Review: State Of Decay
- Worth The Time?Yes, very much so.
- Things LovedThe massive open world setting, the combat is satisfying and frantic, the survival aspects are brilliantly realised, the gathering of resources is very addictive, the building up and maintaining of your homestead is a fun experience, there's just so much to do within the game's massive world, there is some actual suspense and terror if you are being overwhelmed because every death is permanent, the upgrading of various characters' skills is fun to do and gives a very realistic survival element, gives a breath of fresh air to the oversaturated zombie genre, introduces ideas that not many zombie games have tried, knocking zombies with a car door never gets old.
- Things HatedThere are way too many technical faults and you will run into them almost instantly, it's very noticeable that there are only a few voice actors present, pop ins can become quite catastrophic, frame rate issues ruins a bit of the combat, the game does not tell you certain things and you are left trying to figure them out on your own, the story missions and side-quests aren't really something to write home about.
- RecommendationState of Decay is a game I highly recommend. It's just extremely fun to play and you will find yourself addicted within a matter of minutes. Definitely worth its asking price and then some.
- Name: State of Decay
- Genre: Open World Survival
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: No
- Platforms: Xbox Live Arcade
- Developer: Undead Labs
- Publisher: Microsoft Studios
- Price: 1200 MSP
- Reviewed On: Xbox 360
For years I’ve been clamoring for a good zombie survival game. Throughout the years of gaming, there have only really ever been zombie games that have you mow down the entire population of Nigeria with all sorts of different weaponry. But never before has a game attempted to recreate the true essence of what would really happen if a zombie outbreak happened. If Z-day actually happened, we humans would be hunting for food, building fortifications and trying to stay safe for as long as possible. For the longest time zombie games have never really differentiated from the usual “shoot them in the head and don’t really worry about the fact that you haven’t eaten in a week” formula. Sure, some games flirted with the idea, but it was only really on a superficial level and just thrown in to break up the monotony of shooting corpses in the head.
State of Decay is an open-world zombie survival game and that title is far from superficial. It’s really the most accurate presentation of what the world would be like if an actual zombie outbreak happened with regards to resource gathering, trading and mortality. You think I’m joking about the whole mortality bit? In State of Decay, if the character you’re playing with dies, they’re dead forever. No do overs or backsies. Just straight up gone. It’s a very interesting mechanic to introduce in a game, but one I very much welcome even if it did make me depressed somewhat. But I’m getting way ahead of myself here.
State of Decay is a true open-world, not just a pseudo open arena with barely anything to do. From the get go you will be able to loot various sources of items with the hopes that you get something useful out of it. These range from guns, ammo, medicinal supplies, melee weapons, food, explosives, fuel (although I still have no idea what it actually does) and just regular old stuff. It’s crucial that you collect these items otherwise you’re not going to survive for long. The game uses a very organic method of gameplay as well. You are not just one single survivor with a single name and story that drives the game forward, but rather all the survivors you have gathered for your homestead.
The game naturally had to have a starting point and that’s where you get put into the shoes of a guy named Marcus who is on holiday with his buddy Ed. You progress through some normal tutorial level scenarios until you get to an area where a bunch of survivors have made a shelter within an abandoned church. From then on you’re completely in control of what you want to do. As you gather more survivors for your homestead, you can befriend them and when you befriend them they can become playable. This in turn creates an experience that is entirely your own and is only a tiny bit scripted. When you get set up at your homestead, you can go out into the towns and surrounding locations and loot various houses, warehouses, restaurants, gas stations and whatever there may be with the hopes of gathering resources for your fellow survivors to use.
The homestead needs five things in order to maintain it. Food, for obvious reasons. Medicine to heal the injured and the sick. Ammo for people that guard the parameters and you yourself. Building materials to build extra facilities and upgrade existing ones to better and more efficient versions. And lastly fuel for, as I’ve said, God knows what (I can probably find out through Google, but I didn’t actually see a use for it as I was playing). These resources are crucial for the survival of all the individuals that you have enlisted and without them, things will soon turn sour. There’s also morale that has to maintained in order for your survivors to be as efficient as possible.
The game quickly turns into a case of resource collecting and maintenance, but it never really gets boring because of how fun it is to explore and discover new places with resource potential. You’re always hunting for better weapons to use against the zombie horde and as much resources as you can possibly get. It employs a very FarmVille-esque addictive quality with the added excitement of being trapped in a place filled with rampant cannibalistic freaks that want to eat your tasty flesh.
There isn’t much in terms of story other than different survivors that occupy the playspace that have their own problems and dilemmas that you can assist them with. They each present their own stories, but most of them aren’t really all that interesting and only boil down to escorting quests or defending missions. Regardless, it’s still a welcome addition to the overall game and adds a little bit of variation into the mix
It’s rather worth it to partake in these neighbor missions because you get the ability to trade resources with them and at times that can be vital to your survival. They also give added bonuses and extra gear as reward for your assistance so it provides just enough incentive to be worth it. All these missions and various other miscellaneous ones happen at random intervals throughout the day and some even expire so you have to have your wits about you.
The economy in the game has its own unique spin. The way you “buy” goods is by using influence you have gathered. You get influence by getting supplies, doing missions and helping out fellow survivors. The more you do, the more you are able to buy. You can also “sell” your items for more influence and it takes some good managing to get an optimal loadout. Basically influence is money, if you’re slow.
Okay, enough with the surviving bit, let’s get to the meaty centre of the combat because it’s a zombie game after all. State of Decay employs a rather robust melee combat offering. You are able to pull off jump kicks (extremely high jump kicks that can kick a zombie’s head off at times), flashy killing moves and insane power attacks. If you only have your fists then you’re going to be quite ineffective against a horde, but if you equip one of the very many melee weapons on offer, your life will be much better.
Melee weapons come in all shapes and sizes. They range from frying pans, 2×4 planks, the traditional crowbar (which I primarily used because it’s insanely durable) to swords, sledgehammers and golf clubs. These weapons all have their own damage stats. durability and finishing move. It’s up to you to choose which one works best for you.
As for guns there sure are a whole lot. Every conceivable weapon type that you can think of is in this game. Shotguns, assault rifles, magnums, pistols, grenade launchers, sniper rifles, you name it. Each have their own benefits as you would expect, but you have to choose carefully about which one you use because weight is an issue and if you have massive rifles in your back pack, your stamina will quickly run out.
As for gunplay, it’s kind of a mixed bag. Guns aren’t really that accurate and the aiming mechanic is a bit sticky, but as the game went on I quickly became used to it and was headshotting zombies like they were nothing. There’s also a shooting stat that goes up that improves your usage of weapons. It gives a realistic feel to the gunplay somewhat. A survivor without experience won’t be able to reload a weapon like some military general in the first few minutes of handling a gun for example.
As with the shooting stat, there are various other stats that can be upgraded the more you use them such as cardio that makes running decrease your stamina a bit slower and wits that allows you to search through containers faster. It’s a welcome addition and gives further incentive to be as efficient as possible.
The game utilizes a realistic depiction of human conditioning by having the character you’re using become exhausted the more you use them. When they are fatigued, their stamina and vitality bars get limited and they won’t be as effective in combat. Once they are severely fatigued you can choose to use another character to take over and let them rest at the homestead. I loved this approach because it’s a more realistic expectation of a character’s abilities and they aren’t just juggernauts that can go on without rest for days.
As I’ve mentioned before, if a character dies, they are gone forever. They won’t respawn or come back injured or something, they just die. This adds a definite element of tension when a massive horde of zombies are chasing you down with no health items and low health as well. You do become somewhat attached to the character your playing with and not to mention all the training that went in to improving their skills. It feels like a genuine loss when they die because you put so much work into them and spent a lot of time with them.
Cars are a plus point in the game because they handle well and get realistically damaged. You also have the ability to open your car door and slam a zombie’s head into it at full speed. Trust me when I say that it never gets old. I spent most of my time driving around and I always had this euphoric feel when I slammed a door into a walker’s face. There are many variations of vehicles with their own strengths and weaknesses as you would expect. Heavier cars such as trucks take more damage, but are slow and light cars are fast and nimble, but get damaged fairly quickly.
Those are the positives of the game, now for the negatives. There are so many technical issues that it became somewhat worrying. There’s constant clipping happening at all times and textures simply do not load at times. There’s also a massive issue with the frame rate where it drops to near unplayable levels when entering a new area in a car or just very quickly. Zombies will constantly appear out of nowhere and I’ve even seen an entire horde sink into the ground. There’s just a whole host of technical faults and if I had to mention them all it would take forever.
Some of these faults can be quite overwhelming at times and it does take a lot of the immersion out of the whole experience. I wish there was more thorough debugging and QA testing done because it would have really improved the overall game. I do understand that it’s a massive open-world and issues do arise a lot when dealing with such a complicated concept. It doesn’t excuse it though and it really is a big minus in the game’s favour.
There’s also the issue of the perplexing voice acting. Some survivors have the exact same voice as each other and it can get rather comedic at times. One guy will be talking to himself about how he is a dick to himself and how he saved himself from an attack. It’s extremely weird and takes away from the experience somewhat.
Characters also repeat a lot of the same lines over and over and this can get grating as time progresses. It’s really annoying with the dropping off of supplies when they say the exact same thing to each other over the radio. I can’t count how many times I heard “We’ll crack open a cold one for ya” as I was playing the game.
The game also doesn’t tell you certain things such as your game going on even if you’re not playing. Imagine my surprise when I started up the game and most of my supplies were gone and someone died. I didn’t know any of this at all and nowhere does it tell you this. Maybe it does, but I certainly didn’t find that information. Some of the mechanics might be confusing at first because of this reason. You will be bewildered and struggling to come to grips with everything that is on offer because it doesn’t explain these things to you clearly.
The thing about State of Decay is that it’s just a really fun game. Sure it doesn’t have an extremely deep storyline or gorgeous graphics, but it’s just really fun to play. You can spend hours just pillaging stores and houses looking for better gear or more stuff for your homestead while bashing a zombie’s face in with your car door. It’s a very serene sort of gaming experience and one I thoroughly enjoyed. It took all my expectations of a good zombie survival game and presented me with some version of it and I really liked it. There are the technical faults, however, that I just could not overlook and it really hindered the experience for me.
I do see massive potential in the franchise and I honestly think that if they refine the game’s mechanics and improve on what they have already established it could potentially be one of the best zombie games ever made. If they do decide to make a sequel, I truly hope that they take what they have already established and improve on it while improving the graphics and making sure there aren’t a lot of bugs. The ideas are there but the execution could have been better and I hope Undead Labs continue with this franchise and make it the zombie survival game I’ve always dreamed of.