After a month of watching zombie flicks and playing through the point and click/action adventure game The Walking Dead, you could say I was all out of interest in the undead. Not so much however, because I just couldn’t put this game down. Undead Lab’s breakout title State of Decay had me captivated for days on end and, for me, plays out as what I believe every zombie survival game should strive to be like.
You’re thrust straight into the action where you’re quickly taught the controls, and some of the earliest and most vital skills, like scavenging for supplies and managing a home base. The pacing the game sets for itself is perfect to keep you on edge, but not so much as to make you unable to enjoy the experience. I felt that the initial sequence leading into the game was one of the best and most immersive tutorials I’ve ever played. Although if you are looking to have your hand held, don’t expect that here. The game is tough from the very beginning, and if you’re not careful, you – at least that one character – will die… permanently. Once you break free of this initial limited space though, you enter the rest of the world, and finding it to be completely open with no loading screens or major jitters from the loading process was a great relief.
From start to finish the game keeps you busy trying to stay alive. Scavenging for supplies is both risky and necessary in order to continue on living. As the player, it is up to you to decide if you want to simply go out on lone missions, finding supplies in the form of basic items that fit into your small inventory, or in larger rucksacks full of more specific groups of items. While out, if you find a location that provides you with a type of supplies you really want, you can also call your group and have a couple of survivors sent out to also grab rucksacks full of goodies.
Using your intelligence and logic is essential in leading you to the supplies you need. Heading to a gun shop for instance, will earn you supplies like different types of weapons ranging from simple pistols and revolvers, all the way to semi-automatic rifles. More importantly than the guns themselves is ammo, which can be found in the form of a rucksack. A rucksack of ammunition will provide the group with a nice variety of calibers which must be matched to their respective weapons. Medicines and food can also be found in rucksacks in locations you might expect them to be. I would often check local mini-marts for supplies, and even a veterinary clinic early on plays a key role in supplying you with medicine. Private homes can have a variety of supplies and items, as well as the occasional group of survivors so it is always useful to check them out on occasion.
Another one of the very important type of supplies are building materials, as they open up a whole new and exciting form of play in this open world game. When you have enough supplies you are able to customize your home base with utility style constructions, such as a garden to create a form of self-sustained food, a bunkhouse which provides more sleeping quarters for your growing group of survivors, a workshop for you to build and upgrade your weapons, and many other useful and often necessary things. Building materials can only be picked up in rucksack form and are most commonly found at homes that were under construction before the zombie apocalypse. Your home base will move throughout your time in this open world, and it will be up to you to find bigger and better locations to call home. Finding a new home means exploring, and with such a big world, what better way to explore than by vehicle.
The world is littered with different types of vehicles from large and rugged trucks to small and speedy hatchbacks. I always found myself going after the hatchbacks, but you quickly learn that mowing down zombies in a small car is not recommended, especially while outside of a city when vehicles are much harder to come by. While exploring a city I did find it hard to not take a car for a spin though. Find a large horde of zombies wandering about? What could be more pleasing than plowing through them with the pristine yellow muscle car you just nabbed from someone’s driveway. Eventually after too much damage – either from the zombie blood and guts coating your engine, or your inability to keep on the road and out of the trees – the car’s hood will come ablaze and you’ll be forced to abandon it and continue on foot, where you’re left with only your weapons to fend for yourself. Vehicles also use up gas which can of course be most commonly found at gas stations. Similarly to rucksacks, you must carry a gas can by hand and not in your inventory, although you are still able to fight. While I would have liked vehicles to be slightly rarer than they are, if you use them too liberally you’ll eventually find yourself walking great distances just to find a ride.
In my first look at State of Decay my only real gripe was the combat. I found it very shallow in terms of depth, and I still feel this way. Melee combat really does boil down to simply button mashing with the occasional need to move and outmanoeuvre the living dead. Only if you find yourself fighting off a horde of zombies on your own do things become interesting, as long as you lack something like a handy dandy hand-grenade or Molotov cocktail to balance things back out.
The ranged combat is a little more entertaining though. Popping zombies from far away or firing into the hordes roaming the streets can be much more fun and worthwhile than just hacking away until your wooden table leg breaks. Keep in mind however that ammo is not unlimited, and when you take a handful of bullets from your safe house supply, they’ll eventually need to be replaced. Once the combat distance changes from long-range to close or even medium-range, guns become much less viable. I often found it difficult to get accurate shots off while the zombies were corralling me.
The most interesting points of the combat for myself, were when I found my melee weapon breaking and I was left with only my fists and feet. This could unfortunately lead to some very tedious one on one fights where you slowly wear the zombie down until it falls and you can deliver the final blows. If this occurs while fighting a group of more than three or four, get ready to run. Zombies really do fill the role of bullet and weapon sponges in this game, but their unlimited endurance will keep them coming, even once your own energy runs out. So while I find the combat to be somewhat lacking, the intensity of the situations you’ll find yourself in if a weapon breaks or you run out of bullets keeps things pretty interesting.
While the game does contain a story, I found the most interesting and important part of it the simple idea of survival. The story fits very well into this however, being dynamically entwined into how you play the game. When you focus more on survival than exploring, you will be more likely to get survival-oriented goals set for yourself, rather than the story style missions that can have you running about dealing with other’s needs when yours and your groups are the ones that should matter. Along with the story are the character’s personalities, yet another key point that gives the game added depth.
While playing, I actually became attached to my characters. I didn’t play every character I could, as there were always a couple I kept returning to. This not only ensures you are familiar with their particular skill set, but helps them level up quicker and become even more efficient while scavenging or fighting the undead. While the characters stories aren’t up to the level of something like The Walking Dead, Undead Labs still did a terrific job balancing the use of a character’s vocal personality and each of their unique traits.
State of Decay also looks and plays great. Despite the occasional skiing zombie or clipping through windows and walls, my experience for the majority of my playtime was very solid with absolutely nothing game breaking occurring. The art style also really fits the environment; Undead Labs have really found a good balance between realism and their own artistic edge that kept them well enough away from falling into the uncanny valley.
While I don’t feel State of Decay is the greatest zombie survival game ever, I believe that it has a huge amount of potential and that hopefully the idea of an open world zombie survival game can be expanded upon to reach new levels. Undead Labs have shown great skill in their development of this game, and I for one can’t wait to see what their next title holds in store.
Pick up State of Decay now on XBLA for 1600 MSP, or wait for its as yet undated release on PC.
- An expansive and open world that is loads of fun to explore and be a living, breathing part of
- Characters have real, believable personalities which will affect the way they behave and maybe even the way you interact with them
- A focus on survival really makes this game stand out against some of its competitors
- Combat can be boring and tedious at times, though that can quickly change