
Sound – 9/10
Lasting Appeal – 10/10
Overall – 9/10
(Not an average)
Platforms: Xbox 360, PC (TBA)
Developer: Undead Labs
Publisher: Microsoft Studios