Game Reviewed: State of Decay
Release Date: June 5th, 2013
Developer: Undead Labs
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platform: [Reviewed: Xbox LIVE Arcade]
Genre: Survival-Horror, Action
Rated: M for Mature
Being a startup developer, Undead Labs had set ambitious goals for their own take on the zombie genre of games. With so many zombie games focusing on other aspects, State of Decay drives for what a zombie apocalypse should really be about: survival.
State of Decay has a typical story: zombies show up and you and your buddies do what they can to survive against the “cannibals”, only to hilariously put two and two together after a while and realize that those were zombie trying to eat you! Starting off is pretty straight to the point. Players are thrown straight into the game as a man named Marcus, but players can switch between others to take over for a while. With nothing but a journal mentioning some “backstory” you will have the characters sub-par dialog to help piece together what has happened. Before too long you join a community of fellow survivors and that’s when the game shows no mercy.
Apart from a few hints explaining the controls you will not have anyone but you and your wits to keep you alive outside of your established outpost. As you explore the impressively large landscapes you will encounter lots of locations to ransack for supplies and a bunch of brain-munchers to kill.
Killing zombies will level up almost all of your skill while running will improve cardio. The leveling system works and it does feel like you’re improving your characters bit by bit, but it is basic in the purest sense as all you do is bash in zombie heads and run. Even when your character has leveled up some skills don’t assume that you’ve become this invincible zombie slayer as it only takes a couple of undead to rip you a new one.
Balance and maintenance is the exceptionally well done core mechanic as everything from maintaining your stamina to keeping your community safe and sane can be the difference between living and being in the maw of an undead. As you scrounge the surrounding areas for supplies you will notice that you will always just have enough to get by on. With a constant narrowing of supplies you have the weight of not only your life, but the lives of others hanging in the balance.
As a part of a leaderless group you can step up and use your influence, and supplies you find in the world around, as the in-game currency. Accessing the home page via pressing up on the D-Pad you can see your current outpost and how you can improve upon it. You can upgrade a room’s current operations to run more efficiently like a med-bay or improve a guard tower. You can also assign tasks that can further aid you like contacting neighboring outpost about the location of resources and getting in touch with people to join your group to reinforce your numbers.
Neglecting to find the aforementioned balance needed to survive can and will lead to the permanent death of many of your characters. Having your character die is one thing, but having your character that you’ve spent hours on building their stats and skills die hits a little deeper. With similar games like Dead Rising it’s not about surviving as much as it is having fun decimating the undead hordes, but State of Decay has the threat of death and failure ever-present to give us a true sense of despair and desperation – something not previously seen in zombie games.
With a clear emphasis on survival you are not tasked with eliminating all the zombies in your path, even if you are accustomed to it, your main focus to stay alive as even the simplest of missions could mean disaster. You’ll come across melee weapons and guns to fend off the undead, but a full frontal assault would be ill-advised as your stamina bar will keep your from simply mashing the melee button to solve all your problems. Some zombies can run as fast or even faster than you so stealth is your best bet as you can instantly kill zombies with a powerful takedown. But if you do find zombies breathing down your neck you have items to recover stamina and throwing items to distract or set ablaze your pursuers.
In this world full of “zeds” looking to gnaw your face off you’ll find yourself in camping grounds in the mountains to the forests all around. While the setting is perfect for gameplay the visuals falls a bit flat. While the visuals are nice it is also what holds the game back from being an engaging experience. You can notice some of the objects have and insanely obscure draw distance, even if you’re merely meters away. There are texture pop-ups that occur often and several times out of nowhere the screen seems to tear breaking whatever comatose state of zombie bliss you may have been in.
The other thing that takes away from the experience is how zombie is apparently half ghost as they can randomly phase through objects and walls. There were a couple of times where my character will audibly give me the all clear then suddenly a zombie goes through a wall next to me and starts chomping away at me!
Most of what Undead Labs set out to accomplish they nailed right on the head. The brooding atmosphere and looming consequences of death bring onto players an uneasiness that enforces a moment to reassess a situation before diving head first. Although the combat and leveling is simple it does well to keep players engaged. But the technical issues with the game keep it from being the true escape to the zombie apocalypse as I am constantly reminded by pop-ups and tears and companion AI can be dumb at times. Even so, in my 12+ hours of playing I ultimately I had a lot of fun and plan on doing another play through. For only $20 this title has a lot to offer as far as entertainment, but is just shy of being up there with its Triple-A brethren. Regardless, State of Decay has become one of my favorite zombie games!
Overall Rating: 4.5/5