Name - State of Decay
Developer - Undead Labs
Publisher – Microsoft
Available Platforms – Xbox 360
“Two zombie herds are on my tail but they aren’t a threat to me. Why would they be? I am in a car, speeding away…until I hit a boulder. Now I am in the air, my car flipped on its hood. That zombie threat I was talking about before? It’s very real.”
Cold, unforgiving, unpredictable and a bit ugly.
That is the world of State of Decay.
I am just going to go out and say it…I absolutely adored this game. However, the inner-cynic in me didn’t think this game was going to be any good. In fact, it thought the development team might have bitten off a bit more than they could chew.
The game originally piqued my interest when it was first announced by Undead Labs back in the early months of 2011. State of Decay went by its project name, Class3 and the team’s goal was to make an open-world zombie game an idea I scoffed at. There was nothing to show for it at the time, except some concept art. No way could a new, small team possibly do this? I was always under the impression that an open-world game requires a large team with years of experience and an unfathomable budget to work. In light of this, I am glad I can bury that myth under me.
State of Decay is an open-world survival zombie game released on the XBLA marketplace. It follows the trend of offering high-quality, bigger budgeted downloadable games that feel like their AAA counter-part. It was a trend started by Journey and Alan Wake’s American Nightmare last year. However, it still remains popular today as more developers gravitate towards this idea as illustrated by Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon and Call of Juarez: Gunslinger.
State of Decay, as mentioned before, is a zombie game. However it differentiates itself from the societal norms associated with the zombie games we have seen in the past. It’s not a horror game or a shooting game. Sure, some situations you might find yourself in might be frightening and you do beat a large number of zombies with sledgehammers or a weapon of your choice but that’s not the be-all and end-all of State and Decay. In truth, that’s hardly even scratching the surface of what this game offers.
Relying on deep systematic and emergent gameplay, less emphasis is placed on State of Decay’s plot however it remains important. It grants insight on the events that took place and guide the player to explore more of the game world and its systems. The game starts with introducing the game’s main protagonist, Marcus Campbell, alongside his friend Ed Jones. Fresh of a fishing trip, both are unfamiliar with the zombie threat that lurks in their home town but, it’s not long before they become acquainted with it.
State of Decay suffers from numerous technical issues that might affect your time with it. There are frame rate issues and severe object and texture pop-in. On the gameplay side glitches allow zombies to run through walls to get to you which might seem troublesome but rarely does it become a problem. I believe the issues don’t detract much from the experience and once you’re immersed in the game – it all becomes second nature.
A brief tutorial introduces the player to some of the game mechanics on how to fight zombies and what to expect from the game. State of Decay makes clear that stealth is an important tool when dealing with zombies, especially if your character is just starting out. Two or three zombies at a time might not be a problem but a horde can easily stop you in your tracks but, if you spend enough time doing certain activities your character will become more powerful.
STATE OF DECAY DIFFERENTIATES ITSELF FROM THE SOCIETAL NORMS ASSOCIATED WITH THE ZOMBIE GAMES
After the base tutorial, you meet up with a group of survivors who have set up a little safe haven in a church. This is where the game opens up and leaves you to your own devices such as the ability to switch between the members of your group. Sticking with one character without giving them rest lowers their stamina which is needed for most actions such as sprinting and attacking.
Also, once a character is dead, they are gone for good. You will then have to take control of another survivor in your group. This is where the drama of the game comes from. Trying to ensure the survival of your character, every escort mission, every scavenging run and every drive to check out the sights could give you a panic attack if the situation goes sour which they do without warning. It is exactly this kind of foreboding experience that makes State of Decay such a pleasure not only to play but also talk about. It’s always interesting to hear about other people’s experience with the game because you know theirs could be drastically different than yours due to the games un-scripted gameplay.
“ONCE A CHARACTER IS DEAD, THEY ARE GONE FOR GOOD”
While story missions are constrained in the type of zombies you fight and some tense situations you find yourself in, they never overstay their welcome. Venturing out into abandoned homes, buildings and farms to find resources for your group’s survival is the cusp of the game. There are 5 main resources that you will be hunting as you progress; food, medicine, ammo, construction materials, and fuel. Each resource is deducted from the group’s total at the end of each day virtual and physical – yes, State of Decay plays itself when you are not around.
While most of these resources are self-explanatory i.e. food to assure all survivors are kept fed and medicine in case somebody gets sick, the construction materials add another meta-game to the game. Every home base allows you to make some improvements to it, whether it be upgrading a watch tower or building a greenhouse. However, you are limited to what you can build depending on the space of your home base but you are able to relocate to one that is much larger. Bases also offer other advantages such as the ability to repair damaged weapons and vehicles.
Undead Labs is committed to support State of Decay long after release. They proved this by having released 2 title updates that fix a number of bugs and technical issues with the game. The development team also has plans on releasing a “simulation mode” as DLC that does away with the story mode of the game entirely but puts a stronger focus on player survival and resource gathering.
“VENTURING OUT INTO ABANDONED HOMES, BUILDINGS AND FARMS TO FIND RESOURCES FOR YOUR GROUP’S SURVIVAL IS THE CUSP OF THE GAME”
State of Decay’s open world is well realized and crafted with long roads, sweeping hills, acres of farmland, small towns, larger towns and forests. It doesn’t take place in a metropolitan society but plays towards much towards the classic Americana setting that we have seen in video games such as Alan Wake’s American Nightmare before but still don’t get enough of. The world is large and while towns can be traversed well on foot, heading further out requires a vehicle. State of Decay does an admirable job of populating the world with various vehicles such as trucks, muscle cars, police cruisers and more. However, the most striking aspect of State of Decay’s world is that every house and building is accessible with fully modeled interiors.
State of Decay isn’t an action game – it rewards careful and strategic thinking. Sure, the game has over 40 melee weapons and even more firearms but going out guns blazing is a sure fire way of ending up dead. It’s either you be prepared or you end up zombie food. It’s not immediately accessible and much of the games mechanics are something you have to discover yourself but I like that. It doesn’t treat me like an idiot and lets me do things the way I want to.
Undead Labs took a huge gamble by creating an overtly ambitious game but their efforts paid off.
It’s a game that finally delivers on the zombie survival promise by giving us everything we could possibly want from a zombie game. It does almost everything right and its flaws are so miniscule that they range on nit-picking. While the industry is out and celebrating cinematic games, gems like State of Decay which often take real risks, often favoring gameplay over linear storytelling are left to whether in the dirt. State of Decay is truly a genre dying game bringing in many different gameplay systems that work together to create a memorable experience. State of Decay is the best game I have played so far this year and that is no easy task with the heavy hitters that have already come out.